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PRESS digest: HOSPODÁRSKE NOVINY DAILY

We (still) need heroes
By Peter Turčík


The main condition for moving Slovak army engineers to Kandahar in Afghanistan is a guarantee of their security, Prime Minister Robert Fico said yesterday after meeting with NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. The NATO chief answered with the diplomatic challenge that while the security of military missions is, undoubtedly, an important thing, Slovakia should show solidarity with other troops in the area, and with its military presence could play a significant role within the alliance. In normal parlance, Scheffer has challenged Slovakia to fulfil its obligations as a member of NATO.

I understand the prime minister's fears for our soldiers - the tragedy of Hejce [in Hungary, where a Slovak military plane crashed last year killing 42 military personnel and crew] is the saddest and most senseless event in the history of our army since 1945, and is still a very fresh wound. It had a huge impact on public opinion, and drastically increased the number of people opposed to the participation of our soldiers in foreign military missions.

This government wants to withdraw our troops as soon as possible from NATO and UN missions, but it is wrapping this intention up in all kinds of excuses and conditions. Again, in Afghanistan, we are trying to wriggle and talk our way out of unpleasant duties. It would be more honourable to announce that we are withdrawing from NATO military missions, just as French President Charles de Gaulle did in 1966, in objecting to the dominance of the US within the Alliance.

If Prime Minister Fico took such a bold and honest step, he and his coalition partner Ján Slota would score major points on the domestic political scene. At the same time, we would forever have to give up the ambition of helping to set international policy, and we would have to withdraw our diplomats from international organizations, including the UN Security Council. One doesn't fight for democracy only from the security of diplomatic salons, but unfortunately with a flint in one's hand as well.

If we're going to be pacifists, let's make a proper job of it and turn our backs on everyone and everything. The problem is that this would cost us a price we don't want to pay. We simply have to accept that solidarity costs something, and that we can't dodge history forever.

We never had many heroes, and those we did have, we often forgot about. Sure, a nation can be thankful if it has no need of heroes, but that's not the way the world works - yet.

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