Kiska: This year will be the year of truth for our foreign policy, too

On Thursday, President Andrej Kiska made a speech in the 17th year of the Evaluation Conference of Foreign and European Policy, hosted traditionally by the Slovak Foreign Policy Association in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs of the Slovak Republic:

“I am glad that the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs of the Slovak Republic continues to host the conference to evaluate the meeting of foreign policy priorities by my country.

From the outset, may I appreciate those who contributed to the successful course of the first ever Slovakia´s presidency in the Council of the European Union last year. As I pointed out to the public on several occasions, we managed with honours. Hosted by the Foreign Ministry, I want to thank each and every staff member who was involved in the presidency without being seen, yet whose contribution might have been missed to make the presidency such a success. Thank you.

At the time we were taking over the presidency, the Union appeared to be in a precarious situation. I believe that – on top of the specific goals – the Union´s discussions were steered by the Slovak presidency to a more matter-of-fact and calmer level. That is the way how difficulties are to be treated both today and tomorrow, both out and within the country.

I also wish to highlight the development aid provided by Slovakia to people in need, particularly thanks to NGOs as well as enthusiastic volunteers. They have provided for our good name and showed the face of our country we may be rightfully proud of – as I, myself, could see during my recent visit to Kenya. Yet, I expect that the cooperation between those bodies and the Government will improve, that they will be given more support by the State and afterwards, the effect may allow us to show more pride. Yet I am strongly convinced that we can and should do more. My country is a successful modern state and it is right to expect it to be so.

Ladies and gentlemen,
Over a number of years, this conference may have given an impression of some bureaucratic inertia, to evaluate a policy resting on priorities and that strategic objectives and values were clear to everyone and all. Not just on a paper but even in the practical exercise of politics and everyday diplomacy. One could have relied on the existence of something called general inner policy consensus on Slovakia´s fundamental route and enjoy a clear and stable support by the public opinion.

Unfortunately, this is not true anymore. We live in times of a much higher level of uncertainty about the future of this part of the world than over the last two preceding decades. However, regardless of that uncertainty for the western world, for Europe and all our trans-Atlantic alliance, there are only two basic development scenarios possible.

Either vulgar pragmatism – in other words, nationalism and egoism – gets the upper hand. Then there are hard times ahead of us with much restricted options with our foreign policy. Or, we strengthen our adherence to the common values – including foreign policy, our ability to swim over the deep counter-currents with honour and courage. I believe in the second scenario. Because I believe that people are able to understand the lesson and pass over the experience of the not so distant past when egoism and nationalism on one side and casual indifference on the other got the upper hand.

One must not forget that numerous problems we are facing have resulted from a premeditated hybrid warfare. The strategy of spreading disinformation and half-truth with a massive support of social media is aimed at our main weakness: not being able to defend our values frankly and efficiently. The content of that strategy is dangerously taking roots in the communication of extremist parties as well as – unfortunately – in the populism of a major part of the standard Slovak political arena.

The objectives of the Kremlin propaganda I am speaking about have been given clear names in a recent resolution of the European Parliament – distorting truths, inciting fear, provoking doubts in liberal democracy, engineering a split between ourselves and our North American allies, paralysing the decision-making process, discrediting the European institutions, suggesting a failure of the EU project, incitement of fear and uncertainty in citizens.

The information warfare stands for one of the serious threats to Slovakia and its foreign policy which cannot operate without support at home and a political agreement on the country´s fundamental orientation. Unfortunately, Slovakia and its official security forces do very little against hybrid warfare and targeted propaganda. They do almost nothing. A year ago I said that we were a target failing to protect itself – and this still applies. We do not defend whatever our security, prosperity and stability are based on. Unwillingly, I have to admit that we behave in an absolutely irresponsible way and that such behaviour of ours fails any analogy with our neighbours, states concerned and countries of our region.

Ladies and gentlemen,
Foreign policy and our country´s prosperity and security included have been based on two pillars in the long term: our membership of the European Union and our membership of NATO. Slovakia would not be a successful country as we have known it without those two pillars. These are the pillars which cannot become a victim of any political interests and ambitions.

We all remember that Slovak diplomacy and most Slovak diplomats “toed the line” even in the most challenging times with regard to homeland policy in the 1990s under Mečiar. Today, even though for other reasons, we are still facing hard times again. Officially, our government is pro-European and it is officially pro-NATO. Yet maybe as much as half of the Parliament takes a lukewarm – and a part of it even alternative – stance to our official foreign policy priorities. Not to mention that – in spite of the objectives declared – misleading signals are often times received from the Government.

This is another reason why we need more than ever, principally two things:

Firstly, more precise and clearly defining our interests and foreign policy objectives. An opportunity to do this, will be the drafting and adoption of the updated Security Strategy of the Slovak Republic after more than a decade. What I expect is a document of a strong political spirit with no vague bureaucracy. What I expect is a document not disparaging anything, however, being a genuine strategy for us, not just a paper exercise. Therein, the truth will be revealed – if we still possess sufficient political strength, courage and the right compass.

Secondly, sticking to priorities, not challenging them, communicating in a responsible and consistent way both internally and externally. So that Slovakia can be seen as a partner reinforcing shared interests. Speaking the same language when meeting European partners behind closed door or people in public and speaking the same way both in Bratislava and in Brussels. Schizophrenic communication which is different at home and outside calls into question our credibility and weakens our foreign policy and thus, the strategic interests of our country, doing it in a twofold way: it undermines our position both with regard to our foreign partners and at home with regard to the population whose support we must rely on.

Let me remind you of some examples of the confusing signals I am referring to. The first one is the attitude to Russia and to the current leaders of that country which has heavily violated the basic principles of the post-war respect to sovereignty and territorial cohesion in Europe. The annexation of Crimea and military support to separatists in eastern Ukraine are unacceptable and cannot remain overlooked. We cannot be silent, we cannot push it aside and let events take their own course.

The Slovak government has taken up the European Union´s sanctions and supports them. However, a permanent questioning of their significance is irresponsible, frivolous and confusing bearing in mind that a change in the behavioural pattern of the Russian leaders is missing, both toward foreign partners and toward the Slovak public. Moreover, the questioning of sanctions does not make any sense before we are able to answer the underlying questions: What is there to replace them? What are our next steps going to be? Particularly those questions contributing to resolve the situation in the Ukraine, in the territory of our next door neighbour.

Such questions should be answered by politics that is responsible. Otherwise, it is nothing but idle talk or something worse than that.

I will always encourage us to be self-confident and if there is a reason, to strongly argue. Yet always with arguments, with alternatives, with clear intentions. That should become a tradition to be developed in foreign policy. That is something of honour for a person just as it is for a State.

That relates to our security and commitments in the North-Atlantic Alliance. In the long term, we have been lagging behind with our fulfilment. And we have even lied. It is high time to get a credible plan allowing us to comply with the commitments we have adopted, by the defined deadlines and scope. We have subscribed to them voluntarily and our allies rely on us. Soon, a NATO summit will meet and we are the last of the V4 group who has not signed up to the commitments from the previous summit by specific action. It is essential for our security and for Slovakia´s credibility to prove that we care for our common defence no less than our allies. It would be dangerous to try again to cheat on the commitments of Slovakia´s shared responsibility for common defence. It would be unwise to deprive ourselves of the opportunity for a meaningful discussion on European defence by doing so.

I also wish to remind of the role of the Visegrad 4 Group in the European Union. It is a good format and is useful for Slovakia. It is our first choice in seeking allies. But we must not get lost in matters outside of our interest. Because it is in our interest to continue the fundamental and main idea around which V4 was established – contributing to a single and prosperous Europe and to common solutions. Various different transient states and alternative concepts are contrary to Slovakia´s strategic interests.

There has been much talk these days about the future scenarios of European integration, particularly about a “multi-speed” Europe. I agree with the declarations by the Government that Slovakia´s strategic interests are found in European Union´s integration core. I would, however, appreciate if we were able to contribute to the discussion about what the core should look like much more clearly. What kind of integration is still necessary and in our interest?

It is to be reminded that we should not try to achieve the core in a technical way. A lot depends on the trust we would enjoy among EU partners. There are not any derogations from our views and the right to shape our own proposals. Yet a simplistic nurturing of political passions concerning “bad Brussels“ whenever it suits at home, is an attitude of underdeveloped periphery and not from the centre of the globally most successful project of peace and economic cooperation.

Ladies and gentlemen,
A lot of what I have mentioned are the problems of Slovak politics and not of its diplomacy. Yet the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs may play a significant role directed even inside the country if they wish to do so. They may animate informed discussion on our European and foreign policy and strengthen the emphasis on what is called public diplomacy or rather strategic communication. Our presidency in the Council of the European Union was an opportunity to do so. Both supporters of Slovakia´s membership and demagogues found their own space to do so.

I recall a televised discussion attended by Ivan Korčok, the deputy minister, as an example of good public diplomacy. He reacted to the populist speech of an MP by clear facts and emotion which the European Union´s supporters often lack so much. That is what I want to ask you to do and to do more than that.

I believe that the ministry should also consider new formats and new channels for such communication. Politicians, media and interested public need regular information of good quality, otherwise we fail in the effort to improve the standard of public discussion. Foreign and European politics are becoming again a question of strategic importance which will decide on the way in which we would live. Let us give the people an opportunity to grasp it. Should we succeed in doing so, we limit the space for populism and propaganda to manipulate the public opinion and to undermine our security and credibility. 

Ladies and gentlemen,
In my New Year’s address to the people of Slovakia I called this year the year of truth. It will be the year of truth with regard to foreign policy, too. We have to focus on what we are able to influence. And that is the consistency of our attitudes. Public support to Slovakia´s strategic interests. Growing together in the EU instead of growing apart. Our credibility with regard to the fundamental pillars and values of our foreign policy affinities. Should we succeed in doing this, there will not be any need to convince anyone that clearly there is a room for Slovakia in the European integration core. We shall pass successfully the time of uncertainty and contribute to making Europe and the world a more stable and a safer place.”