Ten years ago, on 29th March 2004, Slovakia became a member of NATO. On this occasion, Pravda publishes a series of articles on NATO.
As a university student, he was at the birth of an international security conference GLOBSEC that has over the time become one of the most important events of its kind in the world. Robert Vass, who leads the Slovak Atlantic Commission, talks to Pravda about a great event allowing Slovakia as a member of NATO to raise issues belonging to priorities of our foreign policy interests.
GLOBSEC is organised by the Slovak Atlantic Commission, which was minimally active for a long time after its creation. How did the change happen?
Ten years ago, only few people knew it. Not it is 21 years old and has a brilliant reputation. The commission was founded by diplomats in 1993 but they dispersed all over the world and there was nobody to lead it. The commission fell asleep without the leadership. As an associated member of the Atlantic Treaty Association, it even stopped paying a membership fee and it was danger of having been expelled in 2003.
How did you get engaged at the time?
When I learned about the problems, as a student who was President of the Euroatlantic Centre, I appealed to the Slovak Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They entrusted me with being a statutory representative whose task was to organise the election of a new head, amend the statute a try to get a grant to pay the membership fee. I was my role as a short-term one. I was coaxing Martin Bútora, the former ambassador to the USA, into taking over the leadership but eventually he persuaded me that I should undertake this mission as a member of the young generation.
With young colleagues, we decided to organise an international conference aimed at security issues from the perspective of the Slovak foreign policy. In 2005, the first GLOBSEC took place in Bratislava. The response was positive, so we decided to continue. The beginning was difficult – as students we invested money that we earned in brigades into the conference. Determination and the investment paid off. GLOBSEC belongs to the five most important security conferences in the world. It is a flagship of our activities.
Let’s talk about finances.
We were getting money for project. Not a penny for daily operations of the commission. You know that it was a motivational advantage? We knew that if we are to move ahead, we have to submit better and better plans. If the commission had had its structures finances, we might have fallen asleep as happened to many NGOs in Slovakia and abroad.
You started from the scratch and believed in yourselves nevertheless.
The conviction that Slovakia can play an influential role in international relations carried us forward. GLOBSEC was founded at the time when Slovakia was a newcomer to NATO. We wanted the voices from Slovakia to be louder in the international affairs. It surprised me that we often encountered a lack of understanding.
I heard people saying that Slovakia is too small and it doesn’t play any role in NATO. We were not supposed to stick our noses into the big international politics. I disagreed and we gradually managed to tear down this wall of the inferiority complex. There are other small NATO countries that achieved a lot. Just look at Denmark that has a Secretary General of NATO. We accentuated that Slovakia must not be just a recipient of decisions made by the USA and European powers but the debate about the international politics, which matter to us, must be brought home.
Has GLOBSEC succeeded in achieving it?
Yes. The thing is that important decisions in Washington and Brussels are preceded by strategic debates with the participation of analytical groups and influential experts and statesmen. GLOBSEC not only raises issues but also offers a platform for raising questions that matter to the Slovak foreign policy.
What is the attendance?
First year, we had a handful of guests from abroad but last year we had 800 participants from 60 countries. Presidents, prime minister, defence and foreign ministers attend.
Is GLOBSEC different from similarly large events in Munich, Brussels or Halifax?
We raise the topics that do not appear very often at these forums, or they are not at their forefront. GLOBSEC focuses, for example, on the Balkans and the EU Eastern Partnership policy with six post-Soviet republics. We have managed to persuade those who accept invitations that it is a conference with a broad regional range and that Slovakia has better knowledge and ability to influence developments in these areas than the countries of the West.
How are the commission’s activities funded?
Exclusively from grants on the basis of submitted projects. The fact that we have 30 partners guarantees that no important plan is jeopardised if two or three of them drop out. At the same time, such a high number of partners is the guarantee of our independence.
Are you active also abroad?
I can mention Montenegro as an example of a country where we educate about the Euro-Atlantic integration. We visited all towns and the awareness has risen. The Montenegrins better understand that their small country is not able to take care of its security on its own. The only option is the NATO members, as with Slovakia that joined the Alliance ten years ago. Montenegro already deserves invitation to this security club. We shall see what this year’s NATO summit will bring. I think that the events in Crimea should accelerate the process of expansion of the Alliance.