Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Slovakia’

AEJ Congress Neusiedl

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 19th October, 2014

NeusiedlBurgenland is the least populated of all Austria’s states, a jagged sliver of land bordering Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia. As such, it was the ideal location for this year’s Congress of the Association of European Journalists (AEJ), when our minds were turned to the fall of Communism in Central Europe 25 years ago. It was fascinating to hear the story of the Pan-European picnic organised on the Austrian-Hungarian border in the summer of 1969, which was one of the triggers for the reunification if the continent after four decades of Cold War. These days, there is plenty of cross-border regional cooperation between neighbouring districts. But that does not mean that everyone lives exactly the same way all across the European Union or indeed sees things the same way. It was particularly striking that some of the Hungarian participants did not share the deep concerns in Western Europe about the way that the ruling Fidesz party has drifted from liberal democracy to a degree of authoritarianism. Any complacency about Europe’s future was further shattered by an impassioned presentation from a representative from Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who spoke of the realities of War and of our need to stand up to the Russians.

The Latvian European Commissioner-designate, Valdis Dombrovskis, reminded us of the stiff economic challenges still facing the eurozone, in particular, and a Spanish delegate pointed out that there are now about 15,000 unemployed journalists in Spain. Life is certainly not getting easier for the profession, not least given the pressures of censorship and self-censorship, intimidation in countries such as Russia and the misuse of anti-terrorism laws to curb media freedom in the UK, Turkey and elsewhere.

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Ján Mathé’s Sculptures

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 23rd April, 2013

Ján MathéJán Mathé's sculpture KosiceJán Mathé can justifiably lay claim to be Slovakia’s preeminent modern sculptor, though his work is hardly known abroad. Indeed, until tonight he had never been the subject of a solo exhibition outside the borders of the former Czechoslovakia. Alas, he died last June, just days before his 90th birthday, but his widow, Eva, was present at the opening of the exhibition of a wide selection of his works in the impressive ground floor space of the Slovak Embassy in Kensington. Mathé was born in the East Slovakia town of Kosice, which is one of this year’s European Cities of Culture, about which I will soon be writing more. But even if the sculptor was rooted physically in his home location his influences came from the mainstream of European modernism, including Bracusi, Giacometti and Henry Moore. He looked up to the last-mentioned of these as a Master, and was thrilled to be able to visit Moore in his studio on Mathé’s short visit to London in 1977. Some of the finest work in the current exhibition is redolent of Moore’s perceptions of human figures, particularly of women and of family groups. One of Mathé’s most imposing works, Resting Family, sited in a square in Kosice that has been named after him, has echoes of Moore’s figures, such as Draped Seated Woman, or ‘Old Flo’ as we call her in London’s East End. Yet it would be wrong to think of Mathé’s work as purely imitative. He has a distinct artistic voice, in fact, several voices, and his recurring themes of gestation, birth, meditation and companionship are expressed in a clearly personal vocabulary, particularly effective in the medium of bronze. His ability to produce such works during the oppressive period of Communism in Czechoslovakia, when adopting the modes of Soviet Realism was  de rigueur for anyone wanting to enjoy official patronage, is a testament to the artist’s fortitude. Nonetheless, it is interesting that during the Communist period, when soulless blocks of offices and flats were being constructed — and which still scar districts of Kosice and Bratislava  — the authorities nonetheless insisted that a percentage of the budget for their construction be devoted to Art of some kind. That is no longer the case, but enough of Mathé’s work is on view for his reputation to be secure in his homeland. He deserves to be more widely known. The exhibition at the Slovak Embassy in London — which is open to the public during office hours — will run until 24 May.

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10 Years of the Euro

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 11th January, 2009

1-euro     The European Movement held a day conference on 10 Years of the Euro at University College London yesterday, though any sense of celebration was overshadowed by a deep feeling of frustration that Britain has failed to ‘opt in’ to the single currency, and that the mood of such a large proportion of the British public remains Euro-sceptic. The media were mainly blamed for that, though there was a ray of hope on that front offered by one of the keynote speakers, Graham Bishop, when he pointed out that increasingly people get their news and views from the Internet, rather than from newspapers, so the Rupert Murdochs of this world are losing influence.

However, national governments are as much to blame as the media for giving a distorted view of what the EU is all about. As the former Conservative MEP Ben Patterson said — in a paper ‘The Euro: Success or Failure’, tabled at the conference — ‘All EU governments are tempted to blame “Europe” for difficulties of their own making. Electorates generally have little idea how EU decisions are taken, and are only too willing to believe that there is  vast, unelected Eurocracy in Brussels, imposing absurd regulations out of the blue.’ In other words, if in a pickle, blame Brussels.

The second keynote speaker, another former Conservative MEP (and now active Liberal Democrat) John Stevens asserted that that the Eurozone is not going to collapse, nor will any country leave it. On the contrary, it has just acquired its 16th. member, Slovakia, and others are in transition. The Danish Prime Minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, told me a few months ago that he was going to do what he could to persuade the Danish public to join the euro, and similar moves are afoot in Sweden. Which just leaves Britain as the last bastion of euro-scepticism. But as John Stevens said yesterday, ‘If Britain were to join the euro, the euro would be made.’  The EU is proving that it is possible to have an international currency, which can be a model for other parts of the world and help ensure that European political values have clout in changing global geopolitics.


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Let’s Talk about the Euro

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 5th January, 2009

david-marsh-the-euro    A few days ago, the euro celebrated ten years of existence and Slovakia became the sixteenth EU member state to adopt it. So much for those doom-merchants who declared at its creation that it would sink without trace. On the contrary, after a bumpy start, it has soared, so that it is now more or less at parity with the pound. Sterling, in contrast, is in a sorry state. It’s noticeable how even William Hague isn’t going round these days chanting ‘Save the pound!’

However, with a few important exceptions — such as Will Hutton in the Observer — few people are debating publicly the pros and cons of British euro-membership. The New Labour government, as usual, is pussy-footing around, mumbling about how in principle Britain should join one day, but this is not something we should even talk about at the moment. The clear reason for this is because a significant majority of the British public is said by opinion pollsters to be hostile to the euro. But how can that situation ever change, if the government keeps brushing the subject under the carpet? In the meantime, as Britons travel to the Continent this year, they are going to get a big shock when they discover just how weak the once mighty pound sterling is.

So I am delighted to have been sent for review a copy of an important new book by David Marsh, Chairman of London and Oxford Capital Markets (and a fellow graduate trainee with me at Reuters back in 1973): The Euro — The Politics of the New Global Currency. This will be published at the beginning of March by Yale University Press, but it is already attracting attention. George Soros has given it an enthusiastic puff, describing it as ‘amazingly detailed and thoroughly readable… The stuff of a political thriller.’ So I shall snuggle down with it with enthusiasm.

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A Taste of Slovakia 2008

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 3rd October, 2008

The Slovakian Embassy in Kensington showcased the northwestern town of Skalica this evening, at its annual Taste of Slovakia event. Skalica — close to the border with the Czech Republic — was the first capital of independent Slovakia back in 1918, but it has a much more ancient history, including its time as a free royal city, with all sorts of special privileges — one being to own a gallows on which only miscreants from Skalica could be executed. That bizarre fact is celebrated on the label of one of the region’s best red wines, one of many available at this evening’s tasting.

The compere for the evening was a booming Michael Cole, even more camply grand than when he was the BBC’s Royal Correspondent. He had the pleasure of introducing not only Skalica’s Mayor, Stanislav Chovanec, but also one of the country’s four deputy Prime Ministers (whyever do they need four?). A Skalica folk orchestra played suitably vivacious central European music while guests savoured all kinds of culinary specialities, including tradelnik, reputedly the longest cake in the world. Well, there’s a good question for your next quiz.

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Slovakia and the EU

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 21st April, 2008

 I spent most of this afternoon at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), which hosted a conference on Slovakia’s accession to European Monetary Union, organised by the Slovak Embassy and International Financial Services London. As we heard from the Slovak Economy Minister, Lubomir Jahnatek, and the Governor of the National Bank of Slovakia, Ivan Sramko, Slovakia is on course to adopt the euro on 1 January next year. This is a remarkable achievement, when one thinks that this was meant to be the more disadvantaged half of the old Czechoslovakia, before the ‘Velvet Divorce’.

Moreover, Slovakia not only meets the Maastricht Criteria, which is necessary in order to enter EMU, it does so by a large margin on a number of issues, such as the inflation rate and public debt. As Manfred Schepers of the EBRD commented, Slovakia now finds itself strategically well placed to benefit from growth in the EU, the Balkans, Russia and the rest of the CIS. Interestingly, it is adopting the euro maybe as much as three years ahead of the Czech Republic. In Mr Jahnatek’s opinion, ‘now is the right time to join the euro, because Slovakia is very small, and its productivity is only 70% of the European average. Recently, the Slovak crown has been very strong, which has meant some enterprises have been operating at a loss.’ But being inside the eurozone should bring greater stability and a sharp increase in foreign trade and investment.


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