‘A country more respected when stands up for values´ (JERUSALEM POST) By GREER FAY CASHMAN 12/28/10)
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Slovakia, outgoing ambassador Ivo Hlavacek recalls, twice voted
against Goldstone in the UN, supported Israel in other international
It never hurts to be professionally qualified for more than one
career. Having the option of choices, coupled with experience in more
than one field, gives people like outgoing Slovakian Ambassador Ivo
Hlavacek an edge over some of his fellow diplomats, whose total
working experience has been within the framework of the diplomatic
Hlavacek, who has just wound up a two-year posting here, has a PhD in
international law and worked as an external consultant on Eastern
Europe for a well-known American law firm, Barker McKenzie, before
taking up a position in the legal department of the Czechoslovakian
Foreign Ministry where he served as director-general for legal and
He’d gone to America on a scholarship to Columbia University, and
while he was happy working with Barker McKenzie and had also received
offers from other law firms, he was nonetheless homesick.
Enter Peter Tomka, who is today vice president of the International
Court of Justice in The Hague, and who has twice been Slovakia’s
ambassador to the UN. Prior to the Velvet Revolution, when they were
both living in New York (where Tomka was legal adviser to
Czechoslovakia’s permanent mission to the UN), he suggested to
Hlavacek that it might be in his interest to join the International
Law Department at the Czech Foreign Ministry.
Hlavacek duly went to Prague, “and they caught me.”
Later, following the division of Czechoslovakia into two republics,
he decided to go to Slovakia, although his loyalties run on both
sides of the border. He is the product of a Czech father and a Slovak
mother. He felt that Slovakia needed his help more than the Czech
Republic, and to work within an emerging state was more challenging.
IN THE International Law Department of Slovakia’s Foreign Ministry,
Hlavacek was given responsibility for international law, multilateral
treaties, consular affairs, human rights and minorities and the
International Court of Justice, through which Slovakia was working
out a water dispute with Hungary. At the time, he was 26 years old.
The work was intense, taking up 14-16 hours of his day. So after two
years he asked to be sent out as a diplomat and was posted as consul-
general to Istanbul. It was there that he met his wife, Slavka, a
harpist, who is also from Slovakia. They married in Istanbul, which
is a city they both love.
While they were there, they also befriended the mayor of Istanbul,
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, now his country’s prime minister.
On their return to Slovakia, Hlavacek was asked to take charge of a
state-run enterprise that developed and provided services for
diplomats. He spent sixand- a-half years in that post.
Next he went back to the Foreign Ministry, and was offered a choice
of ambassadorial positions that included both Israel and Cuba. With
two young children, a boy and a girl, today nine and seven, Hlavacek
thought it was not yet the right time to go to Tel Aviv, even though
it was close to his heart. He and his wife had visited Israel on six
occasions before he was posted here, and they will continue to visit
in the future. “It’s only a three-hour flight,” he said in a farewell
interview with The Jerusalem Post last week.
Aside from any other considerations, the Cuban posting offered
greater opportunities for travel, as Hlavacek was also assigned to
other countries in the Caribbean.
It was more challenging than he had initially anticipated, because he
arrived when there was a hard-line European Union policy against
Cuba. Trying to make any headway with Cuban government officials was
frustrating not only for Hlavacek, but for all ambassadors of
countries with EU membership. “There was no practical dialogue,” he
Not one to sit idle, Hlavacek became involved with the Cuban
dissident movement, providing it with communications equipment and
access to the Internet.
In September 2008, he went home for two months leave and was offered
two other ambassadorial postings: Buenos Aires or Tel Aviv.
This time he chose Tel Aviv because it was familiar to him and he and
his wife already had friends here.
DURING HIS two-year stint, Hlavacek managed to bring Slovakia into
sharper focus. This was evidenced by the exchange of visits by high-
ranking officials from both countries. Hlavacek also set the wheels
in motion for a visit to Slovakia by President Shimon Peres in the
second half of 2011.
There is a chance, he said, that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu
will go there too.
Relations between the two countries became closer when Slovakia twice
voted against the Goldstone report in the United Nations. It has also
supported Israel in other international forums, said Hlavacek.
He was hopeful that the present government, elected last June, will
continue with the courageous stand taken by the previous government
when it dared to express opinions that deviated from those of the
majority at the EU, especially in matters related to Israel.
“It makes a country stronger and more respected when it stands up for
its values,” he said.
As far as domestic policy is concerned, Hlavacek was also hopeful
that the present government would continue to take a positive
attitude to “the rightful demands for restitution and compensation by
Holocaust survivors,” and would follow the example set by former
justice minister, and current Supreme Court president, Stefan
Harabin, who imposed strict penalties on Holocaust deniers and
accelerated the process for dealing with restitution and compensation
claims by Holocaust survivors.
There are still some forces within Slovakia that have a resistant
attitude to Jews, Hlavacek acknowledged, but on the whole there is no
overt anti-Semitism, he said, noting that any expression of anti-
Semitism was illegal.
Slovakia’s school curricula include educational programs about the
Holocaust. And the Slovak Jewish Heritage Center, located in the
capital of Bratislava, has developed a Heritage Route linking 24
Jewish sites around the country in association with the European
Route of Jewish Heritage. Bratislava was for centuries a major center
of Jewish life and learning, and is the burial place of Rabbi Moshe
Schreiber, better known as the Hatam Sofer.
HLAVACEK IS not going back to the Foreign Ministry. It has become too
politicized, he said, and is minimizing the role of career
diplomats. “There is no respect for those who built the ministry or
for the specifics of foreign service,” he said.
The way things are now, said Hlavacek, he doubts that he would fit
in. So for the time being he will go back to his professional roots –
the law. “I don’t want to waste my time, energy or knowledge for
these people,” he said of the current powers-that-be at the ministry.
He is particularly angry that they cancelled the Christmas vacation
for all ambassadors who are in the process of completing their tours
of duty. This is a measure that was apparently never taken in the
While members of Israel’s Foreign Ministry are not short on
complaints, Hlavacek said that he envies the strength of its
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman respects the fact that the people
in the ministry are long-term professionals, while he will be there
for a limited time, said Hlavacek. “This is not so in Slovakia. This
is something that Slovakia should learn from Israel. In Israel
everyone knows their limits.”
Hlavacek plans to be back in Israel at least two or three times a
year, possibly as a business consultant for legal aspects of joint
ventures. One of his regrets is that very little has been done in the
area of strategic R&D cooperation, even though Slovakia has a highly
educated work force which could easily absorb Israeli know-how.
“It’s time to move forward from declarative talks to concrete
action,” he said, and was cautiously optimistic that the present
government, which has stabilized Slovakia’s economy, will recognize
the advantage of deeper cooperation.
Meanwhile, in addition to consultancy work, he intends to do some
teaching in the law schools of Czech and Slovakian universities and
to maintain a relatively low profile. If things change at the Foreign
Ministry, he might go back there, he said, “or I might go into
politics.” (© 1995 - 2010 The Jerusalem Post. 12/28/10)
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