It never hurts to be professionally qualified for more than one career. Having
the option of choices, coupled with experience in more than one field, gives
people like outgoing Slovakian Ambassador Ivo Hlavacek an edge over some of his
fellow diplomats, whose total working experience has been within the framework
of the diplomatic corps.
Hlavacek, who has just wound up a two-year
posting here, has a PhD in international law and worked as an external
consultant on Eastern Europe for a well-known American law firm, Barker
McKenzie, before taking up a position in the legal department of the
Czechoslovakian Foreign Ministry where he served as director-general for legal
and consular affairs.
He’d gone to America on a scholarship to Columbia
University, and while he was happy working with Barker McKenzie and had also
received offers from other law firms, he was nonetheless homesick.
Peter Tomka, who is today vice president of the International Court of Justice
in The Hague, and who has twice been Slovakia’s ambassador to the UN. Prior to
the Velvet Revolution, when they were both living in New York (where Tomka was
legal adviser to Czechoslovakia’s permanent mission to the UN), he suggested to
Hlavacek that it might be in his interest to join the International Law
Department at the Czech Foreign Ministry.
Hlavacek duly went to Prague,
“and they caught me.”
Later, following the division of Czechoslovakia
into two republics, he decided to go to Slovakia, although his loyalties run on
both sides of the border. He is the product of a Czech father and a
Slovak mother. He felt that Slovakia needed his help more than the Czech
Republic, and to work within an emerging state was more challenging.
THE International Law Department of Slovakia’s Foreign Ministry, Hlavacek was
given responsibility for international law, multilateral treaties, consular
affairs, human rights and minorities and the International Court of Justice,
through which Slovakia was working out a water dispute with Hungary. At
the time, he was 26 years old.
The work was intense, taking up 14-16
hours of his day. So after two years he asked to be sent out as a diplomat and
was posted as consul-general to Istanbul. It was there that he met his wife,
Slavka, a harpist, who is also from Slovakia. They married in Istanbul, which is
a city they both love.
While they were there, they also befriended the
mayor of Istanbul, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, now his country’s prime
On their return to Slovakia, Hlavacek was asked to take charge
of a state-run enterprise that developed and provided services for diplomats. He
spent sixand- a-half years in that post.
Next he went back to the Foreign
Ministry, and was offered a choice of ambassadorial positions that included both
Israel and Cuba. With two young children, a boy and a girl, today nine and
seven, Hlavacek thought it was not yet the right time to go to Tel Aviv, even
though it was close to his heart. He and his wife had visited Israel on six
occasions before he was posted here, and they will continue to visit in the
future. “It’s only a three-hour flight,” he said in a farewell interview with
The Jerusalem Post
Aside from any other considerations, the
Cuban posting offered greater opportunities for travel, as Hlavacek was also
assigned to other countries in the Caribbean.
It was more challenging
than he had initially anticipated, because he arrived when there was a hard-line
European Union policy against Cuba. Trying to make any headway with Cuban
government officials was frustrating not only for Hlavacek, but for all
ambassadors of countries with EU membership. “There was no practical
dialogue,” he recalled.
Not one to sit idle, Hlavacek became involved
with the Cuban dissident movement, providing it with communications equipment
and access to the Internet.
In September 2008, he went home for two
months leave and was offered two other ambassadorial postings: Buenos Aires or
This time he chose Tel Aviv because it was familiar to him and
he and his wife already had friends here.
DURING HIS two-year stint,
Hlavacek managed to bring Slovakia into sharper focus. This was evidenced by the
exchange of visits by high-ranking officials from both countries. Hlavacek also
set the wheels in motion for a visit to Slovakia by President Shimon Peres in
the second half of 2011.
There is a chance, he said, that Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu will go there too.
Relations between the two countries
became closer when Slovakia twice voted against the Goldstone report in the
United Nations. It has also supported Israel in other international forums, said
He was hopeful that the present government, elected last June,
will continue with the courageous stand taken by the previous government when it
dared to express opinions that deviated from those of the majority at the EU,
especially in matters related to Israel.
“It makes a country stronger and
more respected when it stands up for its values,” he said.
As far as
domestic policy is concerned, Hlavacek was also hopeful that the present
government would continue to take a positive attitude to “the rightful demands
for restitution and compensation by Holocaust survivors,” and would follow the
example set by former justice minister, and current Supreme Court president,
Stefan Harabin, who imposed strict penalties on Holocaust deniers and
accelerated the process for dealing with restitution and compensation claims by
There are still some forces within Slovakia that
have a resistant attitude to Jews, Hlavacek acknowledged, but on the whole there
is no overt anti-Semitism, he said, noting that any expression of anti- Semitism
Slovakia’s school curricula include educational programs
about the Holocaust. And the Slovak Jewish Heritage Center, located in the
capital of Bratislava, has developed a Heritage Route linking 24 Jewish sites
around the country in association with the European Route of Jewish
Heritage. Bratislava was for centuries a major center of Jewish life and
learning, and is the burial place of Rabbi Moshe Schreiber, better known as the
HLAVACEK IS not going back to the Foreign
Ministry. It has become too politicized, he said, and is minimizing the
role of career diplomats. “There is no respect for those who built the ministry
or for the specifics of foreign service,” he said.
The way things are
now, said Hlavacek, he doubts that he would fit in. So for the time being he
will go back to his professional roots – the law. “I don’t want to waste my
time, energy or knowledge for these people,” he said of the current
powers-that-be at the ministry. He is particularly angry that they cancelled the
Christmas vacation for all ambassadors who are in the process of completing
their tours of duty. This is a measure that was apparently never taken in the
While members of Israel’s Foreign Ministry are not short on
complaints, Hlavacek said that he envies the strength of its professional
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman respects the fact that the
people in the ministry are long-term professionals, while he will be there for a
limited time, said Hlavacek. “This is not so in Slovakia. This is something that
Slovakia should learn from Israel. In Israel everyone knows their
Hlavacek plans to be back in Israel at least two or three times
a year, possibly as a business consultant for legal aspects of joint ventures.
One of his regrets is that very little has been done in the area of strategic
R&D cooperation, even though Slovakia has a highly educated work force which
could easily absorb Israeli know-how.
“It’s time to move forward from
declarative talks to concrete action,” he said, and was cautiously optimistic
that the present government, which has stabilized Slovakia’s economy, will
recognize the advantage of deeper cooperation.
Meanwhile, in addition to
consultancy work, he intends to do some teaching in the law schools of Czech and
Slovakian universities and to maintain a relatively low profile. If things
change at the Foreign Ministry, he might go back there, he said, “or I might go
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