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BUSINESS FOCUS - UNITED KINGDOM - CLOSER TIES AND SPECIAL "SLOVAK DAYS" IMPROVE COUNTRY'S IMAGE

Slovakia seen positively in UK

THE BRITISH media's reporting of Slovakia before EU membership in May was pretty negative. Most of the attention centred on Roma travelling to the UK and applying for asylum. Fears of a massive influx of Roma into Britain failed to materialise.
This led to a shift in attitude from the media in Britain towards Slovakia. For example, the BBC "Breakfast" programme recently made a series of 10-minute films about Eastern Europe, describing the new members of the EU.


EDUCATED Slovaks have helped to improve Slovakia's image in UK.
photo: TASR

THE BRITISH media's reporting of Slovakia before EU membership in May was pretty negative. Most of the attention centred on Roma travelling to the UK and applying for asylum. Fears of a massive influx of Roma into Britain failed to materialise.

This led to a shift in attitude from the media in Britain towards Slovakia. For example, the BBC "Breakfast" programme recently made a series of 10-minute films about Eastern Europe, describing the new members of the EU. The report about Slovakia showed the Roma as hard working people returning to their craftsman roots as blacksmiths.

No longer is Slovakia seen in Britain as a problem country, but one that fulfills its EU obligations and is innovative and brave enough to put through major economic and political reforms.

Nevertheless, Juraj Zervan, spokesman for the Slovak embassy in London, says that British politicians were mostly objective when speaking about Slovakia.

"Even though Slovakia's image in the public media was rather negative, British politicians were quite balanced in their views. They had to reflect the mood and worries of their people, but they always kept the dialogue going between the UK and Slovakia.

"The Slovak government took the lead on the Roma issue by cooperating with international organisations. Good relations at the highest level of government helped to stop Slovakia being described as non-democratic or even racist."

This more positive image, both in the media and with those in power, has been reinforced by the arrival of many skilled and educated Slovaks into the UK. The Slovak embassy does not have exact numbers but the unofficial estimate is around 10,000. People arriving in the UK from Slovakia are mostly students, professionals and skilled workers, particularly in medicine.

Unfortunately, many of them return shortly after they arrive, simply because their expectations are not met and they find it difficult to adapt to a new way of life.

But tourism between the two countries is booming. The abolition of visa requirements in December 2003 and Bratislava becoming a destination for budget airlines has made spending a holiday in Britain easier and more affordable for Slovaks. And the number of British tourists choosing to spend their holidays in Slovakia is growing.

The Slovak embassy in London is helping promote Slovakia as a tourist destination by organising events such as "Slovak Tourist Day".

These events involve performances by Slovak musicians and other artists, exhibitions of Slovak glass and crystal, as well as film screenings. Annually, the embassy organises between four and six art exhibitions. It also makes information about Slovakia available to businesses over the phone, by email or by post.

Slovakia's image is improving fast but there is still a lot to be done.

Zervan told The Slovak Spectator, " I have to admit that we need to expand our embassy - especially the economic and business departments. We need to be able to cope with the growing number of enquiries and requests in an efficient way. The same goes for our cultural department. To achieve this, the Slovak government has approved the creation of a new Slovak Institute, though this won't happen in the near future, due to limited resources."

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