Morrison, James, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
When Peter Burian left the Slovak Embassy last year to return to the foreign ministry in Bratislava, U.S.-Slovak relations were strained, with Washington complaining about a lack of democratic progress in the Central European country.
That was one reason the Slovak Republic was dropped from the list of new candidates for NATO.
On a recent visit, Mr. Burian, now responsible for human rights, saw a change.
"U.S.-Slovak relations have been developing quite well recently," he told Embassy Row last week after three days of meetings with administration and congressional officials.
Mr. Burian said he had a "very frank and open exchange" with State Department experts on the Slovak Republic. He quickly insisted he was not using the phrase in its usual diplomatic context, which means that the two parties were all but shouting at each other. He said his talks were like serious discussions between two friends.
"There are always objections, but it should not be called criticism," he said. "If something is meant to improve things, it is friendly advice."
His discussions at the State Department, the National Security Council and at the Capitol centered on the progress Slovakia is making in the treatment of its ethnic minorities, especially Hungarians and Romas, or Gypsies.
"I was trying to focus on the larger aspects of our relationship," he said of U.S.-Slovak ties. "We also discussed the current situation in Slovakia and the elections."
Parliamentary elections are scheduled in September and municipal elections in November. Public opinion polls show that Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar is vulnerable. His party, the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia, is favored by about 25 percent of voters, the same as the main opposition coalition.
The State Department has repeatedly denounced Mr. Meciar as authoritarian.
The State Department still faults Slovakia for political failures but it recognizes that the government "generally respected most of the human rights of its citizens," according to the latest human rights report. …