Slovakia has blazed a trail for democracies in the decades since 1989, said Mike Pompeo at yesterday’s GLOBSEC organised event in Bratislava. Speaking to an audience of young Slovak leaders and professionals, the US Secretary State also offered his perspectives on the state of transatlantic relations, the importance of small states and much more.
In keeping with the overarching theme of the conversation, Mr Pompeo began by telling the audience about his stationing in West Germany towards the end of the Cold War. Seeing the border fencing that effectively marked the Iron Curtain reinforced to him the extent to which the Soviet Union had caged the human spirit. Mr Pompeo was further reminded of this during his visit to the Gate of Freedom on the outskirts of the capital, a memorial that demonstrates people would rather face the bullets than live one more day without freedom.
Central and Eastern Europe has come a long way since then, both in terms of democratic transformation and economic success. However, it’s up to all of us to ensure that the spirit of 1989 lives on.
‘’The biggest threat to freedom and liberty,’’ according to the Secretary of State ‘’is each one of us forgetting how important it really is.’’ Losing sight of the value of democracy risks the return of unwanted levels of state control. And it’s not just about building and maintaining economic success, but also living in a values-based world.
Mr Pompeo also sent a clear message to Slovakia and the rest of Central and Eastern Europe. The United States is interested in the region and wants to listen and learn from its recent experiences. Doing so will help Washington to better understand Slovakia and its neighbourhood. In addition, democracies need each other and should work together to deliver for their populations. One way to achieve this is through maintaining formal commitments towards NATO and other international organisations. Democracies should also speak out against those states that threaten to undermine their values.
Alleged Russian interference in elections around the world was highlighted as a case in point. Yet, this is hardly a new phenomenon, a point further underlined by Mr Pompeo’s reminder that successive US leaders have condemned Moscow’s ‘recent’ activities. What’s changed, according to the Secretary of State, is that technology has reduced associated costs and risks. It’s never been easier for hostile actors to distort facts and influence voter behaviour and outcomes. To combat this, the United States is ready to help Europe to become more impervious to electoral meddling. The stakes could hardly be higher.
Mr Pompeo was adamant that every state that raises its voice for democracy – irrespective of its size – matters. As he sees it, each time a state moves away from democratic values, the capacity for the world to deliver freedom is diminished. Democracies must remain vigilant. Those actors that want to undermine democracy will start with smaller states believing that they are easier to defeat. While it is important that small states are on the cutting edge of efforts to protect freedom, Mr Pompeo emphasised that success ultimately rests on states of all shapes and sizes standing up for democracy.
The Secretary of State ended the discussion with some sage advice for Slovakia’s and Central Europe’s younger generation. It’s now up to them to stand up for the values that their parents fought for three decades ago. The region’s youth needs to know who they are. Success rarely comes without a great deal of hard work and young people should outwork everyone else and build alliances with those that share their values.
The next generation should also be determined to speak truth at all costs. This is not about being confrontational, but rationally explaining and justifying viewpoints. Doing so is important for the sake of democracy.