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Nato entry to be focus of intense media campaign

AN OLD couple working in a field looks up at a bright sky while a voice in the background murmurs "safety, certainty and peace".
"We're thinking of the same thing, we're thinking of Nato," the voice continues, as the couple smiles and a Nato symbol appears in the heavens.
This TV spot is already doing the rounds of Slovakia's television stations, and more are in the making. Together with live debates and brief interviews with celebrities stressing the importance of the country's joining Nato, it is the centrepiece of the government's plan to increase support for Alliance membership to over 60 per cent of the adult population before the November Nato expansion summit in Prague.

AN OLD couple working in a field looks up at a bright sky while a voice in the background murmurs "safety, certainty and peace".

"We're thinking of the same thing, we're thinking of Nato," the voice continues, as the couple smiles and a Nato symbol appears in the heavens.

This TV spot is already doing the rounds of Slovakia's television stations, and more are in the making. Together with live debates and brief interviews with celebrities stressing the importance of the country's joining Nato, it is the centrepiece of the government's plan to increase support for Alliance membership to over 60 per cent of the adult population before the November Nato expansion summit in Prague.

Slovakia plans to spend almost Sk35 million ($714,000) this year on the promotional campaign, which is being run by a group of experts from the Government Office and the Foreign, Defence, Interior, Culture and Environment Ministries.

The group was created in October 1999 as part of the cabinet's response to the Kosovo crisis. Nato's bombing campaign in Yugoslavia, whose aim was to force Serb troops out of the Kosovo enclave, disturbed Slovaks and "resulted in a considerable drop in public support for Nato entry," said Juraj Ďurina, vice-chair of the expert group.

In 2000 and 2001 some Sk60 million was spent on a pro-Nato information campaign, Ďurina said, accompanied by a gradual increase in support for Nato entry (see chart).

Of the money to be spent this year in the run-up to the crucial Prague summit, some Sk15 million will be distributed among major electronic media such as the private TV Markíza, which will produce 549 TV spots worth Sk6.6 million and featuring local celebrities endorsing Nato entry.

Public broadcaster Slovak television (STV) is budgeted for Sk2.5 million, while Sk3.9 million is earmarked for national and regional papers. Non-governmental organisations will receive Sk5.8 million.

"In the media the money should be invested mainly in ads, but we don't want to give the impression we want to brainwash people," Ďurina said.

Alexander Duleba, head of research with the Slovak Foreign Policy Association (SFPA) think tank, said similar campaigns had unfolded several years ago in the neighbouring Czech Republic and Hungary, which with Poland became Nato members in March 1999. Duleba said that before their country joined Nato, 56 per cent of Czechs had supported the move, the result of "a massive campaign including artists, sports people and other celebrities".

According to Duleba, the level of public support for Nato entry is vital in convincing Nato members that not only politicians but also the citizenry of Alliance candidates is committed to joining. "Membership needs to be seen as an expression of real national will, reflected in concrete pro-Nato steps and including some less popular measures connected to Nato membership," he explained.

Since the 1999 Kosovo crisis, Duleba said, Nato had become more sensitive to public opinion in aspiring member countries. The Alliance had learned a painful lesson when Czechs and Hungarians, having been Nato members for barely two weeks, began saying in April 1999 they did not want to participate in military action in Kosovo.

"This created strong doubts as to the willingness of these countries to fulfil their commitments," he said.

In Slovakia's case, Duleba continued, the need for strong popular support was heightened by memories of the 1994 to 1998 period when the country was led by Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) party chairman Vladimír Mečiar.

The autocratic behaviour of the HZDS in government caused Slovakia to be dropped from the list of possible members in 1997, and while Mečiar has recently declared Nato entry a priority for his party, the Alliance remains unconvinced that his pro-Nato stance is sincere.

"Nato integration is not just a matter of political proclamations but of visible and concrete actions," Duleba said.

Peter Burian, Slovakia's ambassador to Nato in Brussels, noted that in meetings with countries aspiring to join the military bloc, the issue of public support was a regular item on the agenda.

"It's not just the army that enters the Alliance but the entire society," he added.

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