KALINKA is not only the name of one of the best-known Russian songs, but also of the Russian Interior Ministry’s men’s choir, which has it in its repertoire. Last week, the ensemble headlined the official celebrations of Slovakia’s Constitution Day. At first glance it seems ironic – the same government that on August 21 refused to let Hungary’s President László Sólyom into the country, claiming it was inappropriate for him to come on the anniversary of the 1968 Soviet invasion into Czechoslovakia, in which Hungary participated, was now celebrating Slovakia’s independence accompanied by the heroic vocals of a hundred Russians in uniforms. One can hardly imagine a better symbol of Russia’s growing role in the region.
Just days ago the Polish media reported that the Barack Obama administration is suspending plans to build a missile defence shield in central Europe, in order to improve relations with the Russians. This comes after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took a mock “reset” button to Moscow in March to symbolise a new start in relations. It now seems that the Americans’ strategy is to appease Medvedev, Putin and co., who in just the last thirteen months have invaded Georgia, orchestrated the break-away of South Ossetia and Abkhazia (whose “independent” government is now threatening to launch attacks on the Georgian navy), turned off gas supplies to half of Europe, and meddled heavily in Ukrainian domestic politics.
Then there is the worrying news coming from Slovakia’s western neighbour – in August the Czechs expelled two Russian diplomats for spying. In fact, according to some reports, the Czech secret service believes that two-thirds of the two hundred people working for the Russian embassy and consulates in their country are spies. And let’s not forget that Czech ex-prime minister and Social Democrats leader Jiří Paroubek, who has close ties with Slovak prime minister and fellow-socialist Robert Fico, privately met Putin in Moscow recently without telling anyone at home. Their main topic of discussion? The US radar.
That Russia is in no mood to break away from its aggressive past was confirmed during the ceremony to mark the 70th anniversary of the start of World War II on September 1, when contrary to the expectations of many Poles, Vladimir Putin did not apologise for his country’s role in the division of Poland, which Russia invaded in September 1939.
To sum it all up: Russia is in an imperialistic mood, and it certainly has its sights on central Europe, where it has many political allies. If these trends continue, Slovaks had better start liking the Kalinka. They may be hearing it a lot in future.