SLOVAKS IGNORANT OF NATO, WAVERING SUPPORT FOR ALLIANCE TARGETED AS THE COUNTRY NEARS ENTRY

"Think NATO" campaign launched

AN OSTRICH with its head stuck in the sand, and a field with trees symbolising an invisible, yet effective army are among the images in a new state-funded campaign to promote awareness of NATO and the importance of Slovakia's membership in the Alliance.
The need for the campaign, which will cost taxpayers Sk24 million (€583,900), arises from a recent survey that revealed that many Slovaks believe that NATO is a military organization comparable to the defunct power bloc of former communist countries, the Warsaw Pact.


"THE best army is that which you cannot see" and "do not push your head into the sand" reads the text.
photo: Courtesy of Mayer/McCann-Erickson

AN OSTRICH with its head stuck in the sand, and a field with trees symbolising an invisible, yet effective army are among the images in a new state-funded campaign to promote awareness of NATO and the importance of Slovakia's membership in the Alliance.

The need for the campaign, which will cost taxpayers Sk24 million (€583,900), arises from a recent survey that revealed that many Slovaks believe that NATO is a military organization comparable to the defunct power bloc of former communist countries, the Warsaw Pact. The pact's troops invaded the former Czechoslovakia in 1968 to put an end to what at the time had been perceived as a democratisation process in the former Soviet satellite state.

Since 1999, when Slovakia adopted its first preparation for NATO membership (PRENAME) programme, public awareness campaigns have consumed millions of Slovak crowns to promote the Alliance.

The most recent campaign is another in a row of events aiming to ensure that by the time the country officially enters the Alliance as scheduled in May 2004, Slovaks will be informed and dedicated NATO citizens.

The campaign officially started at the end of September and will last until the start of November, with the involvement of major Slovak media, including print, radio, and TV channels.

"Rather than simply raising public support for entry into the Alliance in a short-term period, the goal of the cabinet's policy is to create conditions for the public's long-term, stable support for Slovakia's entry and sustained membership in NATO," Ľubica Pisuthová of the defence minister's communications office said in a statement for The Slovak Spectator.

According to a July survey carried out by the Gabal Analysis & Consulting firm, 63 percent of Slovaks agreed with their state's entry into the Alliance, yet the support has fluctuated recently, depending on the international situation.

The Statistics Office surveys show support for NATO entry reached its lowest point this past January, when only 46 percent of respondents were in favour of the entry.

According to sociologist Ivan Gabal, Slovaks are generally unable to agree on what international position their country should take, and despite the relatively high support for NATO entry, as much as 71 percent of respondents believed that Slovakia would have been better off if it had stayed neutral. NATO entry was a priority for a mere two percent of respondents in Gabal's survey, as opposed to the 46 percent of people who considered EU entry to be a primary issue.

Peter Obdržálek from the Mayer/McCann-Erickson firm, which won the tender for the campaign, says "the goal of the project is to stabilise public support for Slovakia's membership in NATO."

He said that in addition to media involvement, big posters promoting NATO will be placed in public places, including train stations, bus stops, and hospitals.

The Sk24 million (€583,900) is a major part of this year's total budget of Sk33 million (€802,880) allocated by the state for what the 2003 PRENAME national programme document dubs "working with public opinion".

According to the Defence Ministry's Pisuthová, the Slovak cabinet has committed itself to actively forming public opinion leading up to and during the NATO accession process; the new campaign is simply part of fulfilling this commitment.

"In this context, it is necessary for a unified, active cabinet policy to explain the principles, goals, and tasks of NATO. It must further point out that Slovakia's membership in NATO, the strongest and most stable collective defence body, is the most effective tool for securing safety, stability, and prosperity in Slovakia," Pisuthová said.

All Slovak parliamentary political parties, except for the Communists, are in favour of NATO entry.

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