homepage_name! > Editions > Number 110-111 > Ambassador - Slovak Republic

H.E. Mrs. Dagmar Repčeková, Ambassador of the Slovak Republic to Serbia

Slovak Republic

Slovakia (svk. Slovensko) or officially the Slovak Republic (svk. Slovenská republika), is a landlocked country in the central part of Europe which is regarded as an eastern European country in geopolitical sense. It borders Austria and the Czech Republic to the west, Poland to the north, Ukraine to the east, and Hungary to the south. Its capital and largest city is Bratislava, followed by Košice. Since 2004, it has been a full member of the European Union. The official language is Slovak which belongs to the Slavic language group.

Throughout history, the territory of the present-day Slovakia has been a part of many states, from Samo’s Empire in the 7th century that represented the first organized Slavic state, up to Czechoslovakia in the 20th century. Slovakia existed as an independent, puppet state, from 1939 until 1944 under the patronage of Nazi Germany.

Slovakia’s economy is highly-developed with an exceptionally high growth rate. Since January 1st, 2009, it has been a member of the eurozone and has been using euro as its currency. It is also a member of the NATO pact.

It is divided into 8 Upper-Tier Territorial Units, i.e. into 8 Self-governing regions.

The majority of Slovak citizens, 69%, are Catholics, the second largest group are Protestants (11%, Lutherans (mostly Slovaks) and Calvinists (mostly Hungarians)), Greek Catholics make up 4%, and 1% of citizens are Orthodox.

It is predominantly a mountainous country, with the Carpathian Mountains stretching across the northern and central parts of the country. Lowlands are mostly concentrated in the southern and southwestern parts of the country, specifically in the Danube river valley. Amongst numerous mountains, the Tatra Mountains are especially prominent as a well know ski resort, but also due to their lakes and rocky valleys attracting visitors throughout the year. They are dominated by the highest peak of Slovakia, Gerlachovský štít with altitude of 2,654m.

Slovakia has nine national parks representing tourist attractions in their own right. One of the most popular ones is Little Fatra, the majority of which is covered by forests.

The climate is moderate with relatively cold summers and cold, damp, and cloudy winters.

We had the honor to talk to Her Excellency Mrs. Dagmar Repčeková, Ambassador of the Slovak Republic to Serbia.

1. Your Excellency, how do you feel about being in Belgrade?Can you tell us your impressions of Serbia?

Our embassy is situated in New Belgrade. It is in a pleasant environment with plenty of greenery, where I meet some nice people who are interested in politics, and in the fate of their country. Our countries are not so far away from each other, and our languages are very similar, so when I travel around Serbia, I sometimes have the feeling of being at home. When I am in Vojvodina, where a sizeable Slovak minority is living, this feeling is increasing in manifold.

2. How long have you held the position of ambassador to Serbia and what was you diplomatic career like before you came to Serbia?

I have been in Serbia since September 2015. It was my great wish to come here when I ended my mission in Bucharest, Romania, in 2012. Prior to that, I held a position in the Slovak embassies in Bern and Berlin. It is said among the diplomats that once you come to the Balkans, you conceive a liking for it forever. And that is really true.

3. What is the current diplomatic and economic cooperation like between our two countries and what was it like in the past?

Both our countries were in multinational state collectivities in the past and friendship has always existed between us. This year, we are marking the centenary of the establishment of our diplomatic relations. We organized a joint conference of historians, and in the field of diplomacy, our encounters are very frequent, we share common interests, and there are no open issues. We are also connected by the graves of the soldiers killed in both world wars, on the territory of Serbia, as well as in Slovakia. Between our two countries, a mixed intergovernmental commission for economic cooperation is active, which had its latest session in Bratislava on 4th and 5th June this year. Within this session, a business forum of Serbian and Slovak businesspersons was organized, and I believe this will bring new impulses to mutual economic cooperation. In November, we are preparing the arrival of an investment mission to Serbia, which will be focused on IT, robotics, the automotive industry, and energetics.

4. What is the nature of the foreign trade cooperation between our countries and what are the industries with the most potential in Serbia? What does Serbia export to Slovakia, and what does it import from Slovakia?

As much as 48% of Serbian exports to Slovakia is represented by electrical wiring for the automotive industry. Serbia continues to export steel plate products (9.18%), chemical products (5.3%), electrical equipment for lighting and signaling (2.52%), sunflower oil (2.22%), and electric motors and generators (1.9%) to Slovakia. In turn, Slovakia exports mainly telephones, TV sets, motor vehicles and spare parts, wires and cables, petroleum oils, solid fuels, paper and cardboard, ropes, and army material to Serbia.

5. With regards to the fact that Slovakia is one of the most important trading partners of Serbia, what was the volume of trade exchange between the two countries in 2017, according to your data?

The total commercial exchange between our two countries was EUR 705.69 million in 2017, which is an index increase of 111.5. Imports into Serbia were in the amount of EUR 349.95 million, whereas exports were in the amount of EUR 355.74 million, which enabled Serbia for the first time in history to achieve active trade balance with Slovakia in the amount of EUR 5.78 million.

6. When it comes to investments, how do investors from Slovakia regard the Serbian market? Which are the most significant companies that invested in Serbia and to what extent are Serbian companies present in Slovakia?

Slovakia is among the top 30 investors in Serbia. In the last six years, the investment inflow from Slovakia has accounted for a total of EUR 62.617 million, with numerous other investments in the area of energetics being elaborated. The investments were focused on metallurgy, aqua parks, energetics, and various local industrial enterprises. I can mention the investments of companies such as ENESCO, IMAO, CREDO AGENCY, Tatravagónka Poprad, etc. The latest big investment was the purchase of the factory “14. oktobar” in Kruševac by the Slovak MSM Group, which is operating within a Czech-Slovak holding Czechoslovak Group.

7. Aqua park in Bački Petrovac is one of the most famous Slovak investments in Serbia. Does it show us that investments do not always have to be industry-related?

I think that investments in the field of tourism are well-invested ones. However, we need to be objective by saying that the aqua park in Bački Petrovac in particular requires another investment injection to build an indoor swimming pool and accommodation facilities, allowing it to be used all year round.

8. How would you describe your cooperation with the Serbian government and business associations for the purpose of developing entrepreneurship?

I would rate the cooperation with the Serbian Government as outstanding. In addition to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I can point out the Ministry of Finance, with which the Slovak Ministry of Finance has a signed Memorandum of Cooperation in the area of public finance management reform, then the Ministry of Trade, Tourism and Telecommunications, with which, in a consortium with our Hungarian partners, we are currently implementing the twinning program aimed at consumer protection, and the Ministry of Mining and Energy, from the point of view of completed and prepared investments, as well as the Office of the Minister of Innovation and Technological Development in the domain of supporting innovations and digitalization. I would particularly like to point out the openness for cooperation of the Ministry of Environmental Protection, for this is the area I will be dedicated to in the coming years. Of course, we must not forget the excellent cooperation with the Government of Vojvodina and the overall cooperation with the Chamber of Commerce of Serbia and the Development Agency of Serbia, with which we have realized several cooperative projects which will be the starting point for our cooperation in the future, mostly in relation to the inclusion of women in economic activities and support to the development of small and medium-sized enterprises in Serbia.

9. Do Slovak businesspersons contact you for advice on potential investments in Serbia and in what way do you help them invest in our country?

Slovak businesspersons regularly contact the economy attaché at our embassy with offers for trade and investment cooperation. We answer them in cooperation with the Chamber of Commerce of Serbia or directly. Our embassy also organizes enterprise presentations. For example, in May, we had a presentation of the area of ophthalmology for the Medical Chamber and in the second semester, we are planning seminars in communities aimed at the possibilities of investing in areas of green energy and waste management in Serbia.

10. Serbia is today a candidate country and negotiations started in January, 2014. In your opinion, how far along is Serbia on the path towards the EU and what will be crucial for Serbia to become a member state?

The process of integration is very fair. A country will not be allowed to go any further until it has met technical and political requirements for membership. Slovakia had that experience, too. However, it brings about a complete change, not only in economic structure, but in society as well, which is currently happening in Serbia. Some parts of this process are painful, mostly economic reforms and reform of the public administration. Some of them are bigger challenges, like the rule of law and the fight against corruption, and some of them are financial and quite complicated, like for example, environment protection. Serbia is using a special Slovak program for the transfer of experience in the process of integration and in this way, we realize several projects for expert exchange every year.

11. An increasing number of Serbian nationals are leaving for Slovakia in search of work. Is there an accurate record of the number of registered workers from Serbia?

Yes, there is. We have been keeping the statistics of the approved stays to Serbian citizens. As of 30th April 2018, there were 11.568 valid permits to stay on the territory of the Slovak Republic. The activity of labor inspectors has also increased in order to sanction the illegal stays and the illegal employment of foreigners in Slovakia. In 2017, there were 227 unauthorized stays of Serbian nationals and 160 of them were related to illegal employment.

12. Can you tell us something more about the problems Serbian nationals faced while working in Slovakia and in what way is your country addressing their position?

The Slovak Republic guarantees the same position and remuneration to all employed foreigners as those to Slovak citizens. Ministries of Employment of both countries agreed last year to strengthen the exchange of information in the area of employment and, since then, the situation has significantly improved. The problem are certain agencies operating online, which do not have a license from the Serbian Ministry of Employment and which lure people with offers of a good salary and misguide them with incorrect or insufficient information. Citizens of Serbia do not check this information; they do not know where they will be accommodated or what their rights and obligations are. This is why we made a bilingual brochure, which was published on the web sites of both embassies and other institutions, and we have forwarded it to some selected communities. I also think the introduction of an emergency phone in Serbia is positive, to which all fraudulent acts related to employment can be reported. However, we must say that work in some factories, for example the ones with production lines, is very intensive and some employees simply cannot cope with the work; they do not have the necessary work habits. There is no time to chat and have coffee and cigarette breaks.

13. Can you tell us about the relationship between Serbia and Slovakia in the fields of science, culture, and education?

Our countries have signed cooperative programs in the area of education, whereas in the area of culture, there are joint programs for granting scholarships and mobility. Special attention is paid to members of the Slovak minority and their rights for education in their mother tongue. In addition to the scholarships for Slovaks living abroad, Slovakia facilitates summer school projects every year, with additional education for teachers in Slovakia, and works to resolve the problem of the lack of schoolbooks. At the philological faculties of the Universities of Belgrade and Novi Sad, Slovak language lectorates were founded, cooperation between Slovak and Serbian universities has been developed, as well as the friendship between towns and communities. The Office for Slovaks Living Abroad allocates approximately EUR 200.000 every year for cultural and educational projects of the Slovak national minority in Serbia.

14. How would you present your country as a tourist destination? Which characteristics and landmarks would you highlight?

In the area of tourism, people say that Slovakia has everything but the sea. Slovak spa tourism is very well known, High Tatras in winter but also in summer, and congress tourism has intensively begun to develop. We have many rivers and large bodies of water where people can do water sports. Slovakia is also known as a country of several hundred fortresses and castles, which have been gradually renovated and opened to the public. In Slovakia, you can also visit unique caves. After the grape harvest, taking various wine routes in south Slovakia is a popular activity. Did you, for example, know that the Tokaj wine region includes part of southeastern Slovakia and that Tokaj wine is produced not only in Hungary, but in Slovakia, too?

15. What are the things you particularly like in Serbia? How do you spend your free time?

Above all, I like the people in Serbia, their emotionality and the fact that once you strike up a friendship, it will last a lifetime. And incredibly good food that has the taste I remember from my childhood. When it comes to my free time, either Slovaks from Vojvodina or my two poodle dogs take care of it, and for anything else, I really do not have time.