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Rudolf Schuster, former President of Slovakia, tells about his hobby and his attitude to Ukraine
Rudolf Schuster, president of Slovakia from 1999 to 2004, after his retirement travels a lot, taking many photographs and making documentary films; also, he devotes much of his time to a museum of airplanes and a museum of photo cameras, and to writing memoirs. He has had several books published; exhibitions of his photographs are held in various countries of the world. One of Mr Schuster’s photo exhibitions was devoted to the Crimea, the place he likes very much. Mr Schuster was interviewed by Valeriya BONDARENKO.
Mr Schuster, my first question, if you don’t mind, will be about photography — at what age did it become your hobby?
Oh, it began when I was still a boy. I borrowed a camera from a neighbour. And I started to use a movie camera back in 1957. I’ve been collecting photo, movie and video cameras. The pride of my collection is a movie camera, which was made by my father and his brothers in 1927. They also made a documentary film about Brazil, probably it was the first documentary film about that country ever made. In 1991, my two uncles and I travelled the same route — we went downstream on the Amazon River on rafts, made our way through the jungles. In 2001, I went there again, when I was already president, but this time with my wife and my children. After that trip, I showed an exhibition of my photographs about Brazil and made seven documentary films about that country. These days, it is my son and his daughters who are planning a trip to Brazil.
What interests you most as a photographer — nature, architecture, or people?
Oh, everything, the world in general. When you travel without a camera, all you have after your trips are your own impressions, but when you take photos or make films, you capture what you see for others to see it too. I’ve taken photos of all the places that I’ve ever been to. And I keep taking pictures and making films.
Have you travelled to many places in Ukraine?
I surely have. Ukraine occupies a special place in my life. There are several reasons for that. I was born in Eastern Slovakia, almost at the border with Ukraine and in that area there live many people of Ukrainian origin. In my childhood, I heard the Ukrainian language spoken a lot and I understand it well without having to learn it. I love Ukraine, I feel myself very comfortable in your country, and I come to Ukraine several times a year. When I was president, I spent one of my vacations in the Crimea, and even made a documentary film about the Crimea. And I had an exhibition of my photographs taken in the Crimea shown in Kyiv…
As far as the relations of our two states are concerned, I think that Slovakia is closer to Ukraine than, say, Poland or Hungary, in the mentality of our peoples, in our languages — a Slovak and a Ukrainian can easily understand each other without having to have an interpreter.
Slovakia is a member of the European Union and it can help Ukraine in its intention to become a member too.
Have you ever met the current president of Ukraine?
I met him when Mr Yushchenko was prime minister of Ukraine. We had fruitful talks that dealt with the matters of state, and we had nice talks “about life” in general. I was very pleased with our meetings. He seemed to have been pleased too.
Do you keep in touch with presidents or former presidents of any other countries?
Yes, I do — with presidents and ex-presidents of Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, Hungary, Poland and other countries. I feel at ease socializing with them — I had known many of them even before we became presidents. Besides, I can talk to all of them in their language. Even when I was president, I did not use the services of interpreters during confidential talks. Interpreters are always extra witnesses whom you sometimes do not want to be present, plus sometimes interpreters fail to translate properly what is being said.
When did you start learning foreign languages?
In my childhood. When you grow up among the people who talk different languages, you acquire an ability to learn foreign languages well and fast. I knew Polish and Hungarian when I was still a child. My German came to me with my ancestry — ethnically, I am a German. My ancestors came to Slovakia in the sixteenth century. I began to learn Russian in school. I learned English in college. I learned Serbian and Croatian just talking to people. The more languages and cultures you know, the wider is your own cultural background, the more tolerant you are to others. Your view of the world and of peoples living in it is greatly impacted by your knowledge of foreign languages and cultures.
It must be particularly useful for the president of a land-locked country in the midst of other bigger nations.
Yes, it is. In fact, being tolerant is a major principle in the policies of a small country. The president of such a country must present his country at the international arena in the right way and he must find the right ways of dealing with all the neighbours. But it requires a different approach to each of those countries. And also you must find the right moment when those countries are ready to conduct negotiations with your country.
I know you have initiated the establishment of a museum of airplanes. Will it have any planes from Ukraine?
It already has one! I initiated the creation of such a museum when I was still president. The then president of Ukraine was the first one to give us a plane. It has the state symbols of Ukraine all over it. It was the first exhibit in the museum.
When I was seventy, I got, as a birthday present, the shell of a real rocket which was made at the Yuzhmash rocket-building plant in Ukraine. Once, when I had been on a visit to Ukraine, I had also visited that plant, and pointing to a rocket I had said that I’d wish to have a thing like that for my museum — and bingo, I have it! Now the museum contains 18 exhibits — a helicopter, presented by President Bush; planes presented by German Chancellor Kohl and Polish President Kwasniewski, also planes presented by the president of Hungary, by the King of Sweden, by the Russian President Putin. There is one plane presented by China. Incidentally, it cost 150,000 dollars to transport that plane from China to Slovakia. The museum has not been opened yet — the construction is still going on.
When I was president, I actually made the minister of defence and the minister of culture sign the necessary agreements that would make the creation of such a museum possible.
Are there any places in Ukraine which you would like to visit?
Oh yes, I’d like to see Kyiv again , with its magnificent golden-domed churches and the mighty Dnipro River, I would like to go again to the Crimea, which I think is one of the most beautiful places on earth. The Crimea has some special energy which is in harmony with the energy of my soul.
WU Magazine expresses its gratitude to the Embassy
of Slovakia in Ukraine and to the Ambassador
of Ukraine to Slovakia Ms Inna Ohnivets
for materials provided for this article