Revisiting a part of her heritage, Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright urged Slovaks today not to give up on reform and assured them of U.S. support in their drive toward democracy.
Aside from a sign of dramatically improving relations between the United States and Slovakia, the visit had a strong personal element for Albright. The secretary of state was born in Prague, capital of Czechoslovakia before its 1993 split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
"When I come to Bratislava, with the sounds and sights I remember from childhood, I know that part of me will always be a Czechoslovak," Albright said in her native tongue. As she moved through the Slovak capital, she said over and over, "It feels like coming home."
"It's hard to believe that a little Czechoslovak girl grew up to be the secretary of state of the United States," she told an audience. "In that position, I would very much like to be as much help to you as I possibly can."
U.S. ties with Slovakia have warmed since elections last year led to the defeat of an authoritarian government. Albright's trip came at the 10-year anniversary of the Velvet Revolution that ended Communist rule.
Albright criticized the authoritarian rule of former prime minister Vladimir Meciar, who was in control for much of the decade since the Communist collapse, saying Slovakia had lost too much time to "greed and misrule."
She also applauded the new Western-style government of Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda. In talks with Dzurinda, Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan and President Rudolf Schuster, and at a speech at Comenius University, she urged Slovakia to remain on the path of economic and political reforms and encouraged it in the battle against corruption.
Dzurinda moved swiftly after the 1998 elections to liberalize Slovak politics, improve relations with minorities and pursue other reforms aimed at improving Bratislava's chances for membership in NATO, the European Union and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Europe.
Visiting an exhibit of photos of the Velvet Revolution, Albright mused on the twists and turns of her own life and recalled how she had lived the revolution that ended Communist rule "vicariously" from afar.
Albright is the daughter of a career diplomat from Prague, now the capital of the Czech Republic. Her family fled the Nazis before the Communists came to power in 1948.