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THE COUNTRY IS AT ODDS WITH THE REST OF EUROPE REGARDING GLOBAL AFFAIRS

Slovaks keep distant

SLOVAKS are out of alignment with the new EU world order, according to a recently published international opinion poll. Not only are Slovaks more interested in domestic issues than other European nations but they also prefer to keep aloof from international affairs. Where Slovaks take an overwhelmingly critical view of dominant world leadership, the rest of Europe is more indulgent.


MESEŽNIKOV chats about the survey's findings.
photo: TASR

SLOVAKS are out of alignment with the new EU world order, according to a recently published international opinion poll. Not only are Slovaks more interested in domestic issues than other European nations but they also prefer to keep aloof from international affairs. Where Slovaks take an overwhelmingly critical view of dominant world leadership, the rest of Europe is more indulgent.

The findings are part of Transatlantic Trends 2004, an in-depth survey that looks into the pressing issues shaping the US/European relationship, such as threat perceptions, the legitimacy of multilateral institutions and use of force, foreign policy priorities, and general feelings toward each other.

In its third year, Transatlantic Trends 2004 canvassed public opinion in more than 10 European nations and the US. It was the first time that Slovakia was asked to participate. Also new to the survey were Spain and Turkey, as well as questions on Turkey's potential membership to the European Union.

Analyst Grigorij Mesežnikov from the Institute for Public Affairs, a Bratislava-based think tank, sees Slovakia's general dissimilarity to other nations as "probably common in small central European states". He cites "anti-Soviet sentiment" as one reason older Slovaks oppose a world aligned around select superpowers. For the younger generation, he blames naiveté.

"We do ascribe this refusal of superpowers as some sort of political romanticism combined with the lack of information about how international policy works," Mesežnikov said.

He admits that it is possible that Slovakia's disinterest stems from never having played an important role in international affairs. "Although there are many international policy experts [in Slovakia], foreign policy public discourse never quite developed," Mesežnikov said.

The Slovak public values the ethos of alliance and subscribes to the principle of multilateralism. However, the Slovaks are below the European average when it comes to acknowledging the necessity of NATO for their country's security; also, they are less ready to endorse the country's military involvement in defending its allies.

"People here ascribe greater importance to domestic issues, social affair, unemployment, and the like," said Mesežnikov. As revealed by the study, the top five Slovak priorities pertain to domestic issues, such as adequate living standards, health care, and so on.

In Slovakia, as in all surveyed countries, a random sample of approximately 1,000 men and women 18 years and older, were interviewed for the transatlantic project. Bratislava's Institute for Public Affairs supported the survey in Slovakia, as well as provided additional data for the publication of Transatlantic Trends 2004.

Slovakia differed from its EU fellows on a few notable issues: 25 percent think Slovakia should stay away from international affairs and take an isolated or at least "non-interventionist" approach (far above the EU average); 68 percent are against the US exerting a strong leadership in world affairs (compared to 54 percent of British and 39 percent of Polish respondents); 57 percent believe "no country should be a superpower" (compared to 20 percent in other European nations); and Slovaks answered, "I don't know" or "I don't have an opinion" more frequently than any other nation.

The survey concludes that despite two years of intense divisions, majorities in both Europe and the US are interested in cooperating on international problems.

"One year since the beginning of the Iraqi conflict, and in spite of all that has been said and done, many Europeans still wish to remain on friendly terms with the US; at the same time, though, they wish to play a more independent and self-reliant role in global developments".

The transatlantic project started less than a year after 9/11 in a survey called Worldviews 2002, aiming mainly to compare the views of Americans and Europeans - especially the inhabitants of Great Britain, France, Germany, Poland, Italy and the Netherlands - of the issues of security, transatlantic partnership, and the securing of global stability.


What do Slovaks fear most?
Terrorism is what keeps Slovaks up at night, while a Middle Eastern conflict between Israel and its neighbours causes the least stress.
Below is a perception of international threats listed as a percentage that respondents in Slovakia, EU9 (including France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal Spain, and Slovakia), and the US labelled as extremely important:
Slovakia EU9 USA
International terrorism 63 71 76
A terrorist attack using weapons of mass destruction 48 56 75
The global spread of a disease, such as AIDS 47 52 51
Major economic downturn 36 43 41
Islamic fundamentalism 31 52 51
Large number of immigrants and refugees coming to Europe 27 22 26
Military conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbours 23 40 38

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