On February 21 ForUm held online conference with Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Slovak Republic to Ukraine Mr. Pavol Hamžík.

During the chat, the ambassador told our readers about advantages of EU integration, Schengen visas for Ukrainians and aspects of Slovakia independence.

Here is the text of the conference:

Khinevych Serhiy: Dear Mr. Hamžík, as a state aide of the Prime Minister on foreign affairs you dealt with European integration process of Slovak Republic. What recommendations can you give Ukraine on its path to eurointegration?

- It is necessary to do what your government promised when the Association agreement was under development. It concerns not only economic reforms, but also values and principles Europe is built on. In my opinion, the government must create necessary conditions to meet the needs of the majority.

Sterkh: Mr. Ambassador, do you believe in Ukraine's European integration? Do you think we will lever become a part of Europe?

- You already are a part of Europe, and I believe that signing of the agreement on Association will improve living standards of Ukrainians and speed up the democratization process in the society. I hope the Association agreement will be signed in November of this year at a summit in Vilnius and will open the door of membership in the European Union. It probably will be a long process, and everything is in hands of Ukrainian citizens and the governments they elect. Integration issue is not pure economy. It is also a matter of values, political and economic stability and security on our continent.

Ivan: Will you country assist Ukraine with the integration?

- Your European course meets our political and economic interests, and we are interested in the Association and FTA agreements to be singed this year. We will assist with every mean available, but everything depends on your government.

Andriy: Ukraine plans to legalize double citizenship. Do you think our country needs this? How can it influence the relations with the EU?

- I think it won't run to that. There is no need in this, but anyway it is a sovereign decision of Ukraine, which has nothing to do with the EU and its policy. Some EU countries permit double citizenship, others, Slovakia for example, do not.

Mykola: You've been holding the post of the Slovak ambassador for a long time. Are you planning to serve the second term?

- I will stay in Ukraine for the next year and a half. In total, one term lasts five years. I cannot tell you what will happen after, and it does not depend much on me, but on where my government will send me next. I am a former foreign minister of Slovak and I am not interested to be just an ambassador. I want to work as an ambassador there, where it is useful for Slovakia's interests. Ukraine is very similar to Slovakia, and the potential of cooperation in all spheres is huge. Everything that happens in Ukraine is interesting for Bratislava, for my government. If there is an opportunity to work here for more than five years I will not object.

Mango: Why is Slovakia so interested in Ukrainians that it has decided to issue long-term Schengen visas in great numbers?

- We want that Ukrainians no longer need to apply for visas to visit Slovakia or the European Union. Visa procedures impede and complicate personal and business contacts. Slovakia does not believe that Ukrainians pose threat from the point of illegal migration, criminal activity or common labour. And we speak about it in Brussels. However, I must add that there is the plan, which must be followed by both sides - the EU and Ukraine. Until the plan is not fulfilled, the visa regime will not be canceled. I hope it will not take long, but again it depends on your government, as I said before.

Tetyana: I've been working in Slovakia for four years, and every year I apply for one-year employment visa. I've heard Slovakia may issue visas up to five years. Do I have a chance to get this kind of visa?

- Long-term visas are available for tourists, for those who visit their relatives in Slovakia and for entrepreneurs. If you have a working visa, then there is another procedure for its obtaining. The procedure for obtaining working visas for Ukrainian citizens to work in Slovakia has not changed. However, when the working visa expires, you can get a long-term multiple entry visa for two or five years. I do not see any obstacles to this.

WWW: There are rumors that Kyiv office has suspended accepting visa applications, but consulate in Uzhorod still works. Is it true?

- Issue of visas has not been suspended, but the amount of work is huge. Nevertheless, we manage to cope with the task. Of course, an applicant will not receive visa at the day of applying. Standard term for issue of visa is 7-10 days. General consulate in Uzhorod also issues visas.

Gennady: Have you reached expected results from issuing long-term visas for Ukrainians? 

- The result we expect is liberalization of visa regime and its further cancelation. We jointly work on it, but the major part of work must be done by your government.

Yamb: Has Bratislava agreed issuing long-term Schengen visas for Ukrainians with Brussels?

- Everything we do is within the regulations of Schengen agreement.

Lisa: Why aren't there any Ukrainian politicians or businessmen asking asylum in Slovakia. There are many Ukrainians hiding in Czech Republic, for example, but none in Slovakia. You don't grant political asylum, do you? 

- We do, but the requirements for obtaining the status of political refugee are very tough. We happy to welcome Ukrainians as tourists, businessmen, simple visitors and guests, but we do not see grounds for Ukrainians to seek political asylum in Slovakia.

A citizen: Mr. Ambassador, I would like to know your opinion about two-week blocking of Ukrainian parliament. Does something similar happen in Slovakia? What is the situation with personal voting in your parliament?

- The Slovakian Parliament procedure requires voting personally. I cannot imagine anyone voting for the other, as then the question of the legitimacy of the passed laws arises. However, there have been two such cases, but, under the pressure from politicians and the press, those MPs admitted they had been wrong and gave up parliamentary mandates. In my opinion, it is right.

Sara: What do you think about Ukrainian politics? Do you communicate with Ukrainian politicians?

- I socialize with many Ukrainian politicians, and some of them have become my friends. It helps in my work. Moreover, I regularly meet members of your government.

My task is to improve relations between Slovakia and Ukraine at all levels, to create better conditions for economic, business and trade activities. Ukrainian politics remind me the politics of Slovakia in 90ies. Ukraine is undergoing the development process, which Slovakia has already finished. I am sure Ukraine will also manage to finish and find its way.

Oleksandr: What do you exactly do as the ambassador to Ukraine?

- Our embassy deepens political relations, develops economic cooperation, maintains trade relations, creates conditions for extension of contacts between our peoples to be closer and understand each other better.

Shchur: If you were offered the position of president's aide what would you recommend the Ukrainian authorities? How can we save this country?

- I would recommend creating all conditions for signing the Association and FTA agreement with the EU, holding open dialogue with EU countries and carrying out substantial reforms, in particular in the sphere of self-government and taxation. I would also recommend to preserve economic relations with former USSR republics and not to be afraid of democratic processes.

Zed: Mr. Ambassador, what do you think about Russia and the pressure it is enforcing on Ukraine?

- Russia is close to Slovakia, and we are interested in good political relations and in extension of economic ties. As for the pressure, it does not matter if someone enforces pressure. The more important is what the attitude of a country under this pressure is. In my opinion, the country should keep its sovereignty and independence regardless of any pressure and take decisions, based exclusively on interests of this country.

Lelida: Mr. Ambassador, what do you think about the perspective of Ukraine's joining the Customs Union? Don't you think Russia wants to restore USSR and its imperial aspirations?

- The decision must be made by Ukraine and Ukraine only. However, in my opinion, European standards can help Ukraine become more democratic and open country. In Slovakia, for example, the government rules in favor of the majority. We have certain standards and principles, following which we improve our lives. I don't say that everything is perfect, but at least Slovakian people have a possibility to control and influence on what is happening around - in a village, city, region. Not long ago Slovakia carried out the self-government reform within which the management and finances were to cities and regions. It means that the state budget does not allocate money any more, and tax revenues remain at the local level. Local governments now have better possibilities to solve local issues.

Ira: Mr. Ambassador, do you feel nostalgic about Czechoslovakia? Would you like the history go differently?

- The Czechs and Slovaks are peoples with different languages and characters. At the end of XX century, we just decided to solve our problems separately. When Czechoslovakia collapsed, on December 31, 1992, I had certain fears, questions and nostalgia. I was born in Czechoslovakia, I worked in Prague for many years and I like Czech people. Today, however, we have managed to solve our problems related to independence and sovereignty of Slovakia. We are a member of the European Union and eurozone, our economy shows the fastest growth and, according to international estimations, Slovakia is one of the safest countries in the world. Independence of Slovakai has justified itself. I can tell that our people no longer feel nostalgic about past times. Moreover, now we have become even closer to the Czech people than when we were in the federation.

Folks: Mr. Ambassador, is it true that Slovakia has been named a new economic miracle? How has the crisis effected your country?

- Our economy is pro-export. Our country has also been hit by the crisis, but our situation is closely connected with the crisis influence on Germany. We have been doing fine  so far and we demonstrate the fastest economic growth in the eurozone and European Union. We expect 2% growth in 2013. It is not much in general, but enough comparing to other countries, which show no growth at all.

We were hit by the economic crisis of 2009, but the financial crisis passed by. In 2009 we carried out the reforms of the financial and banking sectors and joined the eurozone. Introduction of euro as single currency helped to keep the financial situation afloat.

Milusya: What is the average salary in Slovakia? At what age a young Slovak can leave the parents and buy his own house working as an average manager, for example?

- The average salary is about 840 euro. We have a system of cheap mortgage loans for young people. With average salary, young people can afford such loans, though it is not so easy as may seem. However, we have perspectives that the situation will improve.

Admirer: How has the life in Slovakia changed after joining the EU?

- We have allies, which help us to solve problems we would have never been able to solve ourselves. We have certain standards and rules, enabling people to live better and improve their living standards even more. The life has become better, no doubt. We do not say that everything is great, but with the current system problems become easier to solve.

Crowly: Czechoslovakia was one of the most "soviet" countries of Europe. How has Slovakia changed since?

- Well, Czechoslovakia was one of the most important countries for USSR, but I would not say it ever was a "soviet" country. Today we live in democracy, we have solved all problems related to obtaining independence and we demonstrate economic growth and development. We cannot say that people are absolutely happy with the new conditions, but they feel that these conditions are healthier than the former ones.

Driver: Mr. Hamžík, in 90ies Slovakia did not have own car industry, but for the latest year, this industry has developed immensely. What is the secret? 

- At the end of 90ies we carried out financial and tax reforms, which in turned attracted large investors into car industry and IT technologies. "Volkswagen" started production in Slovakia already in 90ies.  Now we have large plants of "Kia", "Peugeot", "Citroen". If you calculate the rate of cars produced per mille, Slovakia is the first in the world. Slovakia also produces such brands as "Porsche Cayenne", "Audi Q7", "Volkswagen Touareg" and others. The secret of success is the reforms, especially tax reform with single tax at 19%. 

Evhen: How do you plan to promote Slovak culture in Ukraine?

- We already do this through exhibitions and other events. For examples, in several days the embassy will hold presentation of a book of a Slovak writer. We hold such events regularly, and every second Saturday of May one of border crossing points holds the Days of friendship and good-neighborly relations. This year it will be the checkpoint of Uzhorod- Vyšné Nemecké. In May, an picture show of Andy Warhol, who had Slovakian origin, will be held in Uzhorod.

Katya: What three European countries would you recommend to visit first of all?

- Well, Slovakia, because it is my native and very beautiful country. The, Czech Republic, especially Prague, as it is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. And finally, Hungary, Budapest.

Yeti: How do you like working in Kyiv? Do you have favorite places?

- I like both the city and its residents. It is very cultural and spiritual city with frank and open people. I like to walk along Khreshchyatyk, to visit Kyiv Opera House and parks. Kyiv has more parks than any other European city. I like to watch Dnipro. I travel around Ukraine a lot and I like other cities, like Yalta and Foros in Crimea. I visit Crimea every summer with my wife.

Fan: Your biography does not speak about hobbies. Do you have any?

- I no longer do sport, but I like to watch football and hockey. Two weeks ago, I went to the tennis championship between Slovak and Ukrainian players in Kremenchug. I like to stay among nature, to work in my garden and play with my grandson.

Olena: Mr. Ambassador, do you have a pet? And what is the situation with stay animals in your country?

- We used to have a dog - Yorkshire terrier, but we travel a lot and had to give it to friends. I prefer fogs to cats.

As for stray animals, we don't have them in Slovakia. There is a state organization "Animal freedom", which takes care of homeless animals, and such system has proved efficient. 

Viktor: Do you like Ukrainian cuisine and vodka? What would you recommend to taste of Slovakian cuisine?

- I love Ukrainian cuisine - borsch, varenyky, almost everything. I often go to eat out. If there is an occasion I can drink some vodka, I prefer it to whisky or cognac. As for Slovak cuisine, I like homemade food - duck, dishes with cabbage, cheese dumplings, etc.

Petro: Do you have a dream that has not come true yet?

- Well, I believe I don't. I am happy to do my job, I have a nice family and we are all in good health. My ambitions in diplomatic carrier have been realized. I have passed all the levels and reached what I wanted. I worked in the government, headed a political party and now work as a diplomat. One can say my life is quite and my job satisfies me.


Thank you for your questions, they were very interesting. I am happy to use an opportunity and invite you to visit Slovakia, interesting and developing country, similar to Ukraine. You will have a chance to estimate the changes we have undergone for 20 years and see for yourself what it means to be a member of the European Union.


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