Before he set off Dzurinda met New York mayor Rudolph Guiliani
About 20 members of victims' families with red hardhats on and pictures of their lost ones in their hands gathered near the site, led by a chaplain. The Prime Minister took a long look at them, drew a deep breath, and seemed to draw purpose from their faces. He ran the marathon the next day to show, as he put it, "the solidarity of people in Slovakia with the American people, especially with the people of New York." He finished the race in a respectable 3:42:30.
Running in the New York City marathon allowed Dzurinda to give Slovakia valuable press coverage in the United States. Being the first sitting Prime Minister to ever run in the event landed him on the cable news channel CNN and in the pages of The New York Times.
On November 2, Dzurinda spoke with CNN anchorwoman Paula Zahn, whose grandmother came from Slovakia. In the five-minute interview Dzurinda said in English: "The attack on September 11th was not only an attack against America, it was an attack against the values which we Slovaks also believe in. So we are all Americans now."
Later that evening at 9:30, Dzurinda shared time with the Prime Minister of Romania on the popular talk show Larry King Live, also on CNN. King, a legendary interviewer in the United States, called Dzurinda "ambassador" twice, though Dzurinda didn't seem put off. The most interesting comment from the interview was Dzurinda's take on Russia's stance toward the United States since the attack. "We are very happy that during this difficult time there is something like a new wind from Moscow. I believe that Russia is now a very strong ally of the United States and the democratic world coalition," the Slovak PM said.
CNN typically draws over a half million viewers in the morning and two to three million viewers during the Larry King Live show, according to Nielsen Media Research.
For a country that has been trying to fix a poor international image since authoritarian Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar left power three years ago, having Dzurinda represent Slovakia in English on American television signified the progress that has been made by the current administration.
The change in image has been brought about mainly by actions in support of US and Western interests. The Dzurinda government immediately opened Slovakia's airspace for American planes after the September 11th attacks even though it isn't a member of Nato - much as it had open skies to facilitate the 1999 Nato campaign in Kosovo. This, coupled with US Steel's huge investment in Košice, has brought Bratislava and Washington closer. "By acting as an ally, Slovakia will be treated like an ally," said Jan Surotchak, the chairman of Friends of Slovakia, a US non-profit organisation.
At a reception organised by Friends of Slovakia and the New York based Slovak-American Cultural Center two nights before the race, Dzurinda was honoured by New York State Senator Charles Schumner who praised the Prime Minister for bringing the two countries closer together.
Former US Ambassador to Slovakia Carl Spielvogal, who convinced his friend Schumner to appear at the reception, also appreciated Dzurinda's efforts to bring Slovakia closer with the West. "What Slovakia has accomplished in a short amount of time under Dzurinda will be felt for generations," he said.
About 60 people, mainly Slovak-Americans, paid a $90 fee to attend the event, held in the plush New York Athletic club on the southern edge of Central Park. Matthew Culen, president of the Slovak-American Cultural Center, was ecstatic about the turnout. "I'm surprised by the amount of support," he said. "This goes to show that if you give Slovak-Americans something to rally around they will give generously." The net proceeds went to the New York Police and Fire Widow's & Children's Benefit Fund.
Culen, like many Slovak-Americans, is a big fan of Dzurinda. "What the Prime Minister is doing is great. When Americans hear that the leader of Slovakia is running in the New York City marathon to show his country's support for America, they are really impressed." Culen and other members of the Slovak-American Cultural Center wrote and sang a traditional Slovak sounding folk song for Dzurinda. The words, though a little corny ("Dzurinda, he's our man, in the marathon, he can win the race..."), seemed to cheer up the Prime Minister, who looked quite jet-lagged. It didn't help that Schumner had forgotten to include Dzurinda in his speech thanking Spielvogal and Slovak Ambassador to America Martin Butora for their efforts to improve Slovak-American relations.
Dzurinda used his moment on the podium to honour Slovak-American Michael Warchola, a New York City fireman who died in the World Trade Center. Michael's brother Dennis Warchola was there to receive the Prime Minister's condolences. Michael Warchola was 24 hours away from retirement when the first plane struck the World Trade Center.
This piece was written for The Slovak Spectator by Daniel J. Stoll from New York
12. Nov 2001 at 0:00