Speech by H.M. the Queen

Slovakia, 21 May 2007

at the state dinner on the occasion of the state visit to Slovakia.

Mr President,

It gives me great pleasure to visit your country and to be your guest here this evening. The Slovak Republic is renowned for the beauty and variety of its landscape and the many places that recall its rich history. Many foreign visitors come to Slovakia to enjoy these attractions. I am looking forward to seeing some of them for myself in the days to come.

Mr President,

In nineteen ninety-six President Kovac visited our country. We spoke at that time of Slovakia's desire to accede to the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, about the problems associated with the transition from a planned economy to a market economy and about the initial successes that had been achieved in this area. How different the situation is now! Slovakia is a member of NATO and of the EU, it plays an important role in the United Nations and participates in numerous peace missions in various parts of the world. Through its enthusiastic contribution, Slovakia has brought a new impetus to the EU that also inspires other countries! In the ten years and more that have elapsed since, an impressive number of changes have been achieved that are beneficial not only for Slovakia, but also for Europe.

Mr President,

Your country has endured long periods of subjection and oppression. The Slovak people, however, resisted foreign domination, not only in the Second World War but later too, in the years of the Cold War. The period that has gone down in history as the 'Prague Spring' remains engraved in our memories, as does the name which is for ever linked to it, that of the Slovak statesman Alexander Dubcek.

The Prague Spring was brought to a violent end. It was followed by an icy winter which was to continue for over twenty years, until lasting freedom was regained in your "Velvet Revolution". A few years later this was followed by a "velvet divorce" which led to two independent states - the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic. The peaceful way in which this separation took place was greatly admired on all sides. The good neighbourly relations that the two states have since maintained are an example to many other countries.

Of course all these changes were not achieved without pain or difficulty. The reforms have demanded much of the people as well as of government. The transition to a different economic system has not only produced winners. Your government recognises that it must strengthen and consolidate the successes of this period. At the same time, you realise the need to keep a watchful eye on those who are experiencing the negative effects of these developments and who are therefore going through a difficult time. Fortunately, many who have themselves made sacrifices understand that their children and grandchildren will in any event reap the benefits of their efforts.

The ties between our two peoples have been considerably strengthened over the last few years. Some initiatives, such as city twinning, were launched by citizens, while others are government-organised, such as the successful MATRA programme. They are often small-scale, but all the more effective for just that reason. Incentives for further cooperation can be expected from our common membership of the European Union, which offers an inviting and stimulating framework.

Mr President,

Through its geographical location between East and West, Slovakia has been influenced by different cultures and foreign powers. For many centuries your country even formed part of larger states. Despite this turbulent history, the Slovak identity has always endured. Your country cherishes the riches of its culture just as it does the beauty of its landscape. Your language receives the protection it deserves. Folklore and folk traditions are kept alive by an enthusiastic population. All these things reflect the strong identity that characterises your people, in spite of the fact that Slovakia is home to population groups with very different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. A great variety of peoples living together in one country makes considerable demands on citizens and government. It is clear that these issues have your constant attention.

Membership of the EU is forging ever stronger ties between the nations of Europe, not only in the economic and political domains, but also in the cultural field. Openness to the outside world while preserving one's own identity is a task facing all the countries of Europe. Slovakia has no difficulty with that task. Sustained by the strength of its own identity, it can go forward to meet other nations with self confidence.

Mr President,

May I invite all those present to raise their glasses with me and to drink to your health, Mr President, to that of Mrs Gasparovicová, to a bright future for the Slovak people and to continuing cooperation between our two countries in an ever closer European Union.