Slovak and expatriate mourners gathered September 14 to observe a period of silence in memory of the thousands who died in US terror attacks.
"They've been trickling in since yesterday, when we opened the centre at noon, but today a lot more people have come, mostly ordinary Slovaks," said US embassy acting chargé d'affaires Gregory Orr.
A sombre and respectful mood reigned among those in the queue, many of whom had been waiting for over an hour to sign their names. "It's an unbelievable tragedy, and has brought us all closer together - Slovaks, Americans, people all over the world," said Radovan Grohoľ, 35, CEO of the Slovak branch of the Mayer/McCann - Erickson advertising agency. "I feel it's like an attack on the entire democratic world, on all of us," added Grohoľ's partner, Dan Jurkovič, 40.
A young man wearing a knapsack, after signing the condolence book, stood up and saluted the American flag hanging behind the signing table. When asked why he had done so, the man - student Peter Kuric, 23 - said he had attended a scout course in Louisville, Kentucky for the last two years, and had grown accustomed to saluting the US national emblem.
"Basically, I'm a scout, and that's what we do," he said. "We're here to show our deepest sympathies for the American people. I have a lot of friends there."
His companion, student Ivana Bieliková, 19, said she too had attended a scout course in Los Angeles last year. "We've already placed candles in front of the US embassy [in Bratislava]," she reported.
Both young people expressed concern that events in the US might lead to isolationism, to postponement of the Nato alliance's next expansion round, planned for next year. Slovakia, left out of the 1999 Nato enlargement, hopes to receive an invitation to join in 2002. "We belong there. The whole world belongs together more now than ever before," Bieliková said.
The condolence book was also signed by Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda, Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan, President Rudolf Schuster, and politicians from parties across the political spectrum. Ministry officials could not say whether the book would remain in Slovakia, or be sent to the US.
Ordinary people touched
At the local Bakchus wine cellar, patrons were also talking of the terrorist attacks last week. Anton Šmotlák, 47, a project manager with the Doprastav construction firm, sat at the bar over a glass of white wine, talking quietly to a nearby customer.
"My heart is still breaking," he said, reaching for a handshake and apologising for the sweat on his palms. "It's just terrible. I can't stop thinking about it."
Asked what he thought of a statement by Anna Malíková, leader of the far-right opposition Slovak National Party (SNS), that the attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania were "the concrete result of US foreign policy in the last decade," Šmotlák said "they're an extremist party, and I couldn't care less what they say. I think it's more important that the other opposition party, the HZDS [Movement for a Democratic Slovakia of former Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar] has expressed sympathy and support for the US. They have 30% in the polls, and what they say counts much more than what a bunch of fanatics say."
The SNS consistently attracts from 8 to 10% voter support in opinion polls.
"I know that 95% of people in my company are totally shocked by what happened," said Šmotlák.
Further downtown, at the 17's restaurant on Hviezdoslavovo Square opposite the US embassy, bartender Michal, 25, said he felt sympathies among Slovaks were more evenly divided between those who were shocked and "those who feel the States were asking for it, they are always interfering in other countries' affairs.
"But of course, people only think that about the US government. No one in their right mind is celebrating the fact that so many people died."
In other Slovak responses to the attacks, Bratislava's St Martin's cathedral was the site of a memorial service September 14 to pray for the victims. It was led by Roman Catholic Archbishop Ján Sokol, and attended by top state representatives as well as hundreds of foreign and Slovak mourners.
The Slovak Red Cross organised a collection of money for victims of the attack, along with the American Chamber of Commerce, and as The Slovak Spectator went to print, had scheduled a benefit concert called Upokojiť moju dušu (Calm My Soul) in the Bratislava suburb of Petržalka featuring local bands September 20.
The Bratislava Music Festival also dedicated its final performance of Verdi's Requiem October 5 to the terrorist attack victims.
"We've been very, very satisfied with the reaction of the Slovak government and overwhelmed by the reaction of the Slovak people and their support for us at this terrible time," said US embassy chargé d'affaires Douglas Hengel, who returned to Slovakia September 17 having attended his parents' 50th wedding anniversary in the US.
Hengel spoke particularly of the many flowers, candles and letters which had been left outside the embassy by Slovaks and foreigners in the week after the attack. "Frankly, tears came to my eyes when I saw this as I returned to the country," he said.
24. Sep 2001 at 0:00 | Tom Nicholson