by Jan Carnogursky*
*Former Deputy Prime Minister of Czechoslovakia and former Prime Minister of the Slovak Republic, member of the Valdai Discussion Club.
Prime Minister of Slovakia Robert Fico is on an official visit to Moscow. It will be his second recent visit to the capital of Russia: he attended the official celebrations of Victory over Fascism on May 9. Under the duress of the European Union and the US, the prime minister skipped the military parade on the Red Square, albeit took part in the rest of the programme. Robert Fico holds a position controversial to that of President Andrej Kiska in the politics of Slovakia. The president backs the US policy; Ukraine’s President Petr Poroshenko is a friend of his, and he would never visit Moscow to mark the Victory. The prime minister is trying to retain good relations between Slovakia and the Russian Federation: he arrived for the celebrations in Moscow. In his homeland, the politician visits the memorial of Soviet soldiers every year, advocates lifting of antiRussian sanctions and considers that construction of NATO bases in Slovakia has to be preceded by a referendum (which would disapprove construction). However, Robert Fico has never voted against the sanctions in Brussels so far. His position in the Slovak government is rather complicated. Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak (an alumnus of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, by the way) has an ambiguous approach to Russia. Slovak media say that Minister Lajcak craves to succeed the incumbent UN secretary general and refrains from blemishing the prospects.
Prime Minister Fico’s visit to Moscow will gain great approval in Slovakia, where the attitude towards Russia is quite positive, stemming from historical traditions. Even central media fully aligned with Western propaganda fail to have any cardinal impact on the high favour of Russia with the Slovak population. Minister Sergey Lavrov was welcomed with applause upon his visit to Bratislava in early April. Bikers from the Night Wolves Club experienced the most warm and hailed reception in Bratislava. Western economic sanctions against Russia have gained no ground in Slovakia, although Russia’s reciprocal sanctions were a blow for many Slovak businessmen. Russia’s reduction of imports of cars from the EU would have been a catastrophe for Slovakia because the country houses factories of world car manufacturers and would have lost many workplaces. Protests against NATO military bases, which were mentioned by US diplomat Victoria Nuland, are regular in Bratislava and other cities of the country. Finally, Robert Fico was urged to have Slovakia vote against extension of antiRussian sanctions in Brussels in June. However, Fico’s government would hardly resist pressure from the West that avidly.
In early March this year, Slovakia’s Kosice hosted a meeting of Russians and Ukrainians, attended by Slovaks and Germans. As representatives of the public, they held unofficial talks about settlement of the conflict in the east of Ukraine. The meeting in Kosice will continue in autumn this year.
The Slovak foreign policy is only starting to take shape in the world. Slovakia has been an independent state for a little over 20 years. Geopolitically, the country is situated on the eastern outskirts of the European Union, so forecasting the extent of its independent policy, differing from that of the EU’s foreign policy, is tricky at the moment. That is why Fico was forced to thread his way in Moscow on May 9, and during his current visit, he would be unable to express his position in political affairs unambiguously. Concerning the votes for extension of the sanctions, the Slovak government has not brought itself to negotiate a common position with governments of EU states which have already condemned the sanctions. The countries include Greece, Hungary, Czech Republic, Cyprus. Slovakia borders with Ukraine, but interstate relations between Bratislava and Kiev are quite frosty. On the one hand, about 26 million cubic meters of gas were reversed to Ukraine through Slovakia in 2014; on the other hand, Slovakia does not plan to ship weapons to Ukraine. Slovakia’s former Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda and Minister of Finances Ivan Miklos are Petr Poroshenko’s advisers in Kiev.
Robert Fico will visit Moscow as the head of the government of a consolidated state. The system of parliamentary democracy in Slovakia is intact, the polemic between the government and opposition does not cross the traditional line of Europe. In the economic sector, the country is demonstrating impressive progress. The GDP in 2014 hit 3.5%, the GDP forecasts for 2015 amount to 2.5%. The dominating sector is mechanical engineering, most prominently car manufacturing. Last year, Slovakia produced 970,000 cars, considering that the population of the country is 5.4 million people. Russian investors in the Slovak Republic have nothing to grumble at: all sectors of the economy hold open doors for them. According to Slovak statistics, the trade turnover between Slovakia and Russia in 2014 totaled $9.3 billion, or $8.1 billion basing on the data of the Russian Federal Customs Service. Compared to the previous year, the trade turnover shrunk by 14-19%.
Prime Minister Fico will touch upon the problem of expanding the broadgauge railway from Kosice to Bratislava at the Slovakia Russia negotiations in Moscow. Should the project be realized, the broadgauge line would be extended to Dunai and gain access to the riverside transport corridors of all Central and Western Europe. Commodities from Beijing to Bratislava would be transported by railway without the need to switch carriages or reload, they would be delivered to their destination in half the time it takes by sea. Another traditional topic for discussions will be the financial problem of the cyclotron construction in Bratislava. A few years ago, the Slovak government ordered construction of a cyclotron, the Russian party manufactured the equipment, but the Slovak side refuses to complete the project now. The countries will discuss opportunities to boost trade turnover, which is a strenuous endeavour under the sanctions. The Russian side will clearly make allowance for the Slovak army’s non participation in the military drills near the Russian border.
Slovakia shows growing interest in the Russian culture. The Alexandrov Ensemble makes annual concert tours in Slovakia, sold out for every performance. Russian classics are a must in the repertoires of all Slovak theaters, the Slovak audience has opportunities to watch ballet and drama plays of Russian theaters on their stage.
The Slovak classic literature has many examples of romantic fascination with Russia. When Slovakia was an independent state and the center of its policy was situated in Budapest or Prague, Slovak writers were writing about Russia with inspiration. The policy is now conducted in Slovakia (or, mayhaps, in Brussels) today, and all Slovakia has to do is get used to substitution of the romantic fascination for a practical constructive policy.
Jan Carnogursky is Former Deputy Prime Minister of Czechoslovakia and former Prime Minister of the Slovak Republic, member of the Valdai Discussion Club.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club’s, unless explicitly stated otherwise.