Toast by the President of the Slovak Republic Ivan Gašparovič
Your Majesty, Your Royal Highness, Dear Guests;
Your visit is one of the most significant ever paid to Slovakia throughout its existence as an independent country. “A guest in the house is like a God in the house” – this ancient Slovak saying exemplifies, in just a few words, the long-standing tradition of our hospitality, a tradition bestowed on many an honoured guest.
I am convinced that the way in which the people of this country are welcoming you bears clear witness to their great respect and esteem for you, and to your generous and active attitude towards developing friendly relations with dozens of countries around the world. Let me, Your Majesty, characterise it as follows: To us, your visit represents the culmination of Slovakia’s recognition as a mature and consolidated country, with a rich history and a promising future.
In the first millennium AD, Alfred the Great, the ruler of Albion and the contemporary of our first ruler Svätopluk, set his sights across the channel towards our homeland. His detailed description of this territory, which complemented the work of the Roman historian Orosius, enabled our historians to identify the geographical location of Great Moravia, the first state formed by our ancestors.
It has been only a few hours since you have arrived, to our delight, to acquaint yourselves with Slovakia directly. The Town Hall of Bratislava contains precious English tapestries which exemplify the finest craftsmanship and skills of the 17th century London workshop where they originated. Almost a quarter of a millennium ago, Bratislava flourished as the coronation town of the Habsburg Monarchy, particularly during the reign of Maria Theresa, the enlightened empress and contemporary of Kings George II and George III. Yet, Slovakia and its metropolis do not want to live solely on its glorious past. As a Member State of the EU – where Slovakia is now a partner with the United Kingdom – we want to contribute towards the common good through our potential for development, our dynamic economy and our industrial tradition. We see many opportunities to enrich the cultural and intellectual diversity of a multinational Europe by sharing with others the best of our cultural, historical and economic experience.
Your Majesty, albeit your stay in Slovakia is short, you expressed a wish to visit the High Tatras, the mountains of which we are so proud and of which we sing in our national anthem. We are very encouraged by your interest in the future of these ‘smallest high mountains’ in the world, the most attractive protected territory in Slovakia. In our approach to their future, we shall carefully consider the proper balance between the conservation and protection of this ‘jewel of nature’ and its development for tourism purposes. We remain grateful to the pioneers of mountaineering and tourism who came to the Tatras from the UK and wrote about our mountains in their travel books. This is particularly the case with Robert Townson, the very first ‘conqueror’ of Lomnický Štít.
We very much appreciate that the world remains sensitive to the difficulties we are encountering with our mountainous region as evidenced by the attention of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, of which His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh is the co-founder.
We warmly welcome your initiative to unveil the “Iron Curtain Memorial”, a memorial located physically on the line of the notorious Iron Curtain that separated us from the democratic world for decades. When the curtain fell for good and we returned – metaphorically speaking – to where we had always belonged, British historian Timothy Garton Ash, a true expert in the history of the central European region, said: They know what freedom is because they know what unfreedom is.
You have had a number of remarkable meetings in Devin and Bratislava. Let me start with the group of “Winton’s Children”, whose fates were so affectingly featured by Slovak documentarian Matej Mináč. Let me also mention a group of Slovak pilots who served in the Royal Air Force. More than 300 Slovaks volunteered to defend your homeland against the horrors of war. Their bravery was appreciated by their own homeland only after the rule of law and democracy prevailed in this post-totalitarian state. And last, but not least, let me also mention the rebirth of Scouting in Slovakia.
Only six years after its establishment more than a hundred years ago, Slovak scouts subscribed to ideals set by the British founders of this practical movement which you have consistently supported.
I am most pleased to note, Your Majesty, that there are a great number of links between the United Kingdom and Slovakia of which we are rightfully proud and which, by the same token, commit us to developing our mutual relations further. In the Middle Ages, the still-life paintings by the Prešov-born Jakub Bogdan won recognition in the court of William III; today, the prestigious Royal Society of Arts admitted Petra Štefanková, a young Slovak artist, for her remarkable modern graphic artworks. I could go on by mentioning many other examples, but time is unfortunately pressing.
We, in Slovakia, are very well aware of the need to be more self-confident in presenting to the outside world what makes us unique and interesting. British historian Martin Gilbert, who occasionally accompanies his compatriots on tours through the historic sites of Slovakia, suggests that we look at ourselves through different eyes. Another British historian, Robert William Seton-Watson, was truly relentless and most convincing in telling the world the bitter truth about the national oppression of the Slovaks at the beginning of the 20th century.
Slovaks have never forgotten how this “herald of the news” of our existence, together with Björstjern Björnson, advocated our right to self-determination and a ‘place in the sun’. And since the visit of Your Majesty will undoubtedly draw the world’s attention to Slovakia, we shall do our utmost to let the world know that the people who live in this small country in the middle of Europe, at the foot of the Tatra mountains, are good-hearted and generous.
I have therefore great pleasure in raising my glass and drinking a toast: - to the health of Your Majesty and His Royal Highness; - to the health of all present, and future witnesses and heralds of the successful development of the Slovak-British friendship!
Finally, let me add to this toast a marvellous quote from British poet Edward Young –“Friendship is the wine of life”!