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EDITORIAL

Slovakia's sacrifice

THE 60th anniversary of the Allied invasion of occupied France, and the death of US President Ronald Reagan, who was often referred to as the president who defeated communism, served as a good reminder of the US role in Slovakia's history in the course of the previous century.
Four key events in Slovakia's recent history were connected with the actions of what is now the world's sole superpower: The dismantling of the Austro-Hungarian empire and the creation of an independent Czechoslovakia, the downfall of Slovakia's fascist regime, the decomposition of the soviet bloc along with the defeat of its destructive ideology, and the end of reign of the former authoritarian PM Vladimír Mečiar.

THE 60th anniversary of the Allied invasion of occupied France, and the death of US President Ronald Reagan, who was often referred to as the president who defeated communism, served as a good reminder of the US role in Slovakia's history in the course of the previous century.

Four key events in Slovakia's recent history were connected with the actions of what is now the world's sole superpower: The dismantling of the Austro-Hungarian empire and the creation of an independent Czechoslovakia, the downfall of Slovakia's fascist regime, the decomposition of the soviet bloc along with the defeat of its destructive ideology, and the end of reign of the former authoritarian PM Vladimír Mečiar.

In all these instances, the US played a role that could be hardly overlooked.

"What we demand in this war, is nothing peculiar to ourselves," said US President Woodrow Wilson during his '14 Point' speech on War Aims and Peace Terms delivered on January 8, 1918 to the US Congress.

Wilson's point number 10, in which he stipulated that, "the peoples of Austria-Hungary, whose place among the nations we wish to see safeguarded and assured, should be accorded the freest opportunity to autonomous development," was most important for the future of Slovakia, which became a part of the newly formed Czechoslovak state.

Despite the many problems Slovaks faced in the subsequent years, the creation of a common state with the Czechs was certainly one of the great positives in the nation's history.

It is needless to stress the role of the US in defeating oppressive fascist regimes across the European continent in World War II, in which the recently commemorated opening of a Western front on the dawn of June 6, 1944 played an instrumental part.

The loss of American life in that conflict exceeded 400,000.

America also emerged as the winner of the cold war, which entered its final stages under Reagan. That victory opened the door not only to Slovakia's democratisation, but also to its national independence.

When Slovakia's emerging democracy struggled for survival under the authoritarian Mečiar, the US again stepped in and helped the country by providing financial assistance and contributing to the international pressure aimed at ousting Mečiar.

On all of these occasions the US helped Slovakia. Now it seems that the US might be in need of Slovakia's help.

"This is... the worst time imaginable for the allies to be showing any weakness in relation to the pursuit of our goals in Iraq," said Australian Prime Minister John Howard during a recent visit to Washington. He was right.

Regardless of whether the decision to invade Iraq was justified and sufficiently planned for, all circumstances seem to indicate that the US now has no option but to stay in Iraq for as long as it takes to ensure security in the country.

The responsibility for the success of that endeavour lies almost exclusively with the US. Its decision to pull out prematurely could be disastrous for the US, for Iraq, and for the entire region. And it has to be understood that any instability in the oil-rich region might mean big trouble for the world economy.

The US simply has no choice. The allies of the US, however, do have a choice. They may choose to maintain their military presence in Iraq, or they may choose to leave, putting the burden entirely on the shoulders of those who decide to stay, especially the US.

An increasing number of allies are starting to consider doing just that as a result of widespread violence and complexity in Iraq. Yet leaving now would make the security situation in Iraq worse, not better.

Following the tragic deaths of three of its soldiers in Iraq, some local politicians would like to see Slovakia among the countries that are planning to bring their military personnel home.

Opening the debate on withdrawing Slovak troops could be sensitive not only because it goes against the interests of Slovakia's ally and of Iraqis, who wish for security and stability, but also because of the reason that has led to the discussion - the loss of the lives of Slovak soldiers.

Death, as sad and tragic as it is, has always been inherent to warfare. Slovak representatives had to be well aware that Slovakia might suffer causalities in this operation, as they were making the decision to deploy its forces in a place that would be a conflict zone during their entire stay. The same goes for all those opposing Slovakia's involvement.

The threat has been imminent all along, yet almost everyone kept quiet until now. Let us only hope that the criticism is only a spontaneous, if irresponsible, reaction in the face of a dreadful event and not a cynical attempt to exploit the deaths for political gain.

Truly responsible statesmen should now declare support for the military operation and stress its evident necessity. Knowing that Slovakia is pursuing a worthy aim, appreciated across the political spectrum, would certainly help improve the morale of Slovak troops stationed in Iraq as well as help the nation cope with the losses.

Whatever led to the war in Iraq, today, Slovakia's help there is needed. We must be prepared to make painful sacrifices. But these sacrifices are made in the name of a just cause and bring honour to a nation and its fallen heroes.

This is the message Slovakia now needs to hear.

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