Zuzana Čaputová Abroad: Winning Hearts, Showing Teeth, Trendsetting

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Zuzana Čaputová by Ivodo // CC 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

President Zuzana Čaputová wants to make eight business trips during her first summer of presidency. One of them has recently taken place in Germany. So what was in store for Berlin? Well, judging by the previous visits, it was really hard to tell. But it was be definitively worth paying attention to.

Slovak President Zuzana Čaputová has chosen the slogan of her presidency to be “heart, reason, hands”. She has proven to have an abundance of those first two already during the presidential elections.

She was not afraid to open her heart to the voters, what helped her win over theirs and become the first female president of the small conservative Slavic nation. Her very reasonable approach to domestic politics and strategic partnership building prove that she is no poster political beauty, but a strong and confident leader.

Last, but definitely not least, her foreign policy shows her willingness to put those hands to work. And judging by her last foreign visits, she is not afraid of getting them dirty either.

Criticizing V4, Loving the EU

Ms. Čaputová’s first visit was, as tradition commands, to the neighboring Czech Republic. Other V4 countries followed.

After the first round of the diplomatic visits, two things were already very clear: Ms. Čaputova’s foreign policy is going to be every liberal’s dream. And the president is anything but kind to her central European comrades.

Even though she was trying to be as diplomatic as it gets, her disapproval of the current Czech political situation was detectable. During her speech on the diplomatic standards, she quite openly mentioned that she has an understanding for those protesting against the current government.

“It is already obvious that we won’t be in agreement on many issues”,

she commented on the address of Czech President Miloš Zeman. She also visited the grave of Peace Nobel Prize Laureate and Czech President Václav Havel, where Mr. Zeman refused to accompany her. One could note that the symbolism of this situation spoke for itself.

During her visit to Hungary, she openly criticized country’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán for his autocratic policies. She also spoke in the defense of the values of the liberal democracy, which is being destroyed in Hungary by Mr. Orban’s regime.

She also criticized the long-term nonconstructive approach of V4 countries, which harmed the region’s ambitions during the European Game of Thrones – the Commission and other important institutions positions. 

The Hungarians did not need long to react. The state media started referring to Ms. Čaputová as “the agent of Soros”.

In Warsaw, she reminded the important role of previous Polish President Lech Walesa in the defeat of communism. Given the bitter history Mr. Walesa had with the current grey eminence of Polish politics, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, this gesture could be compared to driving a car down a steep slope with cutting its breaks first.

Then, she continued by criticizing the Polish approach towards the EU, especially in the question of the independent jurisdiction, which is a topic very close to Čaputova’s heart.

At the same time Ms. Čaputová did not hesitate so appreciate Poland’s support to Ukraine, referring to Kiev as to “a strategic partner”. She also condemned Russia as “a country that does not respect any rules”.

When talking about her home country, Ms. Čaputová is (understandably) very keen on promoting Slovakia abroad as the most pro-European country in the CEE region. Slovakia was the only V4 country that accepted Euro as the currency and, according to the president, Slovaks are also doing very well in the integration into the EU.

Heart for Human Rights

That Ms. Čaputová has her heart in the right place (as regards her politics) is evident also from herapproach to the issue of human rights.

She never misses a chance to criticize China for their violations of human rights. She has seized the first opportunity to do so during the state visit of the Chinese minister of foreign affairs to Slovakia.

“I have informed the minister that I consider protection of human rights to be the integral cornerstone of our freedom”, Ms. Čaputová said.

Unlike the rest of the V4 politicians, Ms. Čaputová has also openly spoken in support of the refugees. During her state visit to France, she said that illegal immigration is a problem of the whole EU. She added that the countries which are not the primary destinations of refugees must be a part of the solution.

Nevertheless, not everything is so flawless about the Slovak president. Ms. Čaputová has recently had to face criticism for her absence at the LGBT parade in Bratislava. However, her decision not to make a public appearance needs to be seen in a broader perspective.

Her goal is to build bridges in the polarized Slovak society. The LGBT question is one of very emotional topics. Putting herself on either side of the barricade would only harm her position. Therefore, what Ms. Čaputová has been doing is actually quite a smart strategy.

She has spoken many times in favor of the LGBT community, but she never went to an extreme. At the same time, given the mainstream opinions in the Slovak society and politics especially, the president is very supportive of the LGBT community.

True Colors

Besides being a head of the Slovak state, Ms. Caputová is still a woman and she is perceived as such. Hence her wardrobe is being watched very closely. As it becomes apparent, the leader is becoming a regional fashion icon.

What is more, similarly to the British Duchess Kate, American politician Hillary Clinton, Indian Prime Minister Indira Ghandi, or many other female leaders, also Ms. Čaputová is using her clothes to send a subtle political message. 

She wore a green dress for the first diplomatic visit to the Czech Republic. Green is generally the color of friendship, harmony, symbiosis, as well as hope and positive growth. Clearly, the president is very fond of green. The green color also evokes a strong environmental legacy, which is one of main themes for Ms. Čaputová.

The selection of a dark blue dress matching the colors of the flags of the EU and NATO was meant to maintain the importance of European and transatlantic relations for Slovakia.

White, on the other hand, is one of the national colors of Poland. It also refers to the legacy of the Polish pope, John Paul II. Together with red of the red carpet, Ms. Čaputová created the composition of the Polish flag.

Her dress in France was a salute to the most distinguished Parisian fashion houses such as Yves Saint Laurent, Chanel, or Dior.

And last, but definitely not least, the magenta dress she wore in the company of Hungarian PM Viktor Orban was inspired by the hussar uniform, which was worn also by the Slovak voluntary legions in the middle of the 19th century. Her dress was a very diplomatic reminder of the joint history of the two nations shared in the Austro-Hungarian empire.

One thing is certain: We should not only listen to Ms. Čaputová, but also to watch her very closely. For more than just one reason.

Adela Kleckova
Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom