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The final analysis

There really does seem to be a solid understanding that Slovakia is an ally of the US, and that America does not intend to act otherwise in the future.

There really does seem to be a solid understanding that Slovakia is an ally of the US, and that America does not intend to act otherwise in the future.

SLOVAKIA can finally relax. Bratislava is fresh in the world's mind as the host of an important summit between the world's two superpowers. Unfortunately, the likelihood that Slovakia will survive the transition into the world's long-term memory is low.

For a small country like Slovakia, success means that the summit went off without a catastrophe.

Any faux pas could have damaged the country's credit irreparably, particularly since Bratislava will not attract comparable media attention anytime soon.

The only thing left to do is analyze the results.

Sceptics believe that George W Bush and Vladimir Putin met to demonstrate outward communication rather than to reach any actual agreement.

The public paid close attention to newspapers and televised press conferences, searching for deeper meaning in the main protagonists' words and gestures.

Meanwhile, analysts could not decide which approach to take. Should they trust "what you see is what you get"? Or should they mine for secret messages in the presidents' movements?

"Bush made a rather relaxed and convincing impression, calling Putin by his first name. However, Putin, who rarely tends to smile, seemed on the defensive and reserved, which later got reflected in his expression," one analyst told The Slovak Spectator.

Those who hoped to detect signs of warmer relations between the American and Russian leader might have been disappointed.

Still, the presidents worked hard to squeeze out evidence of a relationship thaw immediately following the summit talks. During the press conference, for example, Bush softened his language when asked whether he confronted Russia with human rights violations - a topic the world media wanted to hear about the most.

Sceptics chimed in again, suggesting that the point of the summit was not to reach any concrete agreement but to show the world that the US and Russia are in dialogue.

Bush took the "mending-fences" trip seriously, showing genuine interest in repairing transatlantic relations damaged by disagreement over the Iraq war.

Consequently, showing a desire to cooperate with (as opposed to dictate to) the European Union also helped polish and improve his image among the general European public.

Slovaks seemed appreciative of the partnership gesture. Young and old waited for almost three hours in the snow for George Bush to give his public speech on Bratislava's Hviezdoslavovo square.

The outside world should not be too quick to interpret Slovak polite hospitality as public approval of Bush's policies, however.

The fact that protests and demonstrations against American and Russian policies were small, amateurish affairs should be chalked up to the passivity of Slovaks - not to the lack of opposition.

However, there really does seem to be a solid understanding that Slovakia is an ally of the US, and that America does not intend to act otherwise in the future.

Overall, Bush's visit completely overshadowed the visit of his Russian counterpart.

Just as other post-communist nations are confused about their relationship to Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union, Slovakia has not entirely solved the dilemma, either.

The country keeps working on a new approach to Russia, claiming that it is waiting patiently for other post-communist countries to start showing a greater openness to the Russian Federation.

But if you look at trade figures in democratic, post-Soviet nations today, it is clear that each and every one is creeping back to the Russian market.

Russia is one of the most paradoxical giants in world politics.

On one hand, Russia's nuclear arsenal preserves its superpower status, but the country's gross domestic product is comparable to that of smaller EU countries.

At the end of the day, now that the summit has come and gone, the Slovak public has, at the very least, a slight understanding of what it feels like to touch the pulse of international politics.

Prior to Bush's visit, supporters of the US president's policies argued that there was a lack of comprehension on part of Slovak citizens of what the Bush administration believes and what it is doing.

Bush made an excellent effort during his speech to persuade Slovaks that he has an inkling of what the Slovak Republic has been through, and that he recognizes what Slovaks have contributed in the building of America.

Even if Bush's gesture was a formal one, it sure pleased the Slovaks.

By Beata Balogová

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