How many times have I been asked this by Slovaks wondering why I would choose to come to Slovakia to work and to do a scholarship? Sadly, the implication is that Slovakia is not a great place to be or to visit.
This is my final day in my office at the Slovak Medical University in Bratislava. I have been here during the last three months teaching biomedical ethics to medical students, giving additional presentations to faculty, to an EU subcommittee on Public Health, collaborating on a textbook, and doing research. I chose Slovakia because of the important, diverse, and rich work of Slovak physicians and medical workers, particularly in the field of biomedical ethics.
What finalised my choice was not based on my professional life alone. I could have easily gone elsewhere. However, Slovakia and the Slovak people and culture are a beautiful wonder. There is so much interesting culture, architecture, music, and art here. Your nation is exceptional in its natural history, beautiful country sides, spectacular mountains, water ways, and vistas. As a classically trained singer, I could not have experienced more joy than my time with zbor Technik singing the Faure’ Requiem. The most wonderful aspects of this experience were visits to a local wine bar after rehearsal and the extremely satisfying (and hilarious) conversations with my Slovak singer friends. Their final gift to me (in the bar/pub) was a rendition of Aká si mi krásna, which brought me almost to tears.
I also managed to play volleyball with Lotosové Kvety, a terrific sport club that I found by reading The Slovak Spectator. Even though I am approaching 70 (and in quite a good shape), they welcomed me with open arms. (I was told that even a “dad” was welcome!).
I admire greatly both your President, Zuzana Čaputová, and Bratislava Mayor, Matúš Vallo. Both have the Slovak people and Slovakia’s best interest in mind and their emphasis on an ethical approach to government is refreshing and sorely needed in our world today. However, it is the impressive humanitarian outreach by Slovaks citizens during this protracted war of Russia on neighbouring Ukraine that has affected me the most. The amount and degree of support and compassion for Ukrainians fleeing war – particularly during the waning of the pandemic – is something of which to be enormously proud. I admire Slovaks for this outreach and you will always hold a special place in my heart. You, Slovak citizens, have amazing resilience.
Why come to Slovakia? All democracies have their unique problems, but you are a beautiful nation and people. Appreciate one another and be proud of this fact. Because of this, I will surely return.
Michael J. Murphy is Distinguished Teaching Professor, Emeritus at State University of New York and Slovak Medical University Institute of Medical Ethics and Bioethics.