"Under the previous government, we were often simply ignored in diplomatic circles," he said in an interview with The Slovak Spectator on November 11. "It's a terrible thing to be ignored."
But now that Slovakia looked likely to be invited to begin entry negotiations with the EU, Kukan said he would waste no time rejoicing. "If we are successful at the EU summit in Helsinki, we can forget about the good will that has been shown to us," he said. "An invitation to join accession negotiations with the EU will mean hard work, and it is on the results of this hard work that we will be judged."
Kukan has been a seminal figure in Slovak diplomacy throughout the 1990's. Having graduated from Moscow's International Relations Institute in 1964, Kukan was posted to Czechoslovak diplomatic missions in Zambia (1968-1973), Washington (1977-1981) and Ethiopia (1985-1988). From 1990 to 1992 he served at the UN in New York, and from 1993-1994 he was Slovakia's permanent representative to the UN.
Kukan did not get into politics until 1994, when he was invited to be the Minister of Foreign Affairs in the short-lived government of Jozef Moravčík. "It was a natural development after Mečiar's dramatic ouster in 1994," he said. "I was drawn into politics willing or not. It was an exciting and new experience after my diplomatic postings."
With the return of Mečiar in late 1994, Kukan was elected to parliament for the Democratic Union (DÚ) party and became its chairman in 1997. During his year's in opposition, Kukan said, he kept in touch with diplomats visiting Slovakia. "I would usually invite them to my apartment rather than eat in a restuarant," he recalled. "It was interesting for them to see how I lived."
Following the landslide victory of opposition parties in September, 1998, Kukan began his second term as Foreign Minister. In late April, he received one of the highest honours ever awarded a Slovak diplomat - he was named by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan as one of two special UN Envoys for Kosovo.
Kukan himself ascribed the honour to a bottle of scotch that he had meant to give US President George Bush following the 1992 presidential elections. Bush lost, and Kukan ended up presenting the bottle to Annan. "he never forgot that bottle," Kukan said with a laugh.
And where did he come by the nickname 'Fred Flintstone'? "I don't know, I picked it up somewhere during the pre-election campaign last year," he said. "Maybe I look like Fred when my hair is longer. But I take it all in good fun."
15. Nov 1999 at 0:00 | Tom Nicholson