Ambassadorial club

Slovakia is in many respects a country of contradictions. Old and new is mixed in a most endearing manner.
Look at the Bratislava skyline. From afar you see the castle and when you come closer the silhouette of the old town and the cathedral remind you that Bratislava is an old, historic city.

This week, the Swedish Ambassador to Slovakia, Cecilia Julin, connects with our readers as part of The Ambassadorial Club, a weekly column in which foreign diplomats are invited to share their experiences, both positive and negative, of Slovakia with The Slovak Spectator.

Slovakia is in many respects a country of contradictions. Old and new is mixed in a most endearing manner.

Look at the Bratislava skyline. From afar you see the castle and when you come closer the silhouette of the old town and the cathedral remind you that Bratislava is an old, historic city. Then you turn your head and see Petržalka or the New Bridge and you are reminded of the social engineering of the 60s. And finally, when you look further, you see the skyscrapers belonging to the Slovak National Bank, T-Mobile or VÚB bank, representing Slovakia's rush into the 21st century.

Travelling around the country you see old wooden houses built in the 17th and 18th centuries, still in good condition, not to mention all the ancient castles and churches spread throughout the countryside.

At the same time there is a growing presence of all kinds of new, architecturally very daring houses built with lots of glass and metal and sometimes painted in very striking colours. The mix can be a bit brutal for my taste, but I understand the wish to break with some of the old grey and beige.

Also among the people you see the contrasts. I love the ladies that you see all over Slovakia with their aprons and scarves, holding a basket, slowly making their way to the market or the store, taking time to chat with friends along the way - a forgotten part of life in many parts of Europe. In Sweden, such ladies are rare and everyone runs about their business at a silly pace.

I also very much appreciate the fact that good, old-fashioned courtesy still survives in Slovakia. People are normally very nice and offer their seats to elderly or pregnant women on the bus or the tram and they address you in a pleasant and polite manner when you enter a restaurant or a store. Of course, there do exist places where the staff considers that the customer is there for their benefit and not vice versa, but that is not unique for Slovakia.

While maintaining these old-fashioned quali-ties, Slovakia is at the same time one of the most reform-minded countries in Europe. No nostalgia or protection of old systems at any price here. Reforms are being ticked off at a rate that would be unthinkable in many other member states. But here in Slovakia there is a curiosity and lack of respect for changes that impresses many around the world.

The enthusiasm with which Slovakia is engaging in the challenge to become the most competitive country in Europe, the desire to create wealth for all citizens and to transform the country into a knowledge-based society is fascinating and inspiring to watch.

When you see Slovak teenagers carrying on with their mobile phones, lap-tops or Blackberrys, you realize that you are also in a society surfing at full speed into the information age.

I only hope that Slovakia will succeed in combining the two: preserving what is positive from the old, while charging into the future. This takes a united society, where everyone feels that they have a stake and are part of the process: a challenge for everyone to take on.

And I sincerely hope that the charming little potravinys (grocery stores) spread around Bratislava will not lose in the fight against the international food retailers. Small shops are a breath of humanity much needed in this era of globalization.


Cecilia Julin
Ambassador of Sweden
to Slovakia

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