22 November 2009

PM of Slovakia, Robert Fico, speaks to BACEE

When the British Association for Central and Eastern Europe (BACEE) was wound up in 2008 it was agreed that the name would live on through a series of high-profile lectures organized with UCL's School of Slavonic and Eastern European Studies (SSEES).

The event took some time to arrange but in November 2009 the first BACEE/SSEES talk was given by the Prime Minister of Slovakia, Robert Fico and I took the morning off work to attend.

The original impressions were not encouraging through my western eyes as Robert Fico looks like you would expect a former Easter European Communist (or a Bond villain) to look with his square features, drab suit and bland tie.

But appearances can often be deceptive and in the case they most definitely were as he delivered a very engaging and informative talk that looked back on the successes and failures of the twenty years since the Velvet Revolution.

He claimed democracy and human rights as successes but admitted that the economy and standards of living had not done as well. For example, the average wage in the last year of Communism (1989) was not reached again until 2007.

The root cause for the problems currently faced by Slovakia (and, presumably, similar countries) is that when the Communists were overthrown the only people in a position to take over where those who already had wealth and power. This clique then disposed of state assets to themselves.

The talk covered a wide range of subjects which were presented in a refreshing open and frank way; no sign here of the empty media-trained spin that we are force-fed in the UK.

Fico was equally honest and forthright in dealing with audience questions at the end, two of which resonated with the current situation in the UK; funding and standards in university education and integration of minorities. He made the good point that minorities should learn Slovak (in addition to their own language) not to become Slovaks but in order to work better with the Slovak authorities and political systems in the cause of their community.

Overall Fico impressed me immensely and I felt that he gave a very honest account of the situation in Slovakia today.

It is still a great shame (and a mistake by this government) that BACEE no longer exists as an organisation but it is good that their reputation helped to secure such a prestigious lecture. I expect I'll be taking holiday to catch the next one too.

1 comment:

  1. "... looks like you would expect a former Easter European Communist (or a Bond villain) to look with his square features, drab suit and bland tie".

    And spoke like one too... Sinister mix of populism and thinly veiled nationalism from someone very much on the wrong side in 1989 if the stuff on YouTube is anything to go by.

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