Honorary consuls represent the interest of countries who cannot afford, or do not have sufficient reason, to open full-scale embassies in certain foreign countries. Consuls, who are not paid, say their main benefit is prestige.
"I see it at as a great honour, a recognition of my work up to this point in my life," said businessman Jozef Majský, one of Slovakia's richest men and the Honorary Consul for Cyprus.
Majský said, however, that the he and other consuls provided an important service to the countries they represent. "Smaller countries cannot afford to have embassies in every country around the world. Through Honorary Consuls, they are represented by capable and influential people in a way that would not be possible otherwise," he said.
Slovakia, which has 80 of its own Honorary Consuls abroad, has registered 23 consuls at home since 1994. Most, like Majský, are influential businessman who work as the need arises out of their homes or business offices. Some, such as Radio Twist director and Seychelles Honorary Consul Andrej Hric, who successfully petitioned the Slovak government to remove visa requirements for Seychelles citizens in February, have been praised for their diplomacy by the Slovak Foreign Ministry.
Since the case of Eduard Jahchan came to light (see story, above), consuls have defended the institution while calling for safeguards against future scandals. The Jahchan affair is not the first time an Honorary Consul has made it into the press: Peter 'Žaluď Steinhubel, a businessman who was gunned down in 1999, carried a passport saying he was Albania's Honorary Consul to Slovakia, a fact denied by both Albania and the Foreign Ministry.
"Most consuls are honest people doing a good job," said Michal Lörincz, head of the representative office of Živnostenská banka Praha in Slovakia, who has been Danish Honorary Consul General to Slovakia since 1994. "Some of us [Honorary Consuls] in the past have asked the Foreign Ministry to run tighter controls on prospective consuls to make sure they have been properly appointed so that all of our reputations aren't damaged."
The Slovak Foreign Ministry has vowed to run checks on all Honorary Consuls in Slovakia, but said that the case of Jahchan is an exception in an important international system. "In general, the Honorary Consul system works," said a Slovak Foreign Ministry spokesman.