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Blog: A generation after the Iron Curtain

The secret engine behind Slovakia’s remarkable success, of transitioning from an idea to a world-class country and from communism to democracy in a blink of an eye, are her outstanding people.

Vladimira Ledecka(Source: Zuzana Burdanova)

Europe’s once invisible nation is invisible no more. Ever since Slovakia joined the European Union, the heart of Europe has stepped onto the global platform. It was not that long ago that the country was firmly part of the Soviet bloc. Today, it hosts one of the world’s top security conferences. Year after year, Globsec draws to Slovakia impressive crowds and amazing speakers.

The story and success of Globsec mirrors the story of Slovakia. The idea to host a world class security conference was first pioneered 12 years ago by the offspring of those once caged behind the Iron Curtain. These young enthusiasts with a passion for international relations and, above all, for Slovakia, set a simple, yet ambitious goal. The founding fathers of GLOBSEC wanted their country to become a member of the global knowledge elite. Their mission, that few believed in at the time, was to bring the world to Slovakia and Slovakia to the world.

The emerging next generation of Slovak human capital builds on their legacy. Their ideals, drive, skills and dedication are embodied in a young woman who defies not only Slovak, but also international norms of politics. At the age of only 25, Vladimíra Ledecká has risen to claim the position of the right hand of the Slovak President, Andrej Kiska. Leading his department of regional politics, she shares her perspectives on Slovakia. She believes that this young dynamic country can grow even quicker through the return of her exceptional people from abroad. The international Slovaks, armed with strategic languages and valuable experiences, have what it takes to bridge worlds and make Slovakia even more global.

Today’s young Slovaks have so many opportunities

But, this was not always the case in the past. For example, my parents couldn’t travel abroad. They didn’t even get to choose what university they could attend. Under communism, if you didn’t have the right connections, or were too close to the church, or some supposed dissident, you paid the price for it.

The notion of ‘self-made’ man did not exist before the Velvet Revolution

In the past, individuals could not really surpass the economic and social status of their family. To jump levels was almost impossible. Instead, most people followed in the footsteps of their parents. They lived behind barbed wire and only those with rich fantasy could imagine that one day it all could be different.

Sometimes, I feel we don’t appreciate our freedom enough

Today, too many young people take it for granted. They no longer see it as a privilege; they just sort of expect it. They forgot about their parents, who only 25 years ago, could not study or live abroad. They forgot about the barbed wire that divided us from the western world, we are now proud to be a part of. Freedom is now a forgotten privilege by my generation. I could clearly observe this trend at my university. We had all kinds of European Union projects available to us. The Erasmus Exchange encouraged various forms of international travel. But, not enough of my classmates took advantage of these opportunities. What would our parents do, for an opportunity to at least step across the border those 28 years ago? Sometimes, I feel we choose to ignore the tremendous opportunities we have today…

Too often, I see that we copy the life path of our parents

People often think, if my dad was a lawyer, then I guess I will be one too. It takes great courage to dare to choose a more individual path. Sometimes, I feel we do not do this enough in Slovakia.

I believe, that everyone that left for abroad, is inherently a risk-taker

To pack your bags and leave your homeland, takes great courage. Being an immigrant in a foreign land is not easy. But, any country that receives these risk takers, is greatly enriched. This mindset breathes life into any economy. These people are not afraid to start again from zero, this attitude translates into great entrepreneurial initiative.

The Czech Republic goes out of its way to attract Slovak students

Currently there are more than 20,000 Slovaks studying at Czech universities. The reason is not because the quality of education is far better in the Czech Republic. In fact, the education system is pretty much the same as it is in Slovakia. The reason behind the Slovak exodus, is that the Czech Republic motivates young Slovaks, to come study there with scholarships and other tools. The Czechs want the best brains from Slovakia and they are getting it. It is a very smart strategy. Too bad we do not see the benefit of retaining our best talent. Secondly, Slovakia should reach out to other nationalities as well. There is great potential with young people from Ukraine for example. Who share a great will to live in the EU, but they still do not have many doors open to them.

Those that return, often come back with an exceptional drive

Only some of those who left, ever return. Slovakia has a big brain drain lately. Few Slovaks come back with a motivation to help their country. This has to change. Young people in Slovakia need to get more opportunities to use what they have learned abroad. If we will not give them the opportunities, they will never come back. When we talk about the potential of Slovakia, we are talking exactly about these people. We need them to move forward and we need them to return.

Slovakia is a young country, we are not even 25 years old

We are country that is still a teenager in many ways. We are growing and evolving at a very rapid pace, but, like a 25-year-old young adult, we still have a lot of maturing to do. We can’t expect our country to have the same well-oiled functioning system, as those that have had the same regime for 50 or 100 years.

Young people need to see this as an opportunity

To recognize that they have the unique ability to be part of this progress. Of course, some people, don’t even recognize that there is a world beyond the walls of their apartment. We need to engage with this world, we need to see ourselves as part of it. For example, in Slovakia, volunteering is really taking off. This is happening organically, because the people are discovering that it is fun to help others. They are coming to this realization on their own, intuitively.

Those that come back share a similar vision

They bring with them a new mindset, that helps to accelerate change. They really want to make a difference and have an impact. But, just like my generation needs mentors and role models to learn from. So, does our country.

We need Slovak leaders to return and help elevate our nation

Even though I studied in Austria and France, I always knew I wanted to come back. I went abroad for a specific purpose. I wanted to gain new experiences, new languages and new exposure.

I knew that the impact I could have in Slovakia could be far greater than anywhere else

Slovakia is an amazing country also because it is so small. Many people view this as a disadvantage, but I see it as an opportunity. We can identity problems and solve them very quickly. We are practically one big community. This personal approach is very attractive.

Change can happen a lot faster here

We do not have the same barriers as some bigger countries. At the same time, Slovakia is also part of the European family. That means, we are not operating in the world alone. We can learn from the best practices of our neighbors.

I would say that in today’s era, what matters the most is courage and vision

This is something that young people can bring. Today, we have so much more access to information, to travel, to ideas than our parents ever did. As result, we see the world as more colorful.

The time has come for Slovakia to adopt a more innovative mindset

There is no better way to shift this thinking, then by sharing the success stories of those that have already achieved this understanding. Today is the age of ideas and making them happen.

Let’s learn from the best

Slovakia’s astounding experience of 6 regime changes in less than 100 years demonstrates a very adaptable society, one that is also a storage bank of timely wisdom. Having lived in both East and West, today’s Slovaks are increasingly aware of the niche knowledge they carry. No longer timid, they are hungry to share this know-how with the world. Yet, in doing so, the young and the ambitious are not losing sight of Slovakia.

Despite all lures of the world and challenges at home, many Slovaks return to their homeland. Why? The heart of Europe pulls at their heartstrings. They come home, because they want to put Slovakia firmly and unquestionably on the map of not only Europe, but the globe. Their success helps to erase the negative stereotypes still projected on this part of Central Eastern Europe. Thanks to Vladimíra, the team behind Globsec and like-minded and hearted Slovaks, they re-brand the region and alter its destiny.

Globsec showcases their rapid journey. It is a key international forum, where the cutting-edge ideas of tomorrow are formed, hosted by a city and country that were separated from the Western world by barbed wire and watch towers only a while ago.

This article first appeared in the Huffington Post.

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