Speech by His Majesty King Willem-Alexander at the state banquet during the state visit to Slovakia
Ladies and gentlemen,
What a warm welcome we’ve received here in beautiful Bratislava! Madam President, thank you for your hospitality and your kind words. My wife and I have been looking forward to this visit. Slovakia speaks to the imagination. It’s a pleasure for us to pay tribute to your country this year, the 30th anniversary of the Slovak Republic.
We know that the future of Europe will, in part, be shaped here, in this young republic that is undergoing such rapid development.
Most countries gain their independence after a period of revolution and conflict. But the cradle of the Slovak Republic was lined with velvet. You have always maintained good relations with the Czech Republic.
When President Havel invited my mother to attend the dissolution of Czechoslovakia, she remarked: ‘I usually attend weddings, not divorces.’ Happily we can see that both countries have done well since they went their separate ways.
From the very start, Slovakia has been committed to building friendship and cooperation in Europe. And in that regard we are grateful that you also look beyond your nearest neighbours. I assure you that on the other side of the European Union, on the North Sea, you have a true friend in the Netherlands. This visit is just one of the ways in which we aim to express that.
A few months ago you addressed the European Parliament. I was struck by what you said about our relationship as partners within the European Union.
You said: ‘Being a member of the European Union is not an entitlement, but a privilege.’ That is absolutely true. And it applies equally to founding nations such as the Netherlands and newer members such as Slovakia.
EU membership means taking joint responsibility for building a strong Europe – with freedom, equal rights and opportunities for all European citizens. We greatly appreciate Slovakia’s efforts to do just that. Madam President, you have a prominent role in this.
For years you have championed human rights, and you are a passionate defender of democracy and the rule of law. You are committed to a society in which people are resilient to disinformation. In which everyone can feel free and safe. Whatever their cultural background. Whatever their sexual orientation. And whatever their occupation.
Unfortunately, this is not always the reality. The people of Slovakia were shocked when journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée were murdered in 2018.
The people of the Netherlands were equally shocked by the murder of Peter R. de Vries in Amsterdam, three years later.
We’re allies in the battle against violence that undermines society. And we’re delighted to be working with you to foster a safe working environment for journalists. This afternoon we took an important step towards launching the ‘Press Safe’ platform in Slovakia, which is inspired by the Dutch PersVeilig model.
On the eve of International Women’s Day, I’d also like to highlight your commitment to gender equality. Everyone deserves to live without fear of aggression and violence, in an environment where they can fully develop their talents. Talents that our private and public sectors desperately need. Diversity makes us all stronger!
Our visit gives us the chance to discuss this topic with Slovaks of all ages, and to listen to what they have to say. We are grateful to them for sharing their personal experiences and feelings with us.
Looking back at the past thirty years, you can’t help but be impressed by Slovakia’s economic progress. This beautiful country has developed so quickly! That’s something that Slovaks can be proud of.
At the start of this century, Slovakia was known as the ‘Tatra Tiger’. But I prefer to draw a comparison with your national bird: the golden eagle. Like an ‘eager eagle’, your private sector has proudly spread its wings.
In this regard, there is a growing urgency to combat soil and water pollution.
With its rich abundance of nature, Slovakia is one of Europe’s green treasures.
And we need to protect and preserve it! The Netherlands is keen to share expertise with you on making our economies cleaner. The future is circular!
I know that circularity, fighting climate change and preserving biodiversity are topics close to your heart. Tomorrow we will discuss them further with representatives from the business community.
The Netherlands wants to contribute to a strong and healthy Slovakia. Because a strong and healthy Slovakia at the heart of Europe is of immense value to us all!
We’ve witnessed the incredible role you’ve taken on as a neighbour to Ukraine. And we’ve seen how you’ve welcomed many tens of thousands of Ukrainian refugees. We cherish our partnership with you in protecting the NATO Alliance. We hear your voice: it is the voice of freedom, democracy and justice. And we feel a bond with you as a valued member of our European family.
I congratulate you and the people of Slovakia on the 30th anniversary of the Slovak Republic.
May the Slovak eagle forever fly in freedom and prosperity!
May I now invite you all to raise a glass with me.
To your health, Madam President and Mr Rizman,
And to the friendship between our peoples.