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Community Grapevine

U.S. Embassy fortifies university library

1,300 books from the U.S. Embassy's former library were donated last month to Bratislava's University Library (Univerzitá Knižnica) on Michalská ulica. The new "American Studies Collection" comprises a substantial selection of the embassy's former library, now a computer center for specialized research.

At the opening ceremony, U.S. Ambassador Ralph Johnson told a gathering of students, academics, and Culture Minister Ivan Hudec that the path the Slovak Republic has begun toward more democracy "clearly testifies to the force of ideas, especially the idea that government exists to serve the people, not the other way around." Surrounded by thousands of books about America, Johnson added, "You'll find a lot on that theme in this room."

2,500 books, of which 1,187 were newly purchased by the U.S. Information Service, in addition to those from the embassy's former library, are now available to borrow or to read on the premises (only fiction may be loaned outside the library). Three computers donated by the ProQuest Periodical Service may be used to access the library's total holdings.

The new collection embraces a range of historical, political, social, economic, and scientific issues touching on the USA, with American fiction comprising by far the greatest share. Literateurs will be pleased to learn that American authors from Emily Dickinson to Raymond Carver can be found in what must be an American literature collection unmatched in Slovakia.

Trans-Atlantic friends

A non-profit organization based in Canada and the U.S. called "Friends of Slovakia" aims to become "the biggest Slovak organization in the world," says the foundation's American director, Henry Siegel, who also works at the National Agency for Small and Median Business Enterprises in Bratislava.

The year-old NGO, which currently numbers 50 members, plans to promote Slovak-North American relations while "staying clear of politics" by raising funds from the international community to restore historic Slovak monuments, bringing tourism to Slovakia through package tours at a discount for foundation members, providing employment contacts in the U.S. and Canada, and commissioning crafts, calendars and gift items from Slovak artists.

Friends of Slovakia also publishes a quarterly newsletter, "Sem a Tam na Slovensko," and a magazine called "Heritage Slovakia" for subscriber members.

Friends of Slovakia is currently negotiating with municipal officials in Lučenec as well as the Slovak Bureau of Monuments (Pamiatkový ústav) to bring college graduates from North America to work for a full year on restoring a 70-year-old synagogue in Lučenec and other historic Slovak buildings.

For more information, contact Siegel at Národná Agentúra Rozvoja Malého a Stredného Podnikania at tel. 07/231-873 or 237-472, or e-mail: hsiegel@ibm.net.

Forrest Gump Award for integrating disabled people

A foundation for integrating disabled with non-disabled people called Nadácia Krajina Harmónie ("Land of Harmony") will present its third annual "Forrest Gump Award" in Žilina on December 22, to three people who have each "made a major step" towards integrating the disabled with the non-disabled community.

Soňa Holubková, Harmony's director, expects around 100 people at the event, which will honor a disabled and a non-disabled person as well as the person or group to provide the most financial support for the foundation this year. Viera Dubacová, the actress and founder of Banská Bystrica's theater group for disabled people, Divadlo z Pasáže, is expected to attend.

In addition to the Gump award, Harmony sponsors year-round events to encourage better relations among people with disabilities and the non-disabled, including a four-day festival in September, Jaši Dielňa ("Joy Workshop"), during which disabled and non-disabled get to know each other better by sharing a table at restaurants and meeting in other public places in Žilina.

For more information, contact Holubková at tel. 089/325-53.

AmCham supports Slovak Paralympians

The American Chamber of Commerce donated 200,000 Sk to the Slovak Paralympic Committee in observance of Thanksgiving. Slovak athletes garnered 11 medals at the 10th Summer Paralympics in Atlanta this year.

Invisible college opens

University students in Bratislava can supplement their undergraduate studies through one-on-one tutorials with teachers at an "invisible college."

Why invisible? "Simple. There is no building, no bureaucracy - only students, tutors and a small administrative staff," says Rachel Hammonds, a teacher in the program, which is sponsored by George Soros's Open Society Fund, among others.

The Society for Higher Learning, as the program is known in Slovakia, aims to stem the "brain drain" of Slovak students to Western study programs in search of an alternative to Slovak higher education. "We offer students tutors they can respect, while the tutors are given students they can respect," Hammonds told the Grapevine. "

Each tutor is chosen to specialize in the student's specific field of study, such as European Union law. He has the opportunity to study something that isn't offered at universities."

Hammonds said the Society's success in Hungary and Poland, where it is known as "The Invisible College," inspired its founder, Samuel Abrahám, to start the organization here. For more, contact Hammonds at 07/364-938 or 364-940.

Hook up with the "Dutch Connection"

A monthly get-together called "Dutch Connection" has been meeting for good talk and ground roast at Bratislava's café U Anjelov since May. Marianna Noteboom, a Dutch Embassy official, established the club to bring together expatriates in the community from all national backgrounds for an evening of free discussion on the second Thursday of each month.

About 20 Dutch, American, Irish and other expats generally start trickling in at about 7 p.m., says Noteboom, but "the time to get there is about 8," before the joint gets too crowded to find a seat. Drop by at Laurinská ulica 7.

South African Ambassador leaves after four years

René Victor Franken, the South African Ambassador to Slovakia since 1993 and a diplomatic advisor to the South African Consulate in Czechoslovakia since 1991, has left Slovakia and is being replaced by Peter Vermeulen, formerly with South Africa's diplomatic service in Washington and Taipei, on December 6.

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