Academic journal article International Issues & Slovak Foreign Policy Affairs

Slovakia in the Western Balkans: Experiences and Challenges

Academic journal article International Issues & Slovak Foreign Policy Affairs

Slovakia in the Western Balkans: Experiences and Challenges

Article excerpt

Abstract:

Slovakia's engagement in Western Balkans was initially motivated by its efforts to contribute to the solving of a crisis that had evolved into open war in its own neighborhood - the most devastating and bloody conflict on European soil since the end of the Second World War. Slovakia's motivation in the region was also strengthened by its human, cultural, historical - and perhaps also mental - proximity to the predominantly Slavic nations of the Western Balkans and it was conducted by leaders who were operating in a wider international context: leaders who aimed at bringing peace, stability, and democratic change to the countries of the Western Balkans. In 20 years, Slovak foreign policy was focused mainly on supporting reforms, rule of law, and integrating these countries and their societies into Euro-Atlantic structures.

When talking about the foreign policy of Slovakia, its priorities [usually the Western Balkans] are generally mentioned in the same breath. This has become a time-proven custom - maybe even a cliché - but it is anything but a meaningless association based only on fiction or wishful thinking. Over the last twenty years, during which, together with its foreign policy, our independent democratic state itself has been formed, the legitimacy and reality of this association has been demonstrated. Slovakia's interest in this part of Southeastern Europe has been fully expressed (both at the state level and in civil society] in various activities of our foreign policy, not only within the countries of the Western Balkans, but in the wider European and global contexts as well. Without a doubt, Slovakia's engagement was initially motivated by its efforts to contribute to the solving of a crisis that had evolved into open war in its own neighborhood - the most devastating and bloody conflict on European soil since the end of the Second World War.

To put it more simply, one may say that the dominant factor in Slovakia's foreign policy in the region was - and still is - that during the early years it was conducted by leaders who were operating in a wider international context: leaders who aimed at bringing peace, stability, and democratic change to the countries of the Western Balkans. Slovak foreign policy was focused mainly on supporting reforms, rule of law, and integrating these countries and their societies into Euro-Atlantic structures.

Historical and mental proximity

Slovakia's motivation in the region was also strengthened by its human, cultural, historical - and perhaps also mental - proximity to the predominantly Slavic nations of the Western Balkans. This is not merely an empty, nicesounding claim. History offers a large number of notable facts to support this argument. In the sixteenth century, for example, Serbian "seagulls" that were "able to construct a war ship (the Seagull], cleverly maneuver it and fight on the waters" defended Komárno against the Osman incursions, as Serbian historian Gavril Vitkovic has written. And not only this. The southern part of Central Slovakia [Lucenec, Fil'akovo], and Zitny island as well, were known for their population of Serbs, who were present both in physical and economic terms. And, in the second half of the seventeenth century and beginning of the eighteenth century, the townsmen of Komárno "were Hungarians and Serbs. There were only a few Germans..."1

On the other hand, almost 250 years ago the first big wave of Slovak immigrants arrived at what is known today as Vojvodina. Besides their economic contribution to Serbia, these Slovaks founded [for example] the region's first successful theatre - only later was the Serbian National Theatre established in Novi Sad. The head of our diplomatic mission in Belgrade during the years 1995-2002, Miroslav Mojzita, recollects how Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, during his ceremonial speech at a banquette in Bratislava, "named fourteen great Serbian personalities who studied in Slovakia at the famous Evangelical seminary in Bratislava". …

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