Magazine article The New Yorker

You Say Slovakia

Magazine article The New Yorker

You Say Slovakia

Article excerpt

You Say Slovakia

Three weeks after Donald Trump's election, Miro Cerar, the Prime Minister of Slovenia, spoke to the President-elect and offered his services as a mediator with Vladimir Putin. It seemed appropriate: Slovenia was the location of the first meeting between George W. Bush and Putin, in 2001, and it is the birthplace of the First Lady, Melania Trump. After the call to Trump, Cerar told reporters, "I know that Mr. Trump is very aware of the difference between Slovenia and Slovakia."

Not everyone is as well informed as the President of the United States. Confusion over the two countries is common. Slovenia and Slovakia are both tiny, Slavic nations, with a combined population smaller than New York City's. Both acceded to the European Union in 2004. Their flags both have horizontal white, blue, and red stripes, with a coat of arms on the hoist side. In 2002, the first President of independent Slovenia was welcomed to Romania with the Slovakian national anthem. This month, Slovakia beat Italy, 3-2, at the Ice Hockey World Championship, in Germany, and heard the Slovenian national anthem over the loudspeakers. In 2003, in Rome, Silvio Berlusconi introduced his Slovenian counterpart as "the Prime Minister of Slovakia."

On a recent drizzly afternoon in London, the two states co-hosted an educational event designed to clear things up. Tadej Rupel, the Ambassador of the Republic of Slovenia to the Court of St. James's, had concocted the idea with his Slovakian counterpart. Journalists, policymakers, diplomats, and businesspeople received invitations to the event, titled "Distinguish Slovenia and Slovakia," which was held at the National Liberal Club, in Whitehall.

Rupel addressed the crowd. "We would like to not confuse you more: we would like to make you aware of the differences in Slovenia and Slovakia," he said, then added, unhelpfully, "It is fair to say they have a lot in common." Lubomir Rehak, the Slovakian Ambassador, stood next to Rupel and pointed at his own chest. "I am wearing the tie from the Slovenian presidency" of the Council of the E.U., he said. Behind them a poster displayed maps of both countries, but in different scales and with no neighboring nations shown. Rehak reminded the audience that George W. Bush once confused the two countries. …

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