INTERVIEW with H.E. Dr. Robert Kirnag, the Ambassador of the Slovak Republic in the Republic of Macedonia and Honorary President of 2013 DMWC International Charity Bazaar
Your Excellency, You are one of the most active ambassadors in Macedonia, you speak excellent Macedonian and are already known as a big friend of the country. Apart from your high professionalism, what inspires you to maintain such a good relationship with the country and its people?
I find great inspiration in the positive response to our activities from the Macedonian people. As the smallest embassy in town, we would not be able to achieve so much without the support of our Macedonian friends. So, we inspire them and they inspire us in return.
There are many similarities between Slovakia and Macedonia. Two small countries, two nations with rich culture and history, connected – throughout the centuries – by the common cultural tradition going back to Cyril and Methodius. The languages are very close, and the mindset is compatible. We can easily understand each other without an interpreter.
Also, many Macedonian people, businessmen, and politicians alike keep telling me that they see Slovakia as an example of successful economic and social transformation, integration, as a champion in attracting foreign investment. As a success story, it is a motivation for their own country, the communication you come to a better understanding. I would even say that we do not merely understand the present complex situation in Macedonia, but we even feel its atmosphere, grasp the spirit of the time. With this empathy in mind and heart, we are in a better position to support Macedonia in achieving its aspirations. We have been through this phase of transformation, reforms, and accession process. And it had not always been without challenges. In some aspects, it is a déjà vu for us. We are interested in your stability, security, and prosperity. We wish you success. Do it your own way. We are ready to help you.
Did you anticipate that you would carry out your mission in Macedonia in such an open and active way?
Yes, that is my way of diplomatic conduct – active and open. I see it as my mission to find as many new friends for Slovakia as possible. That is how I translate the diplomatic expression “friendly relations which so, fortunately, exist between our two countries”. The reality in Macedonia, however, exceeded my expectations in this respect.
In your public speeches and in your activities you always put a strong accent on two things important for a country’s prosperity: education and economy. Does this reflect the success story of Slovakia? What can Macedonia learn from Slovak experience in these areas?
Education and economy are two sides of the same coin. Knowledge is strength and power, as the slogan of the Macedonian government goes. I could not agree more. Education is, by far, the best investment in the future economic capacity of your country. Economic success will be determined by knowledge, skills, and innovation. You must invest in education if you want to remain competitive.
Bratislava has recently become a top tourist destination. What is the key to this success?
Yes, indeed, Bratislava holds true to its poetic nickname: the Beauty on the Danube. The old town and the castle have been restored, and new development projects with hotels, business and shopping centers, restaurants, and promenades are mushrooming on the banks of the Danube River.
Bratislava takes advantage of its excellent location, just 50 km from Vienna and close to Budapest and Prague. It is easily accessible. You can visit it by plane from two airports (Bratislava and Vienna´s Schwechat airport), conveniently by car or bus through the highway system, by train, and even by boat. Bratislava is a gateway to Slovakia, to its mountains and historic towns, to its spas, but also to the whole Central European region. There are no controls on 90 percent of the Slovak border. Since January 2009, we use the euro in Slovakia. It all makes it easier for tourists to visit and enjoy our country. I would especially recommend visiting Kosice in eastern Slovakia, which is a European Cultural Capital 2013.
Which assets can Skopje use for its international promotion and for attracting more tourists and other visitors?
Skopje does not need to change in order to attract more foreign tourists and visitors. It has its own beauty, its own identity, which should be preserved. There are many attractive places in Skope and its vicinity. In the old town – stara carsija – you feel as if the time, magically, stopped one and a half centuries ago. Then, there are the churches and monasteries – St. Spas, St. Pantelejmon. There is hiking to the Millennium Cross, a trip to Matka Canyon. Afterward, reward yourself with rich Macedonian food in one of Skopje´s many fine restaurants. But of course, the biggest asset of Skopje is its people – open, friendly, and hospitable. You should stay as you are. Do not change.
What are your impressions of Macedonia’s community of foreign diplomats and businessmen? How do they see our country? Do you have any suggestions as to how we as a country can become more hospitable and more open to foreign guests and, in the longer term, attract more development-boosting foreign investment?
I think that foreign diplomats and businessmen feel welcome and comfortable in Macedonia. They are respected and often enjoy a higher quality of life here than in their own countries. Macedonia offers plenty of opportunities for tourism and entertainment. For their children, there are very good international schools in Skopje. And yes, traditional Macedonian cuisine is excellent.
Regarding the investment environment, the functioning of the regulatory system should improve. There is a lot of unnecessary bureaucracy here. Public tenders must be transparent. The functioning of the judiciary, enforcement of contracts, payment discipline – these are also areas, to name just the most obvious ones, which need to be improved. Also, the capital is a very shy game. It looks for a safe, stable, and fairly predictable environment. The membership in NATO and the EU is a general insurance policy for any foreign investor.
Can you share your impressions of Macedonia and its people? What are the things, the places, and the customs that appeal to you? If you maintain informal friendly relations with Macedonians, what do you find most interesting in these relationships?
I admire the Macedonian sense of solidarity, humbleness, friendliness, modesty, and readiness to help. The families of three generations, for example, stick together in good and bad. This is something very precious, you should keep it.
What about people’s behavior, mentality, and work habits could be improved?
Have you ever come across prejudices against or wrong perceptions of Macedonia? How did you react to them?
As I said, be yourself, proudly Macedonian. Do not try to imitate others. Prejudices appear when people do not have enough information. Therefore, the way to work on the image of the country is to provide information. Promote yourself, tell your story.
You are the Chair of the 2013 DMWC Charity bazaar. How do you feel about this role? Can you comment on the decision to donate all the funds raised by this year’s Bazaar events to the Macedonian Charity Fund for Children with Down Syndrome?
I am honored to be the Honorary Chairman of the 2013 DMWC Charity Bazaar. The unanimous decision of all the stakeholders to donate the proceeds from the charity bazaar to the Macedonian Charity Fund for Children with Down Syndrome shows our dedication to this noble cause. We have many supporters and donors who share our sense of social responsibility. It is simply the right thing to do. We invite the Macedonian public and the international community to join us on 8 June at the Skopje City Mall. Let’s share. Let’s have fun together.
How do you see the role of Dobredojde Macedonia Welcome Centre in Macedonia’s international community and wider society?
Dobredojde Macedonia Welcome Centre is a unique voluntary organization here in Macedonia. It brings Macedonian people and the international community closer. It offers many interesting ways for the promotion of our countries, people, art and customs. I am proud to be a supporter of DMWC right from its launch.