Introducing the 2014 Slovak Scholars

Enjoying the embassy reception: (l-r) Alena Cierna, Katarina Minarikova, Adam Sebesta, Ivana Smolenova, Barbora Bodnarova.

Enjoying the embassy reception: (l-r) Alena Cierna, Katarina Minarikova, Adam Sebesta, Ivana Smolenova, Barbora Bodnarova.

The Friends of Slovakia was pleased to have five scholars studying at the Fund for American Studies (TFAS) this summer. The scholars included Barbora Bodnárová (TFAS’s Engalitcheff Institute on Comparative Political and Economic Systems), Katarína Mináriková (Institute on Business and Government Affairs), Adam Šebesta (Institute on Political Journalism), and Ivana Smoleňová and Alena Čierna (both worked at the Institute on Economics and International Affairs). These scholarships were made possible thanks to generous support from several key donors, including the Slovak American Foundation, US Ambassador to Slovakia Tod Sedgwick, and FOS board member Richard Marko, and contributions from loyal FOS members.

The five scholars came from across Slovakia, bringing with them interesting perspectives stemming from work and study programs both at home and further afield. Bodnárová is from Kosice and is currently studying at Sciences Po in Paris, with plans to earn dual degrees in International Energy and Finance and Strategy. She also studied at Oxford University, and she will be spending a year studying energy in Moscow starting this fall. In terms of work experience, Bodnárová previously interned with US Steel in Bratislava, as well as organizations in Kiev, Ukraine and Pristina, Kosovo.
Smoleňová is from Banska Bystrica and recently completed a Master’s degree in Corporate Economics and Development Studies at the Economics University in Prague. She also studied at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. In 2011, Smolenova spent three months in Nepal, where she engaged in teaching and development activities at a local primary school. She is currently working as Communications and Outreach Manager at the Prague Security Studies Institute. In the future, she hopes to pursue a career in conflict resolution and crisis management, working on post-conflict development projects around the world.

Mináriková grew up in Poprad and is now studying at the Economics University in Bratislava. During her studies she spent a semester at both the Economics University in Prague and Vrije Universiteit in Brussels. In addition to an internship at the European Parliament, Mináriková has also worked at the Bratislava-based organization Youth Politics Education, where she helped develop an internship program for Slovak students. She currently is working at the PROVIDA Foundation on a project that supports social entrepreneurs in Slovakia. Mináriková is passionate about economic development and growth, and she hopes to pursue a career in international development.

Šebesta is from Bratislava, where he recently completed a law degree at Pan-European University. He has also studied at the University of Vienna. In addition to his legal studies, Šebesta has considerable journalism experience and has served as editor of Like, a leading Slovak university magazine. During his studies, Šebesta has organized and moderated several conferences and debates with prime ministers, ministers, ambassadors, judges, and lawyers. He has additional working experience in legal services, project management, and public relations.

Čierna comes from Liptovsky Mikulas and is a student of international relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science. While completing her undergraduate studies, Čierna interned with the Slovak Atlantic Commission and Partners for Democratic Change Slovakia, worked as secretary of the Czech and Slovak student society in London and founded the blog Sloview.com. She is an alumna of the Benjamin Franklin Transatlantic Fellows Summer Institute and member of the Youth Advisory Council of the US Embassy in Bratislava.

The five FOS Slovak Scholars were honored at a gathering at the Slovak Embassy hosted by Slovak chargé d’affaires Peter Zelenak on July 18th. It was attended by FOS Board members and representatives of individual scholarship donors, including the Slovak American Foundation CEO, Mary MacPherson, and Richard Marko. The Scholars each gave their positive impressions of their summer academic and internship programs, emphasizing how they had broadened their perspectives. The Scholars then made a gracious presentation of a beautiful certificate of appreciation “to the members of the Friends of Slovakia for being the best friends of Slovakia.” They promised to spread the word about the FOS summer scholarship opportunity in Slovakia and to keep in touch.

The summer program at the Fund for American Studies is the flagship FOS initiative designed to promote US-Slovak friendship. There is no better way to promote this friendship than to provide outstanding young Slovak scholars with study and internship opportunities in the USA. FOS is grateful to our supporters who have made this program so successful. We urge all Friends of Slovakia to continue supporting this important effort.

Reception for Scholars

front row (l-r) Barbora Bodnarova, Scott Thayer, Ivana Smolenova, Katarina Minarikova, Adam Sebesta; back row Alena Cierna, Richard Marko, Andrea Svakova, Peter Zelenak, Sharon Fisher

front row (l-r) Barbora Bodnarova, Scott Thayer, Ivana Smolenova, Katarina Minarikova, Adam Sebesta; back row Alena Cierna, Richard Marko, Andrea Svakova, Peter Zelenak, Sharon Fisher

The 2014 Scholars were welcomed to Washington with an informal reception on June 15. Hosted by Board member Scott Thayer and his wife Nena amidst their gardens and ponds, the reception also benefited from unseasonably comfortable weather. The Scholars celebrated the end of their first week of classes while enjoying Slovak beer and international nibbles with FOS Board members, Slovak charge d’affaires Peter Zelenak, and Director of the TFAS Program Roger Ream.

Lecture on City Architecture in Slovakia

Amb. Ted Russell, Dr. Toran and Amb. Peter Kmec

Amb. Ted Russell, Dr. Toran and Amb. Peter Kmec

Ambassador Peter Kmec and Friends of Slovakia co-sponsored a lecture at the Slovak Embassy by Dr. Edward Toran of New York City. Dr. Toran is an expert on art history, architecture and interior design and currently works at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He came to the United States after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. During his career in the United States, he designed architectural interiors for leading U.S. corporations and for 15 years was in charge of interior architectural space management for MetLife.

Dr. Toran presented a fascinating illustrated lecture on the history of the development of cities and city architecture in Central Europe and particularly in Slovakia. He explained the factors that influenced the rise and character of cities including their location on major trade routes like the Amber Route and the liberalizing impact on society of the move from rural to city life.

The lecture was given to a large and highly appreciative audience of Friends of Slovakia members and others interested in Slovakia in general and architecture in particular. Five U.S. Foreign Service officers in language training prior to assignment to Slovakia attended as well as members of the Slovak American Society of Washington, the Carpatho-Rusyn Society of Washington and members of the diplomatic corps.

FOS Wall of Honor Commemorates Key Events in Slovak History

In 2014 Friends of Slovakia will commemorate several critically important events in recent Slovak history through its popular Wall of Honor plaque program. The program offers individuals, organizations, and businesses a unique and personalized way to honor family, friends, and associates, while also supporting a wide range of FOS activities.

The FOS Wall of Honor, located on the grounds of the Slovak Embassy in Washington, D.C., contains more than 100 plaques given by individual members, Slovak organizations, and corporations doing business in Slovakia. The plaques are designed and engraved in Slovakia by expert craftsmen, reflecting FOS’s commitment to Slovak entrepreneurs and artisans. Each year, donors to the Wall of Honor are invited to a reception at the Slovak embassy for the unveiling of that year’s group of plaques, and they also have the opportunity to have their photograph taken with the Slovak Ambassador in front of their own personalized plaque.

This year Friends of Slovakia commemorates two important events with special group plaques. The first event is the 70th Anniversary of the August 1944 Slovak National Uprising, a heroic attempt by Slovak partisans to expel German troops from the territory of Slovakia during the final year of World War Two. The second event is the 10th Anniversary of Slovakia’s accession to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and to the European Union, a critical milestone in Slovakia’s development as a free and democratic country that is firmly anchored to Western values and institutions.

Funds raised through Wall of Honor plaque sales support the FOS summer Slovak Scholars Program, an annual Gala Awards dinner at which outstanding Slovaks and Slovak Americans are recognized for their accomplishments, the annual Freedom Lecture, and a variety of educational and cultural programs in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere. The price for inscriptions on the special group plaques starts at $250 for individuals. Individual and corporate plaques are also available in a variety of sizes. To order your plaque or for more information, telephone Thomas Skladony at 703-534-6575 or write to him at skladony@verizon.net.

Rick Zednik: Slovakia in the EU 10 years on: Promises fulfilled?

In the decade since Slovakia joined the European Union, the fledgling country has become an EU success story: Its economy has grown considerably, unemployment has dropped and its citizens have more freedoms than ever. But ensuring continued progress will require hard work and diplomacy, said Rick Zednik, co-founding editor of the country’s English-language newspaper, The Slovak Spectator.

Zednik, who covered Slovakia in the years following its independence, spoke about the country’s early struggles and ensuing achievements in an April 28 address hosted by the Embassy of the Slovak Republic and co-sponsored by the Friends of Slovakia and the Slovak American Society of Washington, D.C. Zednik has followed Slovakia’s increased integration within the EU as CEO at EurActiv, the EU policy news network in Brussels.

 “Rather than being a favorite that the world was betting on, Slovakia was an underdog,” said Zednik in his talk, Slovakia in the EU 10 years on: Promises fulfilled? “This was of course due in large part to its status as a small country of modest means. But it was also due to bad management and poor decisions.”

Rick Zednik with Friends of Slovakia Board Members

Rick Zednik with Friends of Slovakia Board Members

 In its first years of independence – a time Zednik referred to as Slovakia’s “dark period” – the government of Vladimir Meciar’s active efforts to side with Russian concerns discouraged outside investment and impaired its ability to increase its stature on the European stage. It wasn’t until the country’s young people stepped forward to protest Meciar’s rule, helping unseat him in 1998, that Slovakia stood a chance for admission into the EU and other prestigious world clubs.

One of the lessons, Zednik said, is that “Things can change, and in a hurry.” Slovakia’s continued march toward a strong, viable future will require its leaders to use diplomacy, negotiation and show a willingness to take a more active role in determining the country’s destiny. But all of that, Zednik said, is possible.

Through hard work, “Ideas that seem fanciful can become reality,” said Zednik, recounting his own trepidations helping establish The Slovak Spectator in March 1995.

“Only in our wildest dreams did my co-founders of The Slovak Spectator imagine we might one day see a celebration of the paper’s 20th anniversary.” But, come next March, Zednik said, “That is exactly what we’ll be celebrating in Bratislava.”

Zednik, a dual citizen of Slovakia and the United States, is author of the memoir, A Country Lost, Then Found: Discovering My Father’s Slovakia. He earned an M.B.A. from Harvard University, an M.S. from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and a B.A. in political science from Trinity College in Hartford, Conn.

DR. PAVOL DEMES LECTURES ON THE HERITAGE OF STS. CYRIL AND METHODIUS

(l-r) Georgij Panayotov, deputy ambassador, Bulgarian Embassy, Pavol Demes, Dagmar Timurova, cultural attache at the Slovak Embassy

(l-r) Georgij Panayotov, deputy ambassador, Bulgarian Embassy, Pavol Demes, Dagmar Timurova, cultural attache at the Slovak Embassy

Dr. Demes had photos of buildings and areas directly connected to the saints’ lives. The place where they studied in Constantinople is still standing. There is a tiny church in western Slovakia that dates from the time they were working in that region. He also had many photos of places built to commemorate them, not only ones in Slovakia such as the university in Trnava, but also ones in other countries, e.g., a statue at the United Nations, Cyril’s tomb in St. Clement’s Church, Rome.

The Slovak National Museum prepared an exhibit on Cyril and Methodius to compliment Dr. Demes’ photos. There were three such talks in all, the others being in New York and Pittsburgh. Friends of Slovakia co-sponsored all three along with the Embassy of Slovakia.

Andrej Kiska: Slovakia’s first non-partisan president

2014 Andrej Kiska fotoOn 15 June, businessman and philanthropist Andrej Kiska was inaugurated as the fourth president of the independent Slovakia. Unlike his three predecessors, Kiska never joined the Communist Party and has not been a member of any political party. Kiska is the first Slovak president who was elected as an independent candidate, without party support. Although he was virtually unknown when he entered the race in fall 2012, Kiska managed to quickly gain name recognition thanks to an extensive billboard campaign. He came in second place in the first round of the presidential election in mid-March and defeated current Prime Minister Robert Fico by a large margin in the second-round run-off two weeks later.

Kiska was born in Poprad in 1963 and graduated from the Faculty of Electrical Engineering of the Slovak Technical University in Bratislava. In 1990, Kiska moved to the United States for 18 months, working at various jobs before returning to Slovakia to pursue a business career. He started by dealing with jewelry imports. In 1996, Kiska co-founded Triangel and Quatro, the first consumer lending firms to appear on the Slovak market. In recognition of his business activities, Kiska won the 2006 Manager of the Year award from the Trend economic weekly. He sold his shares in those businesses in 2005 to the bank Vseobecná úverová banka (VUB) for more than 10 million euro.

After selling his businesses, Kiska turned to philanthropy. In 2006, he co-founded the charitable organization Dobrý anjel [Good Angel], which helps financially-strapped families in Slovakia and the Czech Republic whose children suffer from serious health conditions. Kiska received the Slovak Crystal Wing award in 2011 for his achievements in philanthropy.

During the presidential election campaign, Kiska’s lack of political experience appeared to be a key bonus in garnering popular support. Criticizing politicians who do not fulfill their promises, Kiska argued that a person with real-life experience should serve as head of state. He emphasized that he understands the real challenges that Slovaks face and knows how to resolve social issues. Kiska’s campaign was neither aggressive nor confrontational, providing a contrast with that of Fico. Instead, he highlighted his independence and promised to restore people’s confidence in the state. Slovak voters were not swayed by Fico’s claims that Kiska was connected to the Church of Scientology and that his former businesses exploited the poor by offering overpriced loans, allegations that Kiska denied. Many Slovaks worried that if Fico had won the presidency, too much power would have been concentrated in the hands of his party, Smer [Direction].

In his inaugural address, Kiska criticized the culture of corruption and the overall negative political atmosphere, adding that the “public sphere is now dominated by selfishness, nepotism, political affiliation, strong elbows and cynicism.” In an effort to be a “people’s president,” Kiska’s guests for his inaugural lunch included those in need of help, such as senior citizens, orphans, and the homeless. Kiska also stressed that he wanted to invite people who help others, and a number of prominent NGO activists were included, some of whom have been shunned by Fico and his allies. Politicians were noticeably absent from the list. During the campaign, Kiska promised to dedicate his entire salary of 5,376 euro per month to families in need. On 25 July, the presidential website provided details on the 10 families selected by charity organizations as the beneficiaries of his first salary.

Although the president in Slovakia does not have significant powers, Kiska can mobilize public opinion and provide a check on the parliament, where Smer controls a majority of seats. In regard to foreign policy, Kiska is an Atlanticist and is strongly pro-EU and NATO

Invitation: CEPA U.S.-Central Europe Strategy Forum, October 2, 2014

Friends of Slovakia is supporting an important and timely U.S. – Central Europe Strategy Forum organized by the Center for European Policy Analysis. Slovak Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Miroslav Lajčák and Alexander Duleba, Director of the Research Center of the Slovak Foreign Policy Association will be among the outstanding speakers participating in the Forum.

Please RSVP prior to August 18 directly to CEPA: marta.sikorski@cepa.org . For more information visit CEPA website.

Mark Your Calendars – Freedom Lecture and Awards Dinner

TWO IMPORTANT EVENTS – ONE DATE – FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 14, 2013

PLEASE MARK YOUR CALENDARS FOR THE ANNUAL FREEDOM LECTURE AND THE FIFTH ANNUAL SLOVAK-AMERICAN AWARDS DINNER.

NOON at the Wilson Center, Reagan Building: Pavol Demes, former Minister of International Relations and foreign policy advisor to the first Slovak President will focus on the Velvet Revolution and Slovakia’s progress since independence including its entry into the EU and NATO. Free.

6:30 PM at the Slovak Embassy, 5th Slovak-American Awards Dinner. Black Tie. Anticipated keynote speaker: Robert Kalinak, Slovak Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior. This not-to-be missed event raises funds for FOS’s Slovak Scholars Summer Program and the Slovak Honorary Consuls’ Roma scholarship and recognizes those who have contributed positively to US-Slovak relations.. Space is limited; the invitations will be sent out in September.

For more information on the gala dinner contact Julie Slavik (jljslavik@aol.com); on the Freedom Lecture contact Ted Russell (russellte@erols.com)

EDUCATION MINISTER HONORED

Caplovic medalAt a reception in Pittsburgh honoring Dusan Caplovic, Slovak Minister of Education, Joseph Senko, chairman of the Friends of Slovakia, presented Dr. Caplovic with the Friends of Slovakia Medal of Honor.

Dr. Dusan Caplovic is a Slovak politician, formerly a historian and archeologist. From 2006 to 2010, he served as the Deputy Prime Minister for Knowledge Society, European Affairs, Human Rights and Minorities. From 2010 to 2012, Dusan Caplovic, as a National Council member, he chaired the parliamentary committee for education, science, young people and sport. In 2012, he became the Minister of Education, Science, Research and Sport of the Slovak Republic. Mr. Caplovic has published numerous books and articles in his field of work.

Accompanying Mr. Caplovic to Pittsburgh were Karol Miceta, President of Comenius University in Bratislava and Ladislav Mirossay, President of Safarik University in Kosice