The Atlanticism of Slovaks on the Rise
Released in September, the 2010 Transatlantic Trends survey (http://www.gmfus.org/trends/2010/) offers revealing insights into the mindsets of citizens of the United States, 11 EU countries, and Turkey. Close inspection of the data concerning Slovakia shows a considerable shift of the population, in comparison with previous surveys, towards pro-transatlantic views and identification with NATO. In 2004, Slovakia became a full-fledged member of both NATO and the European Union, yet Slovak views of these two bodies were, from the very outset, strikingly different. Whereas the image of the EU has always been very positive, NATO is a more controversial actor, and the reasons for Slovakia’s membership were less obvious to common citizens. Every TT survey since 2004, when Slovakia was added to the survey, has documented this divergence, measuring key indicators such as the view of NATO’s importance for the country’s security, or the commitment to NATO’s role and tasks. The relatively shallow transatlantic identity of the Slovak public was also indirectly reflected in the low numbers of respondent approving of US foreign policies, or convinced of the desirability of US leadership in world affairs. This year however, the survey served up a nice surprise: sixty-four percent of Slovaks gave an affirmative response to the statement: “NATO is essential for the security of our country.” That number is five percentage points above the survey’s EU11 average, and crucially, a 12 percent improvement over Slovakia’s 2009 result. Higher figures among the eleven EU member countries are found only in the Netherlands, Great Britain, Portugal, and Romania –countries that have traditionally belonged to the more pro-Atlantic part of Europe. How did this shift happen? Why is public opinion in Slovakia so different in 2010 than in 2004, when the country presented itself in the survey as an “outlier” with an “insular mentality?” We attribute this progress to the synergic impact of several factors. The first is simply time: six years into Slovakia’s NATO experience, the population has gotten used to membership. Slovakians now perceive the strategic geopolitical adherence of Slovakia as a fait accompli. In other words, old concepts of Slovakia’s neutrality, and fantasies about the country’s role as a bridge between the East and the West, which found response among a part of the political community and general public in the mid-1990s, are now out of date. Secondly, during those six years, Slovakia has acted as a responsible member of the Alliance. Slovak military participation in NATO missions has filled many citizens with pride. Furthermore, in recent years Slovakia’s military engagement has not been challenged by any of the relevant political parties. The anti-American rhetoric that had been used in the past by the political opponents of Mikuláš Dzurinda as a political weapon has grown weaker. This change was brought about not only by the domestic political situation, but also the electoral victory of Barack Obama, whose presidency has been welcomed by most people in Slovakia with enduring enthusiasm and optimism. This also explains why attitudes towards NATO have improved within Robert Fico’s cabinet and the three governing coalition parties – Smer/Direction-Social Democracy (Smer-SD), Slovak National Party (SNS), and Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (?S-HZDS). None of these parties played the anti-Atlantic or anti-American card before the 2009 presidential elections or the 2010 parliamentary elections. The “atlanticization” of the Slovak public has also been enhanced by the greater media visibility of the Slovak security community, and the latter’s participation in international transatlantic networks. The NATO summit in Bratislava in October 2009 was a watershed moment, offering the general public a full view of the transatlantic dimension of their country’s politics and identity. And we cannot forget the 2008 visa-waiver agreement between the US and Slovakia. The waiver was welcomed by many people as a symbolic “reward” for cooperation in security issues, and hailed as a gesture of real partnership between the two nations. Interestingly enough, the shift in favor of Atlanticism can be observed across all population groups. While in 2006, skeptical attitudes towards Slovakia’s membership in NATO prevailed across all levels of education, four years later the opposite has become true. A similar change has taken place in the hearts and minds of the supporters of political parties. While in 2006 only the voters of the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) of Mikuláš Dzurinda stood behind the country’s membership in NATO, this conviction is now shared by a majority of voters in all parliamentary parties, both within the governing coalition and the opposition. Obviously, as sociologists we realize that is too early to know whether this shift reflects only a temporary oscillation or speaks to a deeper value change. We need to see if the trend sustains in the long term. That would be good news not just for Slovaks, but for the broader international community. That is why we could not resist the pleasure of sharing this hopeful information with others who believe in the strength of the transatlantic partnership.
Zora Bútorová, and Ol'ga Gyárfášová, analysts, Institute for Public Affairs, Bratislava
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