Slovakia used to be a part of Czechoslovakia between 1918 and 1992. Czechoslovakia is the country in the middle of Europe; you should not confuse Slovakia with Slovenia which is a country in the former Yugoslavia and because "Yugo" means "Southern", you may guess that Slovenia is more to the South. You may think that I am assuming that the readers are idiots. However, USA Today published an article that claimed that the Bratislava Castle is located near the beaches of the Adriatic sea. :-)
Not only USA Today are ignorant about the Central European geography. On the pages of the White House you may find a photograph of Bush talking to the Czech president Klaus. The caption says that Bush is chatting with the Slovak president Ivan Gašparovič. :-) Sorry, I've already sent a mail to George and he has fixed the error on the web page.
The Czech Republic has 10 million citizens; Slovakia has 5 million citizens. The official Slovak language was defined and distinguished from a dialect of Czech in 1863. But the Czechs and Slovaks can understand each other very well. After the Velvet Revolution that brought us democracy in 1989, many Slovaks felt that they wanted more independence. After various ridiculous "hyphen battles" whether the country should be called Czechoslovakia or Czecho-Slovakia, the politicians decided in 1992 to peacefully split the country.
Note that unlike Serbia and Croatia who used to be the biggest enemies of each other, Czechs and Slovaks remain the closest friends and allies.
Václav Klaus, a right-wing friend of Margaret Thatcher and Milton Friedman, won the 1992 elections in the Czech Republic. The winner in Slovakia was called Vladimír Mečiar, a sentimental populist and nationalist former heavyweight champion (closer to the left). The parties were not quite compatible. Klaus and Mečiar understood that if they split Czechoslovakia peacefully, everything will be fine (and moreover they will become the most influential men of the new countries). So they just did it.
Both of them are charismatic leaders but Klaus is roughly 10 times as intelligent as Mečiar. Klaus became the second Czech president after Havel. Mečiar became irrelevant after years of his authoritative government that has almost brought Slovakia to isolation.
But this was in 1993. Today we have 2005 and the colors have reverted. The Czech Republic has a left-wing government and Slovakia has a right-wing government.
The Czech social democrats used to accuse Klaus's party from various crimes and corruption and virtually all of these accusations were wrong. On the other hand, the present prime minister Stanislav Gross (the youngest prime minister in Europe) and his wife Šárka Grossová recently bought a house and they could not say where they got the money for the purchase. Eventually it turned out that the house was paid by the best friend of Grossová, Mrs. Libuše Barková. She's an owner of the most profittable whorehouse in Prague (these companies are not officially legal, but they're tollerated), and she's made various mortgage and insurance scams before she was convicted.
The potential Czech government crisis has been mostly solved today. The social democrats recommended the prime minister to fire the Christian democrats from the government - the Christian democrats are the only ruling party that does not like prostitutes and washing dirty money. So I suppose that they will just go and everything will be fine. Also, the prime minister's wife has made a compromise. She decided not to build a new whorehouse in one of the houses she bought. :-)
On the other hand, the new leader of the centrist Christian democrats Mr. Miroslav Kalousek (who is more right-wing than his predecessor) was also accused of crimes related to finances for his new house. But Kalousek has explained his money as well - he borrowed the money from his brother-in-law Mr. Kašák who was murdered in 2002, so it's also OK. If you asked who murdered him, then the official answer is that it was his business partner, but this one is also shot, so as you can see, the air is completely clean now. ;-)
Our brothers in the East have a very different government. Slovakia has been recently praised as the most free market economy in Europe, to say the least. Their GDP growth is well above 5 percent. The Slovak government led by Mikuláš Dzurinda has introduced the flat tax and this flat tax has brought a higher revenue than expected. Slovakia also supports the efforts in Iraq - even though their 100 troops should probably be labeled as "symbolic". Slovakia is a problem-free member of the European Union that also plans to be the first new country to introduce the Euro. You can imagine that current Slovakia is a great example of a success story for freedom and democracy. I guess that it is more of a relaxation for Bush to visit this country.
Bush has given a public speech in Bratislava, the Slovak capital. He was hidden behind "unshootable" glass. 5,000-10,000 spectators had to be screened by a U.S.-led security check; all their deodorants have been taken away from them. Some of the spectators had white crosses on their jackets - which is the logo of the "ani-Putin-ani-Bush" (neither-Putin-nor-Bush) movement. Bush has reminded the audience that "he was the one who was serving the turkey in Baghdad in 2003".
In the private discussions with Bush, the prime minister Dzurinda mentioned the U.S. visa which are currently too complicated for many Europeans. Thanks, Mikuláš. Bush vowed to work on the problem although it won't happen instantly.
It has yet to be seen how his talks with Vladimír Putin, the president of Russia, will work out. Bush wants to tell Putin a few tougher things about various Putin's decisions that are not far from the edge of democracy. Bush's visit in Western Europe went remarkably well and a glimpse of friendship has re-emerged.