On February 24, 2005, U.S. President George W. Bush spent most of the day in Bratislava. He spoke that morning before the Slovak National Theater a.k.a. “the Opera-house” to crowds that filled Hviezdoslavovo Namestie (Hviezdoslav’s Square) for as far as the eye could see that day. “Dakujem and God Bless You All!” is how his speech ended that morning.
The official White House transcript of his speech in Bratislava can be found here. It took about 20 minutes to deliver, but takes only three or four minutes to read. Regardless of political affiliation, I think that the speech-writer did quite a nice job touching on interesting points in recent Slovak history.
President Bush arrived the night before in a show that was talked about for weeks and maybe months in Slovakia. Americans are sometimes considered rude in Europe because some of our behavior comes across that way to a person schooled in the many rules of Old World etiquette. With President Bush’s arrival, another rude American had lived up to expectations. He did not remove his glove when he shook the hand of the Slovak president. No gentleman in Slovakia would leave his glove on his hand while shaking the hand of another. When the finest gifts of the Slovak land – bread and salt – were offered to him, a traditional Slavic welcome to a visitor, instead of taking a symbolic portion of bread and dipping it in the salt, he arrogantly waived off the offer without missing a step. No one ever talks about it to me anymore, which makes me imagine that my president’s faux pas have long since been forgotten. For some time after the Bush-Putin Summit, regardless of any past mis-step that President Bush had committed, not a single Slovak talked about the distant past. For weeks, the focus was on the first two minutes of his time on Slovak soil. When Russian President Vladimir Putin came into town, his behavior was contrasted with that of President Bush. Putin behaved according the rules of etiquette that many Slovaks instill in their own children.
Below is a pleasant two minute news clip recounting President Bush’s trip to Bratislava and his summit with President Putin.
For a time there was a chance that something of value might be talked about in Bratislava and that the cities name might forever be mentioned by political scientists being interviewed on evening news programs around the world. At the end of the Bush-Putin Summit, nothing of real value was publicly announced as having been discussed in Bratislava between the two leaders and once the two departed, Bratislava went back to being just Bratislava. It received no more international mention as a momentarily important city, the 3,000 journalists left town and went about their business, the temporary blockades came down, the long lines of official vehicles with flags and police escorts were no more, the platoons of storm troopers went back to wherever it is that they are kept out of public view – military and police activity went back to normal.
The Bush-Putin Summit along with this speech by President Bush delivered that day in Bratislava are referenced in this article on the liberation of Slovakia in the spring of 1944 on 52 Weeks in Slovakia.