The verdict is in

Pavol Demeš, head of the Central and Eastern European Branch of the German Marshal Fund of the US, and well-known civic activist: "The address by President Bush at Hviezdoslavovo Square will definitely belong to one of the most important moments of his European tour

Pavol Demeš, head of the Central and Eastern European Branch of the German Marshal Fund of the US, and well-known civic activist: "The address by President Bush at Hviezdoslavovo Square will definitely belong to one of the most important moments of his European tour. It was the only public appearance during his stops in Brussels, Mainz and Bratislava. In this speech he not only spoke to Slovaks but also sent a message to the world, and at the same time it echoed his personal and statesmanlike address after he was re-elected to the presidential seat.

"I was happy to see that despite the bad weather plenty of people came to the meeting, I was pleased with the atmosphere at the square."

Boris Zala, opposition Smer party member and parliamentary foreign committee member: "I thought the speech was well written, very clever in that it was clearly bound to Slovak history out of which President Bush developed the idea of values.

"I thought it was interesting that he did not speak of the country in the context of Czechoslovakia but as Slovakia, throughout the speech.

"It was a dignified and respectful speech. I liked the fact that he appreciated Slovakia's struggle for democracy and the country's support for US international actions, despite the fact that I personally am against Bush policies from his first term in the presidential office.

"The mood at the square was positive despite the fact that there were opponents in place. But such protests are normal at events of this scale."

Juraj Marušiak, a foreign policy analyst with the Slovak Academy of Sciences: "For the public alone, the fact that the US president came to the square will stick in their memories forever. It happens very rarely that a foreign statesman comes to talk to people and shake hands with some of them.

"Bush's speech confirmed the continuation of the US policy in the Balkans and the Middle East, which are also among the priorities of the Slovak foreign policy. Apparently the topic best perceived by the public is the promise to liberalize the US visa policy towards Slovakia. It is clear that for Slovaks it is an important issue."

Stanislav Fedor, businessman: "I wasn't expecting too much. It is important to understand that this is not real. What he says is only politeness. He was nice to us simply because we are hosts of the Bush-Putin summit. Bush does not even know anything about us. I don't take his speech seriously. Americans are acting like the world police, but I don't think they have a right to be in Iraq right now. I appreciate that Slovakia will be more visible to the world. But what's really important is the summit and agreements between both presidents."

Eva Hanulová, pensioner: "I was very satisfied. He spoke slowly and used simple words. I could see that he was moved by how Slovaks accepted him. I found him very attractive, relaxed and he definitely not formal.

"He didn't expect the friendly reaction he got from the people and that the square was full. Maybe that was the reason why he decided to go to people and shake hands with some of them.

"I liked the fact that he promised to protect us in case of a military attack, that he will stand behind us in case of need. I wasn't expecting him to say that.

"I was also surprised that he started to speak about visas and that he promised to get involved personally in the issue. I don't think any changes will happen soon, but I liked that he promised to help. I don't like it when we get treated as second-class citizens. After all, he said we are his friends and allies."

Lívia Kačániová, accountant: "He fulfilled my expectations because I wasn't really expecting anything from him. I am still not sure why he has chosen Slovakia as a host country of this summit."

Linda, self-employed: "It really put me off, the way Bush made a direct parallel between the Slovaks of 1989 and the Iraqi people. He said something about a 'Purple Revolution' in Iraq, and that today is 1989 for the Iraqis.

"Not only does this discredit Slovakia's extraordinary achie-vement - the peaceful transition to democracy - it's an example of the White House rewriting history.

"The Iraqi people didn't organize themselves and stand up for democracy and achieve a peaceful transition. The US invaded them because Saddam Hussein was supposed to be hiding weapons of mass destruction, which he could deploy within 24 hours.

"I am certainly glad that Bush visited Slovakia and acknowledged our achievements. But using what Slovaks are proud of to make the Iraq situation seem better is disgraceful."

Reported by Martina Jurinová and Magdalena MacLeod

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