Q&A: Slovak President Recalls Younger Years in America

Q&A: Slovak President Recalls Younger Years in America

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Above: Slovak President Andrej Kiska was interviewed by NAM contributor Zdenek Kratochvil during the his recent visit to San Francisco. (Photo: Gabriela Tvrda)

When Andrej Kiska was elected president of the Slovak Republic last March, he became the first independent candidate to win the presidency in that country’s modern history. The Slovak Republic was formed in 1993 after Czechoslovakia split into two separate countries, the Czech Republic being the other. Inaugurated last June, Kiska is the Slovak Republic’s fourth president.

Kiska appealed to voters despite, or perhaps because of, his lack of experience in electoral politics. Deemed a “political novice” in the global press, Kiska entered the race touting his background in business entrepreneurship and philanthropy, most notably his work as a founder of Good Angel, a charitable organization that works with families of Slovak children with severe illnesses.

In the early '90s, Kiska, who graduated from Slovak Technical University, left what was then Czechoslovakia to seek better opportunities in the United States. What he found instead were a string of low-wage jobs and hardship. Eventually he returned home, his American dream unfulfilled.

Kiska, however, now credits that experience with changing his fortunes. Soon after returning home, he was motivated to start his own business, and thus began his successful career as an entrepreneur.

Just days ago, at the end of September, Kiska returned to the United States, this time not as an immigrant seeking work, but as president of the Slovak Republic. It was his first official visit to the country since his inauguration. During his stop in San Francisco, Kiska spoke with New America Media contributor Zdenek Kratochvil.

Visiting the U.S. today as President of the Slovak Republic, what memories does it conjure up of your first visit here as an immigrant in the '90s?

I came to the U.S.A. as an engineer, but the truth was, I really didn´t get a job as an engineer -- I started working in construction and at gas stations. I worked long hours – sometimes 100 hours a week, at a very low wage. There were five of us, all Slovaks, living in a small room with no air conditioning, and with bugs all around. But on the other hand I was here, trying to make it happen.

How long did you remain in the U.S. at that time?

After a year and a half I realized that the American dream wasn´t for me and I returned home. However, here in the U.S., I learned one thing: if you want to be successful, you can´t be afraid of failures because they are a part of each success. Actually, in the end, we just see the successes and we forget the failures. With all these experiences, I came back home to Slovakia where I became an entrepreneur.

What was the main purpose of your visit, and what cities have you been to?

First of all I visited the United Nations in New York where I made a speech that touched on Ukraine and how we see the role of the U.N. [in helping to resolve the conflict] there. While on the East Coast, I met with a number of successful Slovak businessmen who run businesses in the region. We discussed opportunities for bringing their expertise and know-how back to the Slovak Republic.

Then I came to the West Coast, arriving in San Diego, where we opened a new Slovak-American Innovation Center to help Slovaks who would like to start a business in the U.S. The center can support them and help them with launching their business. After that, I visited Stanford University to have a discussion about education and universities.

Here in San Francisco, you participated in a discussion at the Commonwealth Club about developing stronger business partnerships between the U.S. and the Slovak Republic.

As president, my role on an official visit is to talk about possibilities and the potential to create new opportunities for entrepreneurs or starts-ups in Slovakia and in the U.S. The Slovak Republic is in a unique situation because we have a large auto industry… In addition, we have fantastic IT specialists.

On the topic of business, will the Slovak Republic be introducing any new products onto the U.S. market anytime soon?

What we are currently very proud of is a new flying car project – it could be revolutionize how [people] move in the future. I´m very glad that after years of hard work, a Slovak company developed this successful project that we are currently presenting here in the U.S.

The Slovak Republic shares a border with Ukraine. What is your view regarding the current situation in Ukraine and what do you think about the sanctioning of Russia by Western countries?

No one wants the sanctions. On the other hand, we all understand that just continuing to talk about the problems, having political dialogues, won´t bring any results. We have to do something more. I'm glad that the Slovak Republic along with other countries of the European Union have been united and in agreement on the sanctions.