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Sending the "wrong message"?

As a frequent visitor to Slovakia, I rely on The Slovak Spectator for its accurate information and professional reporting. I applaud your recent decision to run regular editorials, all the more since the issues addressed - the aborted referendum, unregulated capital markets, and NATO expansion - are consequential to Slovakia's democratic development, prosperity, and security and merit the fullest public discussion.
While it is clear that The Spectator seeks to promote a democratic Slovakia and its inclusion in Europe, it is doubtful that these goals are always well-served by your editorials. A case in point is your recent commentary on NATO expansion ("For the Sake of Stability...", July 3-16, "Slovakia Falls off the Map", July 17-August 13), which, I believe, sends the wrong message.

As a frequent visitor to Slovakia, I rely on The Slovak Spectator for its accurate information and professional reporting. I applaud your recent decision to run regular editorials, all the more since the issues addressed - the aborted referendum, unregulated capital markets, and NATO expansion - are consequential to Slovakia's democratic development, prosperity, and security and merit the fullest public discussion.

While it is clear that The Spectator seeks to promote a democratic Slovakia and its inclusion in Europe, it is doubtful that these goals are always well-served by your editorials. A case in point is your recent commentary on NATO expansion ("For the Sake of Stability...", July 3-16, "Slovakia Falls off the Map", July 17-August 13), which, I believe, sends the wrong message.

If I have understood correctly, the point of the first editorial was to defend Slovakia's inclusion into NATO, while the second sought to explain why Slovakia remains excluded. In fact, both arguments amount to special pleading for Slovakia, which - rhetoric aside - is little different from the apologetics routinely offered by Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar's government to obscure and/or justify its continuing democratic deficit.

It may well be that Slovak citizens are confused about the NATO issue. It is definitely true that the pro-government media have purposefully sought to circumscribe informed public debate. What is hard to fathom is how from this you could infer that the other Visegrad countries are likewise "confused" and their populations equally wary of NATO membership. On the contrary, as the unanimous ratification of NATO membership by the Hungarian Parliament on July 15 shows, there is widespread consensus that Hungary should belong to NATO. Public discussions over the last year indicate that the same sentiment holds for the majority of Polish and Czech citizens.

Even more disturbing than your flawed comparison was the faulty logic of your conclusion: since Slovakia is not ready, no one is ready; better to admit all four Visegrad countries at once, or none at all. Never mind that Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic have satisfied the military and political conditions of NATO membership. Never mind that their citizens and their democratically elected governments desperately desire membership, and desire it now.

Your editorial proposed that the countries which presently qualify should nonetheless be denied immediate acceptance - and for no better reason than that "Slovakia is not ready." Rather than urge the Mečiar government to display the same commitment to democracy, which is the sine qua non of NATO membership, you all but endorsed penalizing these committed democracies for shortcomings which belong to the Slovak government alone. Given The Spectator's explicit avowal of democratic principles, special pleading of this sort is bizarre indeed.

The second editorial goes even further. Incredibly, you explain that Slovakia has "fallen off the map of Europe" because it has no common borders with a NATO country, no NATO patron, and little at stake for foreign investors. This reasoning misses the point.

To see why, one has only to ask, why is Romania a preferred candidate for the next round and not Slovakia? Neither has common borders with a NATO member and neither has substantial foreign investment. True, Romania does enjoy the patronage of several NATO countries, particularly France. But nowhere do you explain why. The reason is simple: because the newly elected Constantinescu government has demonstrated an unequivocal commitment to democracy, a commitment which - it bears noting - recommends Romania's candidacy even despite its economic problems.

The same cannot be said of the Mečiar government. For proof, one need look no further than its brazen - and constitutionally dubious - cancellation of the referendum on a directly-elected presidency, in direct defiance of the wishes of the majority of citizens. If, like Romania, the Slovak government were moving steadily toward democracy, then Slovakia's candidacy would face no shortage of NATO patrons.

Your argument suggests that the criteria of NATO membership have nothing to do with the democratic credentials of the applicant countries (which they do) - and everything to do with the self-interest of alliance members (which they do not). This reasoning is fraught with dangerous implications.

In effect, you vindicate the Mečiar government's allegation that, in the recent words of Foreign Minister Zdenka Kramplová, NATO "didn't use the same rule to measure all candidates". Apart from being woefully misconceived, the idea that Slovakia is being held unfairly to a separate and arbitrary standard plays nicely into the Mečiar government's allegation of an "anti-Slovak conspiracy," while strengthening their wrong-headed conviction that they can (and will) enjoy the rewards of NATO membership while doing nothing to earn them.

If The Spectator's aim really is to promote the integration of a democratic Slovakia in a democratic Europe, then let the reasons for Slovakia's present exclusion from NATO be stated plainly. As U.S. Ambassador to Slovakia Ralph Johnson explained, the main stumbling block is neither military nor economic, but political. Before any convincing case can be made for NATO (and EU) membership, it is the responsibility of the Mečiar government to take NATO criteria seriously.

To demonstrate good faith, the coalition must conduct itself according to the principles of rule-of-law, public accountability, and tolerance of ethnic and political diversity. In the absence of such democratic behavior, no amount of special pleading will do. Nor should it.


Karen Ballentine, PhD Candidate
Columbia University, New York City

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