Advice and Comment
Ambassadorial visit shines alight on the diverse roles of U.S. diplomacy.By Timothy B. Clark
he U.S. diplomatic corps is one of government’s elite institutions,representing the United Statesin many countries with diversecultures, languages and perspec-tives on world aairs. It’s hard to get intothe Foreign Service, and even harderto become an ambassador, whether asa career diplomat or as a presidentialappointee. The importance of ambassa-dorial postings is reﬂected in the require-ment for Senate conﬁrmation.U.S. Ambassador Theodore Sedgwickand his wife, Kate Watt Sedgwick, areat the tip of the diplomatic spear in theSlovak Republic, a nation of 5.6 millionpeople at the center of Europe. When
NOTES FROM BRATISLAVA
they invited me to join a small group visiting them in Bratislava this spring, I jumped at the chance to have an up-closelook at the ambassadorial life. We took the opportunity to visitBudapest, Vienna and Prague, in addi-tion to Bratislava during a 10-day trip.Tracing the tragic history of this region,we saw many monuments commemo-rating the millions of people who hadsuered repression and slaughter at thehands of the fascists and the commu-nists over ﬁve decades of the 20th cen-tury. We were reminded too during ourtravels of the power of ethnicity in theseareas, the occasional stirrings of un-savory nationalism and the limits on thepower of the United States to inﬂuencepolitical trends.Sedgwick is only one of many ambas-sadors in Bratislava who compete for thetime and attention of Slovak authorities.But he is probably first among equals,given the political and economic powerof the United States, its sway in NATO,and its strong connection arising fromwaves of immigration that have resultedin hundreds of thousands of Americansclaiming Slovak descent. After Hungarian rulers began aperiod of repression in 1848, a quarterof the Slovak population immigratedto North America. Poverty at homebrought another wave to these shoresin the 1930s. Many settled in WesternPennsylvania, able and willing to takeon the tough mining and industrial jobs at companies like U.S. Steel, a lead-ing employer there. Headquartered inPittsburgh, the company is now led byChairman and Chief Executive OfficerJohn P. Surma, who is of Slovak descent.U.S. Steel is the largest private employerin Slovakia, having taken over a bigproduction facility near the easterntown of Košice in 2000.U.S. companies are big employers inBratislava as well. This city has becomea magnet for technology giants like Amazon, Cisco, Dell, Google, HP andIBM, which have taken advantage of thecountry’s low tax rate and labor flex-ibilities on issues like hiring and ﬁringthat were adopted by Slovakia’s center-right government. Slovakia’s technicalschools churn out programmers andother specialists to be employed bythese companies, and demand for theirskills is beginning to outstrip the supply.Sedgwick has been speaking in favor of greater investment in education to meetthat demand.On a Monday morning, we are invitedto the chancery to hear the press brieﬁng—a rundown of what local news outlets aresaying of consequence to the embassy.
U.S. Ambassador Theodore Sedgwick’s job ranges from meetings with heads of state to homegrown American hospitality.