Slovakias Road to Integration Within A Western Framework
His Excellency Mikulá Dzurinda
Prime Minister of Slovakia
Ten years ago, the countries of Central Europe peacefully and fundamentally changed the political map of our continent within the course of a few months. These countries started the process of dismantling communism and returning to the traditional values upon which the developed Western world is built: democracy, personal freedom, and a market economy.
In the case of the countries of my region, specifically the four Visegrad countriesCzech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakiawe can definitely talk about a return to or a continuation of the tradition of building a democratic system, a tradition that was forcibly interrupted through the installation of the communist regime. The V4 countries once had all the prerequisites needed to be full partners in every sense of todays developed democracies, but unfortunately did not become partners and had to start again almost from the beginning.
PREVENTING ANOTHER KOSOVO
Some of the lessons that Europe learned in the last decade were very costly and painful. One of these is that a society whose democratic institutions are not developed, and where the rights of minoritiesany minorities, whether political, ethnic, or religiousare suppressed, is bound to end in conflict, at first latent and later open.
This road leads to hell. This road led to tragedy in Kosovo and to the suffering of the nations of Yugoslavia; it has also threatened to destabilize other Balkan countries. The international community of democratic countries could do nothing but react to the situation that had developed. The North Atlantic Alliance assumed an enormous responsibility when it decided to actively intervene to help people who could not defend themselves. Action always involves the risk of failure, but in this case, inaction would have involved an even greater riskthe risk of a breakdown of moral integrity, a failure of the system of values on which Western civilization is built. However, this extraordinary tragedy could have been prevented. Prevention is always simpler and less painful than extinguishing an open conflict.
The solutions proposed in the Stability Pact, which are based on principles of cooperation and integration for the entire Western Balkan region, can serve as an example. One of these important solutions is to build a civil society and enforce the rule of law in individual countries in this much troubled region. I say this as the Prime Minister of a country whose road to democracy was not always straight and simple. The example of Slovakia shows that there must be a change in the way people think as well as the establishment of political culture, tolerance, and mutual respect.
THE ROAD TO INTEGRATION
In the parliamentary elections of September 1998, people in the Slovak Republic clearly and unambiguously showed that they did not want to continue the Slovak Republics diversion from the road to integration with Western structures, and that they see Slovakias future in the family of cooperating democratic countries that share common values. Just the fact that 84% of the electorate took part in the elections shows that our people do care about the fate and future of their country. Let me therefore mark the September 98 elections as the decisive turning point in our countrys development. The desire to continue permanently in this direction was confirmed by the recent direct election of the President of the Slovak Republic, and I would like to point out a few facts related to these important events.
The modern mindset, particularly of the young and middle-aged, was demonstrated by the third sectors pre-election mobilization. This phenomenon can easily be described as an emerging cultural change. Activists associated with many non-governmental organizations understood correctly the effective role of a civil society and refused to simply stand by and watch the unfavorable developments in Slovakia. In addition to fighting for a fair election law, they set for themselves three goals: improve the peoples access to information on the election process, increase voter turnout, and see to it that elections are just and fair. They prepared a number of educational events and eventually monitored the voting itself. The publics activity and increased alertness helped to ensure that the elections were fair and democratic, a fact that was confirmed by international observers assessments.
The process that began is showing admirable stability and strength despite the necessary economic measures that the government had to take after it inherited an unexpectedly bad economy from the former government. The process also confirms the high level of maturity, civic awareness, and efforts our people have undertaken to prove that we should be taken seriously. Even though the birth and development of change in our country was long and difficult, it has now become deeply and permanently rooted. It is my great desire that the new mood in Slovak society and the steps taken by the current government constitute a guarantee for the West and substantially accelerate our accession to the EU, OECD, and NATO.
Membership in these organizations has been a foreign policy priority of our countrys governments since it was established, although it is not possible to call all the steps taken by all the governments sincere or transparent. Therefore, I greatly value the fact that the Washington Summit reacted to the positive changes in Slovakia and provided Slovakia with instruments to fully launch the process of preparation for NATO membership. The Washington Summit prepared the Membership Action Plan for countries interested in membership, and we have prepared a Program for Preparation for NATO Membership that is based on and fully reflects this plan.
I can assure you that we are not stopping at the declaration stage. Support for the values that form the basis of a plural democracy and that unite member-countries is intrinsic for us. That is why we supported the Alliance in addressing the Kosovo crisis and why a Slovak unit will take part in KFOR. Even though we are not a NATO member, we are determined to act like one. That is what our priorities command us to do. We are pleased with the support we are receiving from member-countries, both inside and outside our region. We are also pleased that Slovakia has regained its position as a reliable and trustworthy partner. We will be glad to lead the field. I believe that the Slovak Republic has all the prerequisites needed to integrate with the Alliance as soon as NATO is ready for further enlargement. We are determined not to miss our chance this time.
SLOVAKIA AND ITS VISEGRAD PARTNERS
Slovakia sees active regional efforts as complementary to these foreign policy goals. We highly appreciate our Visegrad Group partners approach and the groups practical revival, made possible by the new political situation in our country. In May of 1999, at the Bratislava Summit of the Prime Ministers of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia, all the participants confirmed that the groups revival was beneficial. The groups goal of mutual cooperation can be seen already in the reinforcement of cohesion between these countries, in the mending of the whole region, and in the groups internal and external stability.
The group is also particularly valuable to us because it enables the exchange of experiences regarding integration processes, and also provides practical assistance in meeting all four countries foreign policy objectives. We feel the groups political will should be reflected in intensive cooperation as soon as possiblecooperation with the Slovak Republic by the other V4 countries has already increasedand Slovakia has a number of concrete proposals in this respect. Because of past experience, we want to concentrate on small, gradual steps rather than on ostentatious gestures as we renew the Visegrad ideal. We believe that such an approach stands a greater chance of success and could later inspire others.
Since its establishment, Slovakia has clearly declared that membership in NATO is the only acceptable alternative to guaranteeing its security and was among the key applicants for enlargement for quite some time. We also regard membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as our key security policy priority and one of the priorities of our foreign policy. A decisive majority of Slovakias population expressed their agreement with the policy of openness, cooperation, and our countrys integration into Euro-Atlantic structures through their votes in both the parliamentary and presidential elections.
As far as bilateral relations are concerned, we feel that certain reservations that NATO and EU countries held towards Slovak political representation disappeared after our new government came into office, creating a realistic basis for changes in our internal and foreign policies. The new government has ended the discrepancy between words and deeds and is putting Slovakia back where it belongs: in the Euro-Atlantic community of democratic countries. Stability and security have resulted from the rule of law and respect for the rights of others.
The Kosovo crisis has shown us the need for unity, cooperation, and solidarity in defending and enforcing jointly pursued values. Allow me to assure you that the Slovak Republic is and will continue to be your reliable partner.