Meet the Ambassador
One of the world’s youngest countries, Slovakia is celebrating 30 years of independence in 2023. The Dutch King and Queen will pay a state visit to Slovakia from 7 to 9 March. ‘It’s a big milestone, a time to celebrate our partnership and to launch new plans and activities together,’ said Dutch ambassador Gabriella Sancisi. The two countries work together closely on issues like press freedom, disinformation and the circular economy.
The past 18 months have been a busy period, with many visits by Dutch and Slovak government ministers to each other’s countries. This was mainly due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a country with which Slovakia shares a border. But the Dutch-Slovak relationship had already been growing stronger before the invasion.
‘All those visits, including the one by Prime Minister Rutte, and now the King and Queen, offer a firm foundation to build on and to further expand our relationship in the years ahead,’ the ambassador remarked. ‘It’s like a wave you can surf on.’
Ambassador Sancisi is keen to ensure that the visit is not just about fine words and setting priorities. ‘We need to make things happen. It’s the embassy’s job to bring people together, not just the Dutch and the Slovaks, but also sometimes – funnily enough – Slovaks with one another. This state visit is intended to seal the bond between our two countries, and we’ll be seeking ways of continuing that bond in the years ahead. It is both a celebration of our relationship and the starting point of something new.’
Why are the King and Queen coming to Slovakia?
‘A state visit is the most important foreign policy instrument we have. It’s a way of affirming the importance we attach to our relationship with a given country. For that reason it’s an instrument you want to use with the greatest possible care.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of Slovakia’s independence, which dates to the breakup of Czechoslovakia in 1993. It’s a big milestone, which we intend to celebrate, but the visit will mainly centre on our shared challenges. We work together closely on issues like press freedom, disinformation and the circular economy.
The war in Ukraine is an additional reason to visit Slovakia. The country is located on the EU’s eastern flank and is directly experiencing the consequences of the war. During the state visit we will show the King and Queen – and through their eyes, all Dutch people – what is happening here and where we can make a difference.’
What areas do Slovakia and the Netherlands cooperate on?
‘We work together in a many areas. For example, sanctions against Russia or defence matters. We also cooperate on protecting journalists, ensuring gender equality and equal rights for LGBTI people.
The state visit to Slovakia coincides with International Women’s Day (8 March). The programme for that day includes a discussion on gender equality and women’s rights between the King and Queen and young Slovaks. Later that day the King and Queen will meet with friends and relatives of two LGBTI people who were murdered in Bratislava last October.
Disinformation is another issue that we’ll be spotlighting during the state visit. We’ll be looking at what can the government do to not only systematically unmask disinformation but also to help its citizens to spot fake news, starting with a learning module for school children.
The third pillar of our partnership is trade, particularly the circular economy and sustainability, areas where Slovakia plays an innovative role. We can see examples of this in the construction sector, in the waste processing industry and also in the area of climate action.’
Can you give an example of something the Netherlands and Slovakia cooperate on?
‘Five years ago an investigative journalist, Ján Kuciak, was murdered here. He was in the process of exposing a major corruption scandal. His murder led to a public outcry. In the Netherlands we unfortunately had a similar experience with the murder of crime reporter Peter R. de Vries.
In both countries we realise that freedom of the press is one of the cornerstones of democracy. During this state visit we hope to learn from each other in this area. A few years ago the platform PersVeilig was established in the Netherlands. It’s a partnership between the Dutch Association of Journalists (NVJ), the police and the Public Prosecution Service, and it helps journalists deal with and protect themselves from threats, both physical threats and aggressive messages on social media for example.
During the state visit we hope to start a similar mechanism here in Slovakia. This would be an example of a concrete result of the work we do together and, of course, the state visit.’
What can the embassy do for Dutch businesses?
‘We can answer trade-related questions, big and small. Slovakia is a Schengen country and part of the Eurogroup, so it’s quite an accessible market. Dutch companies looking to market their products here can consult us. We can offer advice and brainstorm solutions with them.
We can help them find a suitable location for their business, for example, or make the right contacts with the national or local authorities. The embassy can open doors that would ordinarily stay shut.
There are many commercial opportunities in the construction and waste management sectors in Slovakia. This is why we commissioned a market survey in these areas. The King and Queen will be accompanied by a trade delegation consisting of representatives of 25 companies. One of our goals for the state visit is to bring together Dutch and Slovak companies.’