By Reporters Kim Jung-mi, Sua Kim, Hillary Kang
Ambassador Milan Lajciak of the Slovak Republic in Seoul said, “This year we will celebrate 25 years of our diplomatic relations. Through this period, we have proved to establish very stable ground of mutually advantageous cooperation and friendly relationship.”
Speaking at a recent interview with The Korea Post media (owner and operator of 3 English, 2 Korean news publications) on the occasion of the Day of the Constitution of the Day of the Slovak Republic on Sept. 1 this year, Ambassador Lajciak said, “We have been keeping high-level contacts and working dialogue, we coordinate our interests on international arena, and we work very intensively in the EU-ROK context as well as in V4+ROK format.”
Located in Central Europe, the Slovak Republic is well known among the Korean people as a ‘Land of Striking Natural Beauty’ and the Korean people find resemblance and common traits between the Slovak people and themselves in fact that the two countries have the experience of being dominated by the neighbouring countries for a thousand years and therefore have traits of resilience through which, like Korea, preserve their own language, tradition, culture and history.
Slovakia joined the European Union in 2004 and then the Euro Zone in 2009, and succeeded in attaining a relatively high level of economic development through active introduction of foreign capital and economic cooperation.
Korea established formal diplomatic relations with Slovakia in 1993, opened the resident embassy there in 2007, and has continued to increase and strengthen bilateral relations in all fields, especially in the economic area. Reports indicate that over 100 Korean business companies are presently in Slovakia actively engaged in economic cooperation between Korea and the host country.
In December 2015, Korea had a summit meeting with Slovakia paving the way for further promotion of cooperation and exchange in the political, economic and various other fields.
Excerpts from the interview with Ambassador Lasjiak follow:
Question: Please introduce the progress of bilateral cooperation in the economic, political and other areas so far made during your tenure of office in Korea and your view of the outlook of further development between the two countries.
Answer: Among all areas, economic diplomacy is our main focus. Solid overall trade exchange between the two countries regularly exceeds 4 billion EUR, and on top of that, Korean FDI in Slovakia accounts over 2.5 billion EUR. There are around 100 Korean companies doing business on the Slovak ground, creating a special business partnership between our countries. Our current efforts are channelled into cultivating existing economic relations and progressing of science and technology cooperation. In 2016, we successfully launched the Joint Committee on Science and Technology with South Korea and we are working on materialization of its outcomes. Other priority contains a task to bring into a life the new economic agreement that provides bigger framework of economic activities through creation of the Joint Commission.
The first session will come in October/November this year. Creating business-friendly conditions with furthering investment to Slovakia and providing more space for Slovak export to South Korean market is another issue of common attention. New agenda will not go at the expense of our annual routine in terms of active presentation of Slovak products and capacities in several Fairs and Exhibitions organized by KOIMA, KOTFA and other Korean Partners. In tourism, in promotion area, we organized working trips for Korean journalist, filmmakers or representatives of travel agencies to our country. Our philosophy embraces also bringing more of Slovakia to South Korea and we started to advertise my country through electronic media/blog. There are two agencies, which would take care about the welfare of Korean companies in Slovakia. The first is Slovak Investment and Trade Development Agency (SARIO), which can provide all relevant assistance in connection to the implementation of your investment project, including consultancy on the investment incentives, database of available real estate etc., services of the SARIO are free of charge. The second one is Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA), which established its office in Bratislava in 2015.
Cultural and promotion activities are going through intensive agenda. Many symphonic orchestra and folk music groups visited ROK and many exhibitions took place in Seoul. To mention at least some of them during the last two years – exhibition of Slovak artist Daniel Bidelnica, Slovak Theatre Posters Exhibition, performances of Vrsatec Folk Dance Group at the Olympics and music tour of State Chamber Orchestra Žilina, musicals of Matahari and Madam Pompadour and others. Currently, under preparation there is an exhibition of well-known Slovak graphic artist Katarina Vašíčková. In the field of sport, our major emphasize was focused on successful preparation and participation at the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games and Winter Paralympic Games. Slovakia finished on 17th place in Olympic and 7th place in Paralymic Games where we had the most decorated athletes--Natalia Subrtova and Henrieta Farkasovain alpine skiing. The basic framework for youth exchange between our countries was established last year by signing MoU as well as framework for cooperation among ministries of education by another MoU this year. By using these frameworks, we can empower youth exchanges between our countries and foster our relationships. First group of Slovak youth delegates visited Korea this July and Koreans will come to Slovakia in September. We are also working on mutual recognitions of university diplomas and credit transfers. Slovak language is a subject of education in HUFS as Korean language in Comenius University in Bratislava that are nurtured further by scholarship exchange programs. This is especially important because many of the Korean companies in Slovakia are looking for motivated and language proficient employees.
Q: Who are the Korean companies actively contributing to the economic cooperation between the two countries (other than the jaebeol companies who are already very widely known).
A: To understand the essentials of Slovak-Korean economic cooperation we can´t avoid mentioning Samsung Electronics and Kia Motors who opened the gate for nearly one hundred smaller Korean companies, their suppliers, to invest in Slovakia. There is no place to mention all of them but at least to mention some of them: Yura Corporation, Hanon Systems, Sungwoo Hitech, Iljin, Donghee, Lumens, Shin Heung, Nuritech, Bang Jooa, etc.
I do not want to omit anyone, because we, in Slovakia, welcome a presence of each and every single one Korean company. Our aim is to create the best business environment and to make them feel as if they were at home. For this purpose, Slovak authorities closely communicate and cooperate with Korean entities in Slovakia.
Q: What is the current volume of bilateral trade, and its outlook in the next 12 months?
A: I have to stress on that after Germany, Netherlands and UK, there is Slovakia, which is the 4th most important export market for Korea among all the EU countries. On the other side the Republic of Korea is one of the most important investors in Slovakia counting for more than 2.5 billion EUR in direct investments, which by the way represents half of all non-European investments in my country. This is just to illustrate, that our economic ties are very close.
The bilateral trade between Slovakia and Korea has increased tenfold in the last ten years and an overall annual trade volume has been constantly holding above 4 billion Euros. One could point out significantly passive trade balance from the Slovak perspective, but this is only a consequence of the massive import of technological equipment for Korean companies production, which is further exported to the European market. This algorithm allows us speaking about mutually beneficial cooperation.
In the outlook of our trade relations, we would like to keep or even raise the current trade volume. Our goal is to bring more Slovak businesses to Korea and introduce more Slovak products to the Korean market. Embassy in Seoul is committed to this aim, and we are happy to declare that we have been successful and these days Koreans can discover uniqueness of some premium Slovak products here in Korea including sport shoes, cycling dresses, wines and spirits, chocolates and biscuits, some coffee and milk products as well.
Q: What are the areas in your country where you want Korean companies to invest in and what are the areas where you wish your businessmen to invest in Korea?
A: As a top priority, the Government of the Slovak Republic is determined to attract and support investments with high added value and innovation potential. We are confident that in Slovakia, we possess all the necessary sources to pursue our goal and to a top of that, the Slovak Government has adopted Slovak National R&D Specialization Strategy, which focuses on innovation support through cooperation between enterprises and research institutions in key sectors of the Slovak economy, thus increasing the role of applied research. National strategy identifies following priorities linked to R&D funding, which might be interesting also for potential Korean investors: (i) material research and nanotechnology, (ii) biomedicine and biotechnology, (iii) ICT (incl. electronics). Besides these, traditional pillars of Slovak economy such as Mechanical engineering and Automotive, Electronics industry, or Shared Service Centers are also capable to accommodate new Korean investments.
In addition, the pool of highly talented managers and businessmen in Slovakia gives us wide opportunities to invest in Korea, though sometimes it needs a bit of time to let a project to mature. Considering the skills and capacities of Slovak companies, we identify a potential in areas such as ICT, Green technologies, new materials or machinery.
Q: Please introduce the Head of Government of your country in full, including his family and hobbies.
A: Slovakia has a parliamentary cabinet system and executive powers are in hands of the government. President appoints Prime Minister who is usually leader of the party, the winner of the parliamentary elections. From March 2018, after some political turmoil in Slovakia, Mr. Peter Pellegrini was appointed as the new Prime Minister. He began his public service in 2006 when he was elected for the first time as a Member of the Parliament. His career accelerated rapidly during the last 12 years when he served in various executive positions as State Secretary at the Ministry of Finance, Minister of Education, Speaker of the National Assembly and Deputy Prime Minister for Investments and Informatization. Mr. Peter Pellegrini was born in 1975 and got a major degree from the Finance, Banking and Investments. He is a passionate tourist and his biggest hobby is aviation.
Q: My hearty congratulations on the National Day of your esteemed country! Please introduce in full the National Day of your country.
A: Slovakia observes two National days - National Day on September 1st that is a day of the Constitution of the Slovak Republic and National Day on January 1st that is a day of the independence of Slovakia, when Slovakia started to exist as a sovereign state.
As you are probably aware, Slovakia was officially founded on January 1st 1993 as result of a peaceful dissolution of the former Czechoslovakia. Except for a short break during the WW2, Slovaks were living together with Czechs for over 70 years but their long-term dream of their own democratic sovereign state became reality only 25 years ago.
After the Velvet revolution in 1989 that brought down the communism in the then Czechoslovakia, the subdued national ambitions were revealed on of the former Czechoslovak Federal State. To mention at least several of them, different economic profiles of the Slovak Republic and the Czech Republic, divergent visions of a scale of autonomy of Slovakia, projections of the future relationship of our nations and of managing our economies, mechanism of functioning the common state and its external representative functions. These differences and many others together with popped out historical sentiments and national ambitions nurtured the process of splitting the common state. The preparation for dissolution took negotiations at all levels between politicians of both parts of Czechoslovakia and resulted in a very peaceful way of division without violence and war as we had unfortunately witnessed in other countries going through the similar processes.
On July 17 1992, Slovak National Council adopted the Declaration of independence of Slovakia that contributed to the process of preparation of the new Slovak Constitution adopted on September 1st 1992. The Constitution came into force few months later on January 1st, 1993, which is a date of official creation of independent Slovak Republic.
Q: Korean business leaders as well as the FTAs want rest and recuperation. What are the attractive tourist destinations of your country?
A: Slovakia offers numerous opportunities for leisure time. There is a diversity for summer and winter sports activities, attractions as trekking, skiing, water sports as well as mountains climbing and adrenalin sports. Visitors can enjoy the pleasure of hot spring spas with special healing treatments, historical wine routes, scenery beauties, castles and mansions and of course, also modern arts.
It is always difficult to choose some spots, because you might not match preferences of an individual and I could again start to name a list of many beautiful places. However, it is for sure, that to be able to say you have experienced Slovakia, you should visit at least three of the following places: Capital city Bratislava, Tatras, Spiš Castle, Košice city, Slovak Paradise, Wooden Churches, Banska Štiavnica, Vlkolínec, or Spa in Piešťany.
I would need a completely new article in order to elaborate more about those places, but for those who are interested, I would recommend visiting web site http://slovakia.travel/en, which is full of useful and practical information for tourist/visitors about beauties of Slovakia.