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US Ambassador presents US position on NATO ommission of Slovakia

US Ambassador Ralph Johnson deliverd a speech in Slovak on July 14 in Bratislava titled, "Strengthening US-Slovak Relations." Here is an abbreviated version of his speech:
I have two important goals in these remarks: first, with NATO's Madrid summit behind us, I would like to discuss why the United States could not support Slovakia's NATO membership at this time. I believe it is important that we share with the people of Slovakia the reasons behind our decision. Second, I wish to make clear that we want to see Slovakia take its place among Western democracies and that we will continue to work hard to help Slovakia achieve this important objective.

US Ambassador Ralph Johnson deliverd a speech in Slovak on July 14 in Bratislava titled, "Strengthening US-Slovak Relations." Here is an abbreviated version of his speech:

I have two important goals in these remarks: first, with NATO's Madrid summit behind us, I would like to discuss why the United States could not support Slovakia's NATO membership at this time. I believe it is important that we share with the people of Slovakia the reasons behind our decision. Second, I wish to make clear that we want to see Slovakia take its place among Western democracies and that we will continue to work hard to help Slovakia achieve this important objective.

The door to NATO entry remains open: we look forward to the day when Slovakia will be able to walk through it.

Moving towards a united Europe

The United States and Slovakia along with our European partners are engaged in the long, but crucial effort to create a democratic, prosperous, and secure Europe: A Europe that will never again be divided, a Europe that will bring unprecedented freedom and economic opportunity to all of its citizens.

On July 8, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) took a very important step toward reaching the goal of uniting Europe.

On that date, NATO members agreed unanimously to invite three central European states - the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland - to begin accession negotiations.

For Europe, this was an historic moment in the effort to make the continent whole again. For NATO, this step represents the continuation of its ongoing mission to secure for all of Europe a democratic, prosperous, and stable future.

Principles of NATO enlargement

The decision of the United States to support three new entrants into NATO was guided by five principles:

1) NATO enlargement must strengthen the Alliance. Aspiring new members must be willing and able to contribute to the overall defense of NATO's territory.
2) Each country selected must have an established track record of reform. New members must demonstrate that they are committed to the democratic and market-oriented values the alliance represents and is pledged to defend.
3) The enlargement process must continue to provide all countries of central and eastern Europe with incentives to stay on the path of integration, reform and reconciliation.
4) NATO must also avoid diluting itself by pursuing a hasty and overly ambitious enlargement.
5) Finally, we must all be comfortable with and willing to assume the responsibility that the Article V Security Guarantee entails.

Slovakia and NATO membership - positive progress

Slovakia was among those considered for NATO membership in the first round and Slovakia, too, was judged by the standards that I have outlined.

In a number of areas, Slovakia's application for membership was assessed positively. The country's macroeconomics performance, thanks in large part to a growing tradition of disciplined monetary and fiscal policies, has led the way in central Europe. Inflation is low, economic growth has been strong and the private sector share of GDP is now over 80 percent. Despite some areas in which there is clear need for improvement, we believe that Slovakia is working its way through the difficulties of moving to a market-oriented economy.

In addition, the Slovak military has been widely recognized by all NATO members, including the United States, as one of the best performers under the Partnership for Peace program. The Slovak army has further enhanced its reputation as a model peacekeeping force in the former Yugoslavia, where it has won praise for its professionalism and expertise.

Slovakia and NATO membership - Concerns

I want to take this opportunity to review for the citizens of the Slovak Republic examples of the concerns about Slovakia's democratic development that led the United States to conclude that we could not yet support Slovakia's candidacy.

These observations are made in the spirit of openness. we believe it is important to share it the Slovak people the basis for a decision that affects their future. The United States does not raise such serious issues without making every effort to discuss these matters with all the parties involved.

We continually meet with a wide spectrum of government, political, business, military, and non-governmental organizations to ensure that we have the best possible understanding of events. The United States will continue to seek dialogue at every level of society with people who have a range of opinions and thoughts on developments in Slovakia.

None of our concerns should come as any surprise to the government or the citizens of Slovakia. The United States and our European partners have routinely expressed reservations about certain aspects of Slovakia's democracy to the highest levels of the Slovak government as well as in public fora.

There are two broad areas in which disturbing anti-democratic developments have taken place in Slovakia. The first is the intolerant and unfair treatment of those with opposing points of view. The second is the increasing centralization of power.

Tolerance and the rule of law

Tolerance is a key factor in the ongoing development of democracy. It is a fundamental requirement for the full participation of all citizens and their representatives in the democratic process. We are concerned with the lack of tolerance in Slovakia today.

- Those who express views that are contrary to those of the government are often described as anti-Slovak or unpatriotic only because they do not agree with government policy and say so.

- The ruling coalition has repeatedly refused to open important parliamentary committees, such as the Intelligence Oversight Committee, to members of the opposition. At the same time, parliament itself appears o be relegated to an increasingly marginal role, with less and less scope for meaningful participation by opposition parties in key decisions.

- The government's failure to comply with the decisions of the authority responsible under Slovak law for overseeing the May 23-24 referendum showed a lack of respect for the rule of law and frustrated the ability of the people to express their will on two questions of obvious importance o them. We view the government's conduct during this referendum as a step backward from the democratic record of free and fair elections in Slovakia since 1989.

- While we applaud the government's conclusion of a bilateral agreement with Hungary, since that time it has taken few concrete steps to reach out to the country's ethnic minorities. A minority language law, recommended by the OSCE, and promised nearly two years ago by the government, has yet to be passed. It's adoption, in consultation with all interested political parties in parliament, would go a long way toward codifying important language rights for those citizens of the Slovak Republic whose mother tongue is not the Slovak language.

Centralization of Power

we are concerned as well about the trend toward recentralization of power over every day life. For example,

- The increasing politicization of state administrative structures has taken political patronage to an extraordinarily low level. In actual practice, political party affiliation is becoming a widespread requirement for directors of local schools and other centrally funded institutions that provide services at the local level, a well as for okresny and krajsky urad positions from top to bottom.

What Conclusions Do We Draw?

Observing these trends, the United States reluctantly concluded that it could not support Slovakia's NATO entry now. I want to make clear that the concerns we have expressed about Slovakia are not the result of some hidden anti-Slovak conspiracy. There has been no secret deal made over the heads of the citizens of Slovakia between the United States and any other country.

Slovakia's inability to secure early NATO membership is the result of policy decisions that are made in Bratislava, not in Washington or Brussels.

America's Pledge To Slovakia

The United States, one of the first countries to recognize Slovak independence and the first country to deliver assistance to Slovakia, has an obligation to be as clear as possible with future partners about those things that are both positive and negative.

Today, I would like to leave you with a clear and unequivocal pledge to Slovakia by which the United States will stand:

-The United States will continue to support and encourage Slovakia's efforts to join transatlantic and European structures.

-The United States will not take sides with any political grouping: we will support those from any political viewpoint who work for the development of Slovakia's democracy.

-The United States will continue to speak out on principles of democratic and economic reform as a friend and partner of Slovakia.

-The United States will continue its close cooperation with the Slovak government, the parliament, the ministry of foreign affairs, the ministry of defense and the military to strengthen this nation's ability to take its place within the emerging transatlantic security architecture.

That is our commitment to you. I look forward to working with all of you as you strive to make Slovakia's full reentry into Europe a reality.

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