Public opinion matters: The importance of democratic values and US-SK collaboration

A reader reacts to Michaela Terenzani's latest Last week in Slovakia commentary on Slovak people's geopolitical confusion.

US President Joe Biden shakes his hand with Slovak President Zuzana Čaputová in September 2022 in NYC.US President Joe Biden shakes his hand with Slovak President Zuzana Čaputová in September 2022 in NYC. (Source: The White House)

Readers of The Slovak Spectator can submit letters responding to recent stories published by The Slovak Spectator to

To the editor:

Re "Slovakia's pro-Western feelings are going south" (published on May 29):

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Teaching has taught me many things as it has increased my awareness of how culture, social media, and influential figures shape the still malleable minds of my students. As a US citizen, learning of the shifting tides of public sentiment illuminated by recently released GLOBSEC data, I'm reminded that the work of the US Embassy and organizations such as Fulbright Slovakia in promoting soft diplomacy and cross-cultural relations is now more critical than ever.

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At first glance, from the outside looking in, I can understand how the actions and intentions of foreign countries and even allies may be misinterpreted when misunderstood or misportrayed. As with almost any bilateral relationship, fostering a culture of mutual understanding and respect is vital while working towards common objectives. Without a clear understanding of our shared values and the mutually beneficial nature of such relationships, misunderstanding can too often lead to distrust which, in turn, is often exploited by foreign adversaries seeking to sow discord and division while undermining the fundamental tenets of democracy and freedom.

Given the recent GLOBSEC data cited in Terenzani's 29 May article, we must examine what these revelations bring to light before exploring what action that we, as a society, can take to counter the detrimental effects of disinformation. Considering that fewer than 6 in 10 would vote to support Slovakia's continued membership in NATO, coupled with the notion that 5 in 10 perceive the United States as a threat, the shifting sands of public opinion have exposed a chasm that, while not entirely new, may be broader than previously recognized.

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Considering that the root of much of this present-day discord and division may be attributed to disinformation and a distortion of the truth, we must separate fact from fiction. Whether speaking of the 2022 Defense Cooperation Agreement (DCA) or US-SK relations in general, we must understand how our shared democratic values are aligned. Examining the DCA, which went into effect in April of 2022, we must understand the scope of what the Agreement accomplishes. The Preamble of the Agreement acknowledges that the presence of US forces in the area "contributes to strengthening the security and stability of Slovakia and the region." Furthermore, it is states that the presence of such forces is with "full respect for the Constitution of the Slovak Republic and other Slovak law." Collaborating as bilateral partners within the framework of NATO, Article 1 of the Agreement enumerates the scope, purpose, and implementation of the DCA, which includes "regular consultation on threats and challenges to international peace and security" in addition to an "exchange of information and experiences on strategic defense and security issues." While some may wonder why this collaboration with a nation a few thousand kilometers away is essential, I'd submit to you that our continued partnership is imperative to the continued proliferation of democratic freedoms and ideals across both Slovakia and Central Europe.

American Presidents of both major political parties have been vocal in offering their understanding of what makes democracy vital to the success of a nation. In a 2004 commencement address at the US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, President George W. Bush remarked, "America has always been less secure when freedom is in retreat. America is always more secure when freedom is on the march." I believe these words are true of both the United States and Slovakia today. Standing together, we are "more secure when freedom is on the march." Speaking of the importance of democratic values at The Summit for Democracy in 2021, US President Joe Biden asserted that democracy "can at times be fragile, but it also is inherently resilient. It's capable of self-correction, and it's capable of self-improvement.” Self-correction and self-improvement are two goals within reach that we can endeavor to achieve in any relationship, whether interpersonal or international.

From my perspective, the keystone of our bilateral relationship is found in our shared belief in the value of democracy and the moral imperative to safeguard the inalienable personal freedoms that citizens and foreigners alike have come to cherish in free and vibrant societies such as those in Slovakia and the United States. There will always be those who seek to divide us from both within and beyond our borders, yet we need not be divided. The illuminating light of truth can only prevail if it is seen and known. Opponents of democratic freedoms who seek to extinguish this light can only do so if we grant them a foothold; to do so would be to stop the march of freedom; we must ensure the clarion call of freedom is heard and that truth prevails.

Before conflict emerges on a battlefield, it often takes root in the minds of a people and is proliferated through a distortion of the truth. Whether in Slovakia or the United States, we must realize that the threat posed by disinformation is real. The ramifications of false narratives can oftentimes be difficult to quantify at any instant. Yet, a constant drip of falsehoods coupled with the proliferation of anti-democratic viewpoints slowly yet surely erodes the pillars of good governance and rule-based order.

In his 1918 Fourteen Points address, President Woodrow Wilson spoke of the imperative to nurture diplomacy in the first point of his address, observing that "diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in the public view.”

We cannot take democracy for granted. More pointedly, as a nation, the United States must not be viewed as having taken its allies for granted. In addition to supporting our allies as we are united under the banner of a common cause, we must also respect our allies as partners. Bearing this in mind, we must continue to earn the confidence and trust of our allies, partners, and fellow and advocates of democracy across the globe.

Nathaniel Sansom
Rožňava, eastern Slovakia

The American is a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant. His personal views expressed herein do not represent those of Fulbright Slovakia or any other organization or government.

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