Slovakia certainly could have used time to boost its democratic credentials in the eyes of the West. But now the consequences of Slovakia being omitted draws another awkward line in Europe with Slovaks split from Czechs with whom just four years ago they shared a nation, split from the Visegrad 4 - Poland and Hungary and again the Czech Republic - who they share common experiences with, split from the Europe that they are trying desperately to be a part of.
Slovak citizens were asked to vote in a referendum May 23-24, whether or not they agreed to join NATO. It was the first time people of a state from the former Warsaw Pact were asked if they wanted to join an alliance that just 10 years ago they were against.
The public campaign on television, radio, and in newspapers that was supposed to inform citizens on the pros and cons of NATO membership failed. This can be seen from the results from the referendum in which only 10 percent of eligible voters participated, firstly, because of the confusion surrounding the ballots with four or three questions on it, but secondly, because many people were unsure about voting for or against NATO due to lack of knowledge about the consequences of a "Yes" or "No" vote.
Because it was not clear what NATO membership means, people instead associate NATO with the West and what their brief experiences have shown them. As citizens of a new, democratic country trying to stake out its national identity, people ask: Do we want to run west when drugs and crime and economic uncertainty have descended upon us since 1989, when we embraced the West? But do we want to go back to the East where corruption, and authoritarian leaders have stomped out our freedom in the past? They are uneasy questions that exist in the other Visegrad countries as well.
The theory behind NATO expansion is to provide a collective security umbrella over a democratic Europe so that nations can concentrate on improving their way of life economically. This umbrella is provided by the United States, whose military and economic power can do this. It is in NATO's interest for peace in Europe to avoid another disastrous war. For 40 years this arrangement covered Western Europe and these countries flourished economically. It is the wish of NATO-policy makers to extend this defense guarantee to Central Europe so that these nations too can flourish. So with no enemy, this security guarantee becomes more a symbol of European and North American ideals. It is in this ideal of democracy that Slovakia has failed in the eyes of the West.
Democracy suffers in Slovakia because of the bitter power struggle between the prime minister and president. The prime minister's actions have shown that he will go to great lengths to defeat the president. Untransparent privatization, where companies are given to political allies of the coalition for less than market value also damages the country.
But the Slovak government gets criticized for suppressing freedom of speech and persecuting minorities. In truth, freedom of speech is alive and well. There are more than 10 dailies with a wide range of political views, independent radio stations, and an independent television station. The large Hungarian minority, over 500,000 , have newspapers in Hungarian; towns with a majority population of Hungarians have signs and public documents in both Hungarian and Slovak; and both Slovaks and Hungarians say they live peacefully next to each other in these towns.
Still these facts will not get Slovakia into the alliance. Time is what Slovakia needed, to understand what was being asked, and to make democracy work. The Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland could have used time as well. Slovakia will view itself as a "have-not," in Europe. It will be suspicious of a NATO with Hungary as a member. And it will give credence to nationalists who say the West is trying to isolate the country. So the military alliance with good intentions to provide peace in Europe is in reality going to destabilize and divide Central Europe. For Europe's sake it would have been better to give that time and admit all four of the Visegrad countries at once who wished to join, or none at all.
3. Jul 1997 at 0:00