NATO Engages 2019
“Behind the Iron Curtain”
Speaker: Rastislav Káčer, Chairman, GLOBSEC
Introducer: Nik Gowing, Founder and Director, Thinking the Unthinkable
Location: Washington, DC
Time: 10:45 AM EDT
Wednesday, April 3, 2019
NIK GOWING: But first of all, Rastislav Kacer, who was a very senior diplomat in the Slovakian foreign ministry, and at the age of 24 was in Bratislava when the Velvet Revolution took place. He was also the first permanent NATO representative for Slovakia. So he’s going to tell his story for the next five minutes.
RASTISLAV KACER: Good morning ladies and gentlemen. Nick, thank you very much for your very kind introduction. And this is very hard for five minutes to squeeze in my NATO story because that’s my life. It’s a part of my life story. And to squeeze your life in five minutes, that’s hard.
If I should turn back the clock and look into, what was it, before ’89, there are some pictures which comes to your mind. I’m a simple country boy coming out of the conservative Slovak Catholic country background, which would be a very typical Slovak profile. There are millions like me of that attachment to the simple, ground things, the traditional values, to church. I used to play organ. My grandpa was singing in the choir.
To me, the communism was something like a double life living, something which you come home with your values, and then your grandma tells you, please, but if you are eating in the school, don’t cross yourself. Just think quietly to yourself, thank you God for that food which I can share with you and my friends.
Something where you went for mass every Sunday to a different village because people were taking number of plates and reporting those people who were not supposed to be at the mass. So something like you have your own values, your own attachment, the old ways, the old past, but you cannot– you cannot show it because of the lack of decency and the restraint, which was so common and so unnatural was completely curving whole of life.
And in ’89, as I was freshly graduating at 24 in June out of my university– I was very good, good, good student– my father approached me in the barbecue in the garden and said, look, told me, look my son, nobody was ever in the Communist Party. You know what is our take on this. Well, I want to tell you that look at my life, I never could have gotten promotion. And your mom, being always under pressure not to show who we are, we want to tell you that if you want to change, and if you want to accept, we just want to tell you that we are not going to mad about you.
And I still have my eyes wet when I think of that moment. And I told him, pa, you know there is nothing for you to apologize and be ashamed for your life. I think he did an honest life. And it’s fine what you achieved. And I’m not going to change your ways.
And I told him, look, it’s going to collapse like a house of cards. You will see soon. And he turned very sad and said, no, you don’t understand. This has been for 40 years, 20 years under occupation and in Soviet prisons. This is not going to change.
And here I go ahead, it’s ’89, November, and it collapsed like a house of cards. And I was in the military conscript, junior lieutenant, sitting like in a nightmare dream in the staff meeting when some hawkish people, say, oh we should go on the street We should show these young students who we are. We should take control. This should not happen, this counterrevolution.
Well, I raised my hand, and I said, are you all crazy? Who you want to crush? This is my brothers and sisters, my schoolmates. And I knew in that moment if clock would not turn, probably I would be sitting in jail until today and wouldn’t talk to you.
But that changed. And again in ’94 in my Opel Corsa, I was crossing with a bar at the NATO Headquarters, and the new chapter opened to us. And I have to tell you that nobody pushed us, as this was mentioned already here. This was a finally free choice for us of the friends and the allies you choose, not the brothers and allies who would come and rape you, and then stay with you for 20 years, and you could not get rid of that. Nobody ever pushed us to choose their family where we belonged.
And for us today, the stories that for Slovaks and for many other central Europeans, I’m sure for Poles as well for all of us in the region, the stories we were never more sovereign, we were never more secure, we never felt more comfortable. We sit at the table. We are not on the menu. We are part of the family of values. And we are part of the commitment. We know where we belong, and we want to be.
Is there a future for that? For sure. The world is becoming not less complicated and just more complicated.
And the last thing I want to say here, for me, NATO was the best combination, best blend of values and the interests of love and reason combined. And if we are able to sustain and not to forget that what are the values we should stick, and what are the interests we should defend together, NATO has got a lot of reason to go on.
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for your attention. Minus eight seconds, not bad in five minutes.