Kiska at Globsec Conference: We need bold new decisions

Presidents, Prime Ministers, Ministers, Ambassadors, dear friends,

Allow me first to congratulate everyone who contributed to this amazing event. Rising from scratch to a world-class conference, with its own distinct brand and 10 years of a continuous success — I think Globsec really deserves its international recognition. I am proud to be here today. And to have this opportunity to welcome you all in my country also on behalf of the Slovak people.

Last year I was here as a president elect, only a few weeks after the Russian annexation of Crimea. An act of aggression which has shaken the security architecture in Europe. It ended the era of optimism that we won’t see European borders changed by a military force in the twenty-first century. Or at least not so close to our own comfort zone. The war in Ukraine, our neighboring country, has proven us wrong.

In my first days in the office I was shown a nuclear shelter. I considered it to be more of a curiosity, a relict from the shadowy past of Cold War era. A couple of months later I heard Russian president talking about nuclear arsenal aimed at the West. A year ago some might have wanted to believe Ukraine was an isolated episode that will somehow go away. Today, there is no doubt. It was not an episode. It's something far more complex, and far more dangerous. It’s a new reality. A new trend that undermines stability and prosperity in Europe, attacks sovereignty and challenges our values. Instead of dialogue and cooperation, we face revisionism aimed at eroding our way of life.

Illegal annexation of Crimea, ongoing war in Ukraine, continuing occupation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, but also heavy disinformation campaign aimed at our countries ended our vision of a strategic partnership with President Putin’s Russia — at least for an expectable future. There is no point to pretend otherwise, when one of the so-called partners is breaking international laws, reviving Cold War rhetoric, revisiting history and openly spreading hateful propaganda aimed at our society.

We have neither wished for it nor have we caused it. It's here and we have only one choice. To adapt. It will require new strategies, plans, resources and actions. But most of all we have to overcome our own weakness — our indifference, inconsistency and indecisiveness.

It’s crucial to stay united on the question of sanctions until Minsk agreements are fully implemented. It’s important to use every opportunity in search for a diplomatic solution aimed to stop the killing of innocent people. At the same time we need to invest into our own defense to protect the eastern border of the EU and NATO. And to have enough political courage to explain the need for it to our citizens.

These important topics and consequences of the war in Ukraine are richly and deeply covered during your discussions here at Globsec. So let me underline only two more points which I consider urgent. Where our indifference, inconsistency and indecisiveness can have far-reaching consequences.

Firstly, let’s get rid of delusion that our security ends within our borders. If our neighbors are in trouble, we are all at risk. If we don't help our partners, if we leave them in a vacuum of unclear promises and half-hearted efforts, the threats may come to our borders. Let us all remember: the people of Ukraine are fighting for their freedom and sovereignty today, because of their recent decision to become a part of democratic Europe.

I am convinced that a European perspective for Ukraine is as important for the safety and prosperity of the Ukrainian people, as it is for us in the West. And by “European perspective” I mean a clear vision, a shape of our mutual cooperation, a usable roadmap for the European Union membership. Not a polite diplomatic way how to avoid talking about the membership openly at all.

In my country, we know how important this vision is. We still remember how frustrating it was to be left behind when our neighbors advanced towards the EU and NATO. And we remember how difficult it was to come back on track, to carry out unpopular reforms, to decrease living standards temporarily. But also to give people hope, to revive the vision. I do not want to imagine where Slovakia would have been without this vision.

Providing a better life for the people is the best answer to any aggressive intentions. If people have something to lose, they will defend it. It's the prosperity, stability and freedom for the people what authoritarian regimes fear the most. An example that their own people would like to follow.

Secondly, I have talked about the world beyond our borders, but let's not forget about our own societies. Extremism and nationalism have grown stronger in the recent years. And so has mistrust in governments. These trends can be as dangerous to our security as any outside threat. The disinformation campaign uses these trends. It supports cynicism by telling lies about Ukraine, about the EU policy, and about the NATO.

It has one clear goal: to destroy unity in the EU. It aims to paralyze decision-making by importing confusion. We should confront lies with facts directly and openly. We have to show what we can lose, if we follow such dangerous ideas. We need to go even deeper — to work with our young generation, to teach them critical thinking, to remind them of our history, roots of our society and its success.

If we want to preserve our ability to make independent and responsible decisions, we need to get our own affairs in order. Inclination toward extremism and pressure of propaganda have something in common. They both gain momentum when people are frustrated by our own inability to deliver. That’s why it is important to focus even more on economic growth, to provide more opportunities for young people and to take good care of public finances.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The impact of indifference, inconsistency and indecisiveness is clearly present in the crisis we are facing at the southern borders of the EU. More and more we witness how instability spreads from post conflict regions. The current wave of refugees from North Africa and Middle-East demonstrates it. What once was a regional crisis has become a European problem and international responsibility.

Europe is in desperate search for the principles and the rules how to face this immigration wave. How to help refugees and — at the same time — how to preserve our own security. How to stay devoted to our principles of humanism. How to deal with it economically, socially and culturally. What we can handle, and what might go over our limits. Every member state has its own hill to climb here. And Slovakia is no exception.

We are not a country of entry of this massive wave of immigrants. In fact, we have more or less zero experience with refugees. And yet, there are too many strong words and categorical statements in our domestic public discussion. It would be useful to calm down, and let us all remember we are talking about human beings — women, children and men not running away from poverty, but from cruelty and murdering. Weare not only able to help refugees, but we have a moral obligation to do so.

There are no easy solutions. Reallocation of refugees across the member states or some sort of similar decision may cure the symptoms for a while. But it will not address the causes and can’t handle the wave of economic immigrants. At the same time it would be unfair to leave the solution to the most exposed states. And the same goes for the international community. It is a European problem today, but will become a global one tomorrow, if we don’t cooperate. All UN Security Council members must show responsibility.

In the meantime, the most difficult part of our job is work with public opinion. Because if we do not explain, why it is important to help those in need, we will leave room to extremists to make their political case. As I mentioned this week elsewhere, uncertain times we are living now are the test of the limits of our pragmatism. They are a challenge to our cohesion and principles the European Union is built on. But most off all, in many countries — including my own country — it is a battle for hearts, minds and trust of our people.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The future will depend on our ability to adapt to a new reality, not to long for the good old times. This will require bold new decisions, none of which will be popular or comfortable, but which are urgently needed. We must prepare for years of instability. But we need to protect our citizens.

Our way of life remains the best answer to aggressive dogmas. So it’s no surprise it will continue to be a target for those who fear our way of life. It is imperative for us to demonstrate that our foundations are stronger than propaganda, stronger than actions aimed at destroying the pillars of our peace project after the horrible events of the World War II.

We have to keep this in mind, when we are dealing with our own challenges in the European Union — be it Greek debt crisis, or negotiations over the EU reforms. We should try to make sure they won’t lead to the slow erosion and weakening of our European project. The stakes are too high.

I am convinced we can succeed in our efforts. Our society can resist these challenges. It is the best place for people seeking peace, freedom and prosperity. They will be ready to protect it. Because it will be worth it. But we will be able to do so only if we do not accept the game of undermining our values. And if we do not let ourselves to be trapped in our own indifference, inconsistency and indecisiveness.