By Victor Gotevbe, Ikenna Asomba and Fiona Freddy
H.E. Mr. Peter Holasek became Ambassador to Nigeria in 2015. He studied General and National History in Comenius University, Bratislava, Slovakia, where he also had his Phd. Ambassador Peter joined the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Prague, Czechoslovakia in 1977. He later served as Second Secretary, Embassy of Czechoslovakia in Indonesia; Director of various departments at different times in Slovakia including Deputy Director of Slovak Institute for International Studies, Bratislava.
His earlier career included assignments in Israel as Deputy Head of Mission/Counsellor; Indonesia, and Singapore where he was Ambassador.
Presently, he is also the Ambassador to Cameroon, Togo, Ghana with residence in Abuja. He can pass for a Linguist as he speaks English, Russian and Indonesian. He is married with a daughter.Speaking with Diplomatic Watch Magazine, Ambassador Peter in his residence, gave detailed assessment of Slovakia’s role in the rising migration issue facing the world, Nigeria-Slovakia Relationship, Slovakia’s business opportunities and tourism potentials, and how Nigeria can benefit from their best practices.
You commenced your term as Ambassador of Slovakia in Nigeria about two years ago. What have been your impressions so far?
Two years are relatively short time, in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, there is a lot to see and discover. However, among few my experiences dominate the impression of Lagos, the largest city in Africa. My trips went rarely also to some regions where I have discovered generous people, old cultures and an impressive nature. Nigeria is still full of contrasts, I admire the most beautiful and rich traditional dresses, but there are still a lot of disadvantaged people struggling for sustainable living standard and against the terrorist threats. There are open markets full of unusual charms and on the other hand a lot of luxurious houses and cars and as more mobile phones than perhaps anywhere else in the world.
The EU have been dealing with the rising influx of Middle Eastern and African refugees. Do you hink a solution to this problem is in sight?
The problem is very complex and the answer is not easy, however one important key to solve the problem is creating conditions for prosperity and making the life endurable for millions of people in poor areas. The problem and its solution seems to be deeper than before. However, if the flows of refugees are under control and well managed, their number can be reduced and proper educational development could bring higher employment and higher living standards, especially in Africa, where the population is set to rise massively. This requires the alteration of resources, higher expansion of trade and capital investment as well as encouragement of all parties being involved in the solution. Without this the numbers of refugees are unmanageable and far beyond the capabilities of Europe to absorb them. Otherwise, the tension and disagreement of receiving countries as well as disillusion and suffering immigrants will be further growing.
Why are Slovakian officials so unwaveringly opposed to establishing quotas for the permanent placement of refugees in spite of the court order?
Adopting quotas is more technical and seems to be short-term approach, but the problems are generational and global ones related to human beings and therefore they need much more complex and comprehensive approach. We have to define the principles for positions on that issue and change the overall approach from a reactive to a pragmatic one that focuses on managing the migration flows. In this regard allow me to quote the Slovak Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajčák, recently the President of 72nd UN General Assembly: “We have to learn to accept the fact that migration, as a phenomenon, is here not just today but for many more years to come. And we have to adopt also the distribution of responsibility: migration does not concern just Europe but also Africa, Asia and other continents. It is not possible that only Europe seeks to find a solution to it.” Let me add that despite differences in opinion on migration policy within EU there are currently programs based on common constructive, comprehensive and long-term solutions that can move the agenda forward.
Are Nigerians welcome to visit Slovakia for business and tourism, and for any other genuine purpose giving the foregoing question? If so, what do they need to know to obtain the necessary travel documents to facilitate their visit.
Slovakia is a special small country in the very center of Europe. Even in such a small area, visitors find everything from natural treasures and historical monuments to rich folk culture, modern entertainment and the busy cities. They can enjoy the beauty and unique atmosphere that Slovakia has to offer. In the same time Slovakia offers a lot of business opportunities to foreign business people and is interested in enhancing trade which is of complementary nature with African countries including Nigeria. For those travelling for tourism and business purposes a Schengen visa has to be applied. Nigerian citizens can arrive either from the other Schengen country or they can apply for visa at the Swedish Embassy in Abuja which provides all necessary information needed for the procedure.
Are there any contacts between schools, universities of both countries with the intention of developing cultural exchange?
There are not yet systematic contacts between Nigerian and Slovak schools and universities, however the Government of the Slovak Republic has established the National Scholarship Program for the support of mobility of students, PhD students, university teachers, researchers and artists from abroad. This program is funded by the Ministry of Education, Science, Research and Sport of the Slovak Republic and could serve as an appropriate basis for establishing contacts between educational institutions in both countries. This year, the Slovak Academic Information Agency presented the possibilities of studying in Slovakia at the EU Educational Fair in Lagos for the first time since its establishment also for the Nigerian applicants. Many African students come to Slovakia through the EU Program ERASMUS.
For the first time since Slovakia’s accession to the EU in 2004, it had its 6th month presidency of the Council of EU. How would you assess the priorities focused on for the six months period and how has this affected your country politically and economically?
Presidency of the Council of the EU is an extraordinary event for every member country. In Slovakia’s case, the Presidency was underpinned by the fact that this was the first time our country held the role. It was the culmination of two decades of Slovak-European integration efforts following our joining the EU in 2004, the Schengen Zone in 2007 and the eurozone in 2009. The Slovak EU Presidency has been conducted under extremely challenging circumstances. Our priorities have not only reflected our own ideas, but also the EU agenda. However, the decision taken by the British people in the referendum a week before the Slovak Presidency began was without precedence in EU history, and made us rethink not just our priorities but the future of the EU. The Slovak Presidency achieved good progress, underlining the longstanding position of the EU as a relevant and reliable global player. Progress has been achieved in a number of areas, which means that even in these challenging times the EU is able to generate positive dynamics and has not lapsed into stagnation. We used also the opportunity to introduce Slovakia to the world to a greater extent. For example, during our Presidency we organized in Abuja a concert – piano recital by Slovak artist Ivan Gajan – to show that our culture is deeply connected with European traditions. Our Deputy Foreign Minister Lukas Parizek represented the Presidency at the opening of the 5th EU-Nigeria Businness Forum in November 2016 in Lagos and met also the State Minister for Foreign Affairs and the State Minister for Power, Works and Housing in Abuja. I believe that during our Presidency of the Council of the EU we invested our energy to the progress and development of common European project as well as to the progress and development of bilateral relation between Slovakia and the world including Nigeria with good faith.
Slovakia seems to be moving forward away from the middle-income trap. Do you have any best practices that we could adhere to as a country?
I have to remind that 28 years ago we inherited a centrally planned economy that had never cared about the environment, resource efficiency, energy efficiency and quality of life. The first years of transition were difficult years of a dramatically deep recession, inflation etc. Together with our integration ambitions we gradually started to face growing individual and collective feeling of responsibility for sustainability of development and solidarity with future generations. With increased pressure on the sustainability of public sectors we envisaged a strategy focused on quality of life, education and innovation. These policies relate mainly to the words – respect and nondiscriminatory competitiveness. Good quality of institutions is combined with an entrepreneurial culture, good macroeconomic environment also matters. If the efforts to increase growth is to succeed, these policies will have to be sited in the global context. Now, by escaping the middle income trap people have more confidence that their quality of life will be adequate today and in the future.
Nigeria and Slovakia may enjoy very good bilateral cooperation in no distant time, but there is obviously still some room to boost economic cooperation between the two countries. In which areas is this attainable?
Our relations with Nigeria are generally linked with our membership in the EU. They are mainly guided with subjects which maintain the way to the Africa-Europe “partnership”, and contribute to a model of relations that, we believe, would be beneficial for both. Bilaterally, we do the trade with Nigeria, which still has big potential to increase, especially in the energy and agriculture sectors. We are in the process of creation of necessary legal infrastructure to make our relations including economic and trade ones more effective and in harmony with standards of the organizations we are members of. In this respect we are recently communicating relevant agreements on political dialogue and on trade and economy cooperation with the government of Nigeria.
At the commemoration of Your National Day reception you highlighted that Slovakia looks to partner with Nigeria on Energy Sector Development. How mutually beneficial is this?
In my country, apart from usable energy sources we have built an appropriate electro-technical industry. Over the last few years this industry belongs among the driving forces of the Slovak economy. In electrical engineering we have many times proved to be able to make top-quality products which attracted countries from Western Europe to Japan and the USA. Our comprehensive expertise in the area of energies is founded on decades of experience, which we have gained through our active involvement in all sectors of the energy industry including thermal and gas, nuclear, clean energy etc. What makes our energy experts stand out is the combination of deep specialist expertise with broad knowledge of the energy industry and high quality of electro-technical industry. We offer our experiences and products to Nigeria. Taking into account a fact that a key driver of the economy, the energy sector, is affected by geopolitical and economic pressures, I believe that countries like Nigeria can benefit from our experience.
What is the current volume of Trade between both countries?
The volume of bilateral trade is growing every year, in our statistics it recently reaches around 30 million euros, however no statistics are the true marker because they record only the direct trade. Account must be taken of the fact that we trade through third countries and this data does not appear in the respective bilateral statistics.
You seem to have authored a book titled: The Beginnings of Slovak Foreign Policy. Can you briefly throw some rays of light on this and how reading it can benefit the Nigerian Government and its people?
It was an expert study for the Slovak magazine on international issues. Describing the early years of the Slovak foreign policy, I wanted to show how important it was to lay the emphasis on the strategic issue of integration of Slovakia into Transatlantic and European political and economic organizations. The integration of Slovakia was not only the fulfillment of this strategy, it also meant faster economic growth and prosperity for our people.
What is one thing you will remember Nigeria for at the end of your mission in Nigeria?
I believe that there will be a lot what I will remember, but finally I will be happy if we can move in our bilateral relations a little further.