As he completes a five-year tenure at the Court of St James’s, Ambassador of Slovakia Lubomír Rehák discusses representing his country in a global hub like London, making use of the larger outreach to spread knowledge about his homeland to a global audience
I am a curious man by nature, fascinated by the diversity of cultures and traditions. That is why I have always appreciated interacting with my colleagues in the diplomatic corps. Not only with my close European partners, but also with those diplomats from the wide range of countries represented in London. Attending national day receptions or events hosted by other embassies is not only a demonstration of friendship and respect, but also a unique opportunity to explore and experience the ways other nations celebrate their holidays. On these occasions, every embassy presents the best examples of their identity, culture, history, gastronomy and successful business ventures.
This is the much-discussed glamorous side of diplomatic life; although as any diplomat will tell you, the cliché of ‘wining and dining’ diplomats can be far from reality. At diplomatic gatherings we are mainly working – discussing, networking, explaining and learning, albeit often in elegant and historic surroundings. The 2020 Covid-19 pandemic has dramatically reduced the possibilities to interact personally and serves as a great reminder of how important meeting partners face-to-face can be in diplomacy. Video teleconferences are a useful temporary substitute under these extraordinary circumstances, and will probably continue to be used when meetings require participants to take part in time-consuming travel. But no screen-to-screen communication can fully replace real diplomacy. Creating an atmosphere of trust and confidence is so important to the essential goals of diplomats: to contribute to friendship and understanding among the nations, while protecting the national interests of their own country.
Interaction among diplomats can be seen in different levels and forms. Sometimes it is just a one-time meeting to help resolve a concrete issue. Or it can be more systematic cooperation and ties of friendship. Many diplomatic friendships are limited in scope, time and place to one posting, leaving just fond memories when it is time to move on again. In some sense, diplomats should be aware that forming emotional bonds can result in suffering disassociation with the never-ending process of people coming and going. This is a dark side of our nomadic profession.
But diplomats are human beings as well, not immune to emotions while dealing with the people around us. In so many cases, we are happy to deal with colleagues from the diplomatic corps and our partners in the host country, continuing our friendships long beyond one posting. Moreover, there are rare cases of finding a life partner in this bubble of diplomatic life, and my wife Dana and I are an example of it.
London is our sixth posting abroad and we are proud to have found several really good friends in every place where we have lived. I must say, it is uplifting to have friends around the world, and it is a big asset and privilege of our noble profession.
I am often asked which one of our previous postings was the best. My sincere answer is that we have felt comfortable everywhere, and left a part of our hearts in each and every one of our postings. Creating a positive and respectful attitude towards the receiving country, its people and habits has always helped us to overcome any negative experiences. In the end, all unpleasant memories have been overshadowed by positive sentiments and reminiscences.
Reflecting on diplomatic work, I cannot neglect to mention the important role of our diplomatic partners. Often our alter ego, our partners are consistently working hard in the background to create new homes and lives as we move from one new country to another, but also making their own networks while accompanying us overseas. I confess that sometimes I am envious of many activities my wife Dana gets up to, and sometimes she opens doors that should have been opened by me. But naturally, I am always ready to support her activities, complementary to mine and the efforts of my staff.
Diplomatic life in London has its specifics; here we not only mingle with ambassadors, but also representatives of Commonwealth countries with the special title of High Commissioner. This brings me to one of the most remarkable things about a posting in London, which is the special treatment diplomats receive from the Royal Court of St James’s. Starting with the unforgettable audience with Her Majesty The Queen while presenting credentials, to annual meetings with the monarch and other members of the Royal Family at a diplomatic reception, to various formal ceremonies each year and the honour of being Her Majesty’s official guests at Royal Ascot – all these soft power instruments give diplomatic life in London a special glamour and prestige. Combining centuries-old tradition and modernity, the City of London is another example of why it is so special to be accredited at the Court of St James’s.
I really am proud of being admitted into the Freedom of the City of London.
I am also proud to have been recognised by my diplomatic colleagues as a Diplomat of the Year 2017 for Europe. Slovakia’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union in 2016 was an opportunity for my colleagues at the embassy and I to promote our country in a more extensive way. I am grateful to the Diplomat magazine as well as to Embassy magazine for reporting on the activities of the diplomatic corps in London, serving as an effective integration tool and communication platform for all of us. As representatives of smaller countries, we appreciate this media space, helping us in our efforts to contribute to better knowledge and greater visibility of our countries here in the UK and through a diplomatic corps around the world.
Leaving London soon, I would like to use this prestigious space to thank all my colleagues and friends in the diplomatic corps – particularly our experienced Dean – for their cooperation and assistance, wishing them all an equally interesting, fruitful and prosperous posting, as I have experienced here over the past five years.