In late 1989, the former Czechoslovakia experienced a ‘Gentle Revolution’ that brought about a changeover from over four decades of single-party communist rule to a multi-party parliamentary republic. Three years later, in a peaceful and self-determined dissolution, called a ‘Velvet Divorce’ by the media, the state of Czechoslovakia split into two independent countries — Slovakia and the Czech Republic. With this separation, a union that was formed 75 years previously, following the First World War came to an end.
“Unlike breakups witnessed in other parts of the world, the split into Czech and Slovak Republics was a remarkably peaceful affair. And, our two countries continue to be the closest allies sharing views and cooperating in the political, social and economic areas. While several reasons can be attributed to this nonviolent transition, including the absence of any previous conflicts, the existence of strong business links and the presence of a wise and mature leadership, perhaps the strongest reason for this peaceful dichotomy was the genuine friendship that cuts across borders between people of the two nations,” said His Excellency Ivan Lancaric, Ambassador of the Slovak Republic to the State of Kuwait during an exclusive interview with The Times.
Outlining his successful diplomatic career, the Ambassador noted, “In 1990, after graduation from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, I joined the Foreign Ministry in our former capital Prague. After three years at the Federal Ministry there, in 1993, following the creation of the new diplomatic service of the Slovak Republic, I was appointed to our Embassy in Zagreb, Croatia. For the next three years I remained in the Croatian capital before moving to the Caucasus region, where I served as the Slovak representative to the OSCE Mission to Georgia (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe).
“Two years later, I was assigned as Deputy Chief of the Embassy in London and spent four years there before returning to Slovakia. I then took a break from my diplomatic career to pursue commercial interests in the private sector. In 2006 I rejoined the Foreign Ministry as the adviser to the Minister and later was appointed as National Coordinator during Slovakia’s non-permanent membership to the United Nations Security Council. And, in 2010 I was appointed as Ambassador to the State of Kuwait and non-resident Ambassador to the State of Qatar and Kingdom of Bahrain.”
Elaborating on the strong and friendly relations between Slovakia and Kuwait the envoy added, “This year heralds the 20th anniversary of the creation of the Slovak Republic and also the 20th anniversary of establishing diplomatic relations between our two countries. Incidentally, this year also marks fifty years since Kuwait established diplomatic relations with the former state of Czechoslovakia as the only GGC country. Today, the Slovak Embassy in Kuwait, which was opened in 2004, is our only representation in the GCC and similarly the Kuwaiti Embassy in Bratislava, which was inaugurated in 2010, remains the only GCC diplomatic mission in Slovakia. Friendly relations between our two countries, nurtured over the years, have grown to become excellent in all domains.”
“Slovakia and Kuwait share very close views on current foreign affairs, both countries have deep respect for principles of international law and in international relations prefer multilateral approaches. We cooperate on peace and security initiatives, as well as promote social, economic and environmental developments. Since the early 1970s hundreds of doctors, physiotherapist, engineers, teachers and others have helped in the development of Kuwait, while thousands of Kuwaitis spend their vacation every year at many of the world renowned spas in Slovakia. Also, in 1991, our relations were further cemented when Slovak soldiers, as part of the Czechoslovak Chemical Unit, participated in the liberation of Kuwait.”
Noting that in recent months there have been several high profile visits aimed at boosting bilateral relations, the diplomat elaborated: “In March 2013, the Deputy Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Finance and Economy visited Kuwait and met with their counterparts here to exchange ideas and identify areas for enhancing mutual cooperation. Last month, Kuwait’s Minister of Health, His Excellency Dr. Mohammad Al-Haifi visited Bratislava at the invitation of Her Excellency Zuzana Zvolenska, the Minister of Health of the Slovak Republic. The Kuwaiti minister visited several medical facilities in the country and observed the high quality of healthcare services in Slovakia. At the end of the visit a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the two countries to enhance cooperation and collaboration in medical services and ancillary fields. Another area where Slovakia and Kuwait have mutual interests is in the area of defense. Slovakia is a traditional producer of top-quality products for the defense industry.
The Ambassador further revealed that His Excellency Ivan Gasparovic, the President of Slovak Republic had extended a cordial invitation to His Highness Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al Sabah, the Amir of Kuwait to visit Slovakia. We are also looking forward to welcoming His Excellency Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al-Hamed Al-Sabah, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Kuwait who is expected to visit Bratislava.”
“On the economic front our two countries have signed several important bilateral agreements, including one in 2009 on protection of mutual trade and investments, and another on avoiding double taxation, which was signed in 2012. Kuwait is the only GCC country with which Slovakia has signed these two very important economic agreements,” revealed the Ambassador. He added, “Mutual trade between our two countries while encouraging still leaves room for plenty of improvement. Last year, the volume of trade was the highest in our bilateral trade history and touched over USD 51 million. While this figure is much higher than our trade with Bahrain and Qatar and on par with the USD 60 million with Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, it is still far below the USD 134 million with the United Arab Emirates.”
“Given the high level of industrialization in Slovakia and its traditional strength in manufacturing, there is plenty of scope for improvement in bilateral trade,” said the envoy, adding: “I would like to invite investors and businessmen in Kuwait to visit Slovakia and discover the immense business opportunities available in the country, as well as explore the possibilities of trading with their counterparts there. So far there have been two visits by business delegations from Slovakia to Kuwait and I think the time is ripe for a trade delegation from the Chamber of Commerce in Kuwait to visit Slovakia. Kuwaitis are familiar with Central Europe, it is not ‘terra-incognita’ to them, and all it takes is a change in mindsets and habits to explore new horizons and fresh possibilities.”
Detailing the attractiveness of Slovakia as an investment destination the Ambassador said, “Our strategic location in Europe, our qualified and highly skilled workforce and excellent investment climate has attracted businesses from around the world to make Slovakia a production hub for markets in Europe and beyond. The likes of German Volkswagen, South Korean KIA Motors and the French PSA Peugeot Citroen have opened automobile manufacturing plants in Slovakia. We are the largest producer of vehicles per capita in the world and this has gained us the moniker of ‘Detroit of Europe’; in fact, most of the luxury SUVs that come to Kuwait, including the Porsche Cayenne, the Audi Q7 and the Volkswagen Touareg come from Slovakia.”
“Besides having a thriving automotive industry, we have over 50 leading electrical, electronic and engineering companies from South Korea, including Samsung Corporation, which has opened production centers in Slovakia. In addition, as a full-fledged member of the United Nations, European Union, NATO and OECD, and as part of the Eurozone and Schengen Area, as well as signatory to the WTO, Slovakia has sterling credentials that make it an attractive place for investing.” With 100 percent ownership and no need for a local business partner or sponsor, opening a business in Slovakia for a Kuwaiti entrepreneur is much easier than for Slovakian businesses to operate in Kuwait. “The Embassy is here to act as a facilitator, it is up to individual entrepreneurs and investors to examine the lucrative potential, to find partners in Slovakia and take the necessary concrete steps to establish their foothold in the country,” noted the envoy.
Tourism, especially medical tourism to its many excellent health spas, is another sector that has seen considerable growth over the years. The thermal springs in these spas with their rejuvenating mineral waters, relaxing natural environment, beautiful historical castles and chateaus and highly qualified personnel have been an attraction for visitors to Slovakia. People having ailments ranging from orthopedic to digestive and cardiovascular disorders, as well as those visitors seeking overall wellness treatment have over the years made Slovakian spas their preferred destination.
The Ambassador who is in the country accompanied by his wife Sonia said, “Since our arrival in Kuwait we have enjoyed the proverbial hospitality of the Kuwaiti people and we wish them further prosperity and stability”.