Fresh air and nature are good for you

My assignment as Canada’s Chargé d’affaires in Slovakia started in 2011. With only one year remaining, I am trying to make the most of my time and every weekend this summer, I had a new adventure planned in ‘Spectacular Slovakia’. 

Suchá Belá gorgeSuchá Belá gorge (Source: TASR)

Over the past four years, I have followed with interest the initiative to “brand” Slovakia. A committee was formed, smart people were consulted, a report was written. Both in Slovakia and Canada we want to reflect the pride we have in our homeland, and to attract tourists to come, observe, and appreciate who we are and what we do best. Branding Slovakia is challenging because the country is only 22 years old. Many things are great in Slovakia but national norms are still evolving and it is possible that the “best” is yet to come.

In Canada we are branded by our world-famous maple syrup, ice wine and French fries covered with gravy, ketchup and mayonnaise, otherwise known as poutine. But the country I love is about more than food and tasty fermented beverages. What do we do best? How do we wish to be known and appreciated? What will attract more immigrants and tourists to Canada?

On the other hand, in the commercial sector, the branding is excellent. Canada is promoted as the best place in the world to do business and as a stable and secure location for investment. Every Canadian knows this to be true and takes pride in this fact.

In the 21st century, commercial success and opportunity should be an aspect of any branding strategy. But it is not enough. So here are my ideas on branding Slovakia. I am grateful that some things change and other things evolve. I am grateful that across from the embassy office in Bratislava, there is world-class opera and classical music performed several times each week. Every sunny Saturday afternoon, the bike route to Čunovo is packed with bikers, in-line skaters and dog walkers. After work, Staré Mesto cafes are packed and Hviezdoslavovo square is the gathering place for young and old. Throughout the summer, Suchá Belá trail in Slovenský Raj witnessed my generation leading the new generation across bridges, and up and down ladders, in a rite of passage. In Malá Fatra, and the Tatra mountains, the chatas were fully booked with healthy hikers with dreams of stronger muscles and cold beer. Consistently, Slovakia’s parks are protected, the streets are safe, the air is clean, the environment is a priority, and Slovaks will ensure this never changes. This is what is extraordinary about the country.

At the same time, Bratislava, Košice and some other regional capitals are becoming more cosmopolitan. There is a wider range of cuisines and better service. There are new festivals and even a Rodeo being held in Trenčín Region. Public art is everywhere and new galleries open up each month. On the professional side, I have met with new investors and representatives of Slovakia’s vibrant start-up community which really only got moving three years ago. In its foreign policy, Slovakia is influencing the most democratic, advanced countries in the world. This is impressive for a country with 5.4 million people. 

To reflect what is great and unique about Slovakia, and to emphasize respect for nature, the environment, and dynamic progress, my proposal for the decision-makers in this start-up nation is: “Bratislava: Watch Me Grow.”

Kathy Bunka is Canadian Chargé d’Affaires in Slovakia


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