"If somebody thinks an ambassador can ensure positive press in the United States, they are wrong. It can't be done through beer and sausage, nor through whiskey and steak."
The "first batch of ambassadors ready to be recalled" as Mária Klímová, personnel director at the Foreign Ministry, put it, reportedly consists of three major groups. (See the complete list on this page for details.) "There are about six among them who have served enough time in the country of their appointment," Kukan said. He said Ján Vilikovský in London, Milan Trávniček in Madrid, Peter Zsoldos in Lisbon and Anton Hykisch in Ottawa are in that category.
Slovak diplomats typically serve four years, but for somebody to be recalled after three years is not unusual. "The rotation of ambassadors is a totally routine thing and we shouldn't be looking for controversy here," Kukan said. "But it will be interesting to see whether these ambassadors stay at the Foreign Ministry after they are back, or if they leave the foreign service for good. The way the Ministry treats them afterwards will indicate the actual reasons for their removal."
About eight diplomats, though, who have served for only a year or two are also part of the batch. Most of them were sent abroad by Jozef Moravčík's interim cabinet and, according to Kukan, they are now subject to scrutiny. "I know that diplomats assigned by Moravčík's cabinet are under very close watch by the present cabinet," Kukan said. In this category, he listed Jozef Klimko in Vienna, František Dlhopolček in Tel Aviv, Miroslav Lajčák in Tokyo, Klára Novotná in Stockholm, and Marián Masarik in Buenos Aires.
Initially, Pavol Hamžík, the ambassador to Germany, was also on the list. But he fell off it after opposition leader Ján Čarnogurský accused him of taking down President Michal Kováč's portrait in his office. Hamžík denied the accusation, but Čarnogurský's protest may have scored Hamžík some loyalty points in the eyes of the cabinet, which does not support Kováč. "After the president's visit to Germany, ambassador Hamžík showed loyalty to the cabinet, so [his recall] is not being considered anymore," Kukan said. According to Hamžík's press secretary, Dušan Matulay, the ambassador didn't know about the list, nor about the possibility of his name being on it.
The third major part of the batch consists of ambassadors named by Mečiar's last cabinet, who were known to be Mečiar's supporters or close allies. Such is the case of Eva Mitrová, ambassador to Hungary, who acted as Mečiar's right hand in Slovakia's 1993 acceptance into the Council of Europe. After independent Slovakia's first foreign minister, Milan Kňažko, left HZDS, Mitrová was seriously considered for the job, but it was eventually given to Moravčík. "I don't know what has happened between [Mečiar and Mitrová] and why she has appeared on the list," Kukan said.
Also in Mitrová's category are Ábel Kráľ, ambassador to Switzerland, and Branislav Lichardus, ambassador to the United States, who was sent to Washington in February 1994, just weeks before Moravčík's cabinet took over. Neither Mitrová, nor Lichardus had any knowledge of the list. Mitrová's press secretary said that according to the foreign ministry, the list does not exist and further questions should be addressed to it.
When asked further questions, the ministry's press secretary, Juraj Matejovský replied with the statement that "fundamental questions on personnel policy were already addressed in the media by Foreign Affairs Minister Juraj Schenk and State Secretary Jozef Šesták. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will not be solving personnel issues in public."
Klímová said at a HZDS rally that the main reason for ambassadorial removals was a failure to perform tasks assigned at the April meeting of ambassadors in Bratislava. Kukan said three major issues were addressed at the meeting. Most of all, ambassadors were told to be much more active in putting forth Slovakia's economic and trade interests. Secondly, a need to react to press in the country of appointment was stressed.
"Of course, taking care of the country's image is a very important part of an ambassador's job," Kukan said. "But if somebody thinks an ambassador can ensure positive press about Slovakia in the United States, they are wrong. It can't be done through beer and sausage, nor through whisky and steak," Kukan said laughing.
Klímová had recommended that a positive image in the foreign press could be achieved by inviting journalists for beer and sausage.
The third important criterion for ambassadors was to be "good Slovaks." "It was not Schenk or Šesták who stressed this," Kukan said. "But according to my information, some cabinet ministers at the meeting tried to make it the main criterion. We may soon have people in foreign service nominated on the grounds that their heart beats more strongly for Slovakia."