Andrea Sadloňová is a Slovak-born scientist who returned home after 19 years in the USA.
For over 20 years as a foreigner living in countries other than my homeland, I have had to ward off various opinions and stereotypes about Slovakia on numerous occasions. In general, stereotypical news about Slovakia is more common in the foreign press than novel news. A very typical news story is that in Slovakia we are failing to protect minorities or that our politicians are horrible and corrupt people. Then there is news about famous athletes, our president, and many articles about famous Slovak food like Bryndza dumplings, the typical landmark Vysoké Tatry and the historical villain Alžbeta Báthory. WWII and Communism are also mentioned. Presented in this light, Slovakia does not appear to be that appealing.
Sometimes, I wonder whether the Ministry of Foreign Affairs sits down and brainstorms foreign press coverage and tries to intervene to promote a different, more positive view of Slovakia. Even the Czech Republic has more coverage in the foreign press than we have. I also wonder if we do a disservice to our country by talking mostly about our problems and displaying our “dirty laundry“ to the world.
Unfortunately, with the massive onslaught of Covid cases this month, there is no hiding from our shortcomings. A fearful mentality against vaccination and government control will probably be added to the list of typical Slovak behaviour. Obviously, that would be an extremely black and white view on our collective failure and it should be avoided. One has to understand that the number of Covid cases is a basic reflection of our dysfunctional system and many Slovaks took necessary measures to protect themselves.
Just like in every other country, an average citizen does not have the means or power to change the dysfunctionality of the system. We can only protect ourselves individually. We cannot protect others from making their own bad decisions. The disadvantage is that we have to carry the burden of bad decisions collectively.
It has been incredibly difficult to explain to my friends in other countries why we are failing. On a positive note, as my father used to say: “We represent ourselves individually - do not carry the weight of representing a country where you have no power or control over its reputation.” His advice helped me tremendously during my years in the USA when I stopped apologising for some of Slovakia’s potential shortcomings.