The Ideas on which the Visegrad Group Was Founded

Are they still relevant in today’s European politics?

17 November 2016


For someone who was involved from its very inception with Visegrád (indeed, one of those who helped conceive it intellectually, well before the “institution” came into being) and was personally acquainted with all its protagonists, it is very difficult to presently provide a spontaneously encouraging answer to the question at hand.

Back then, we believed that our common contemporary history placed an obligation upon us to share our unique experience with others, should they show an interest. And that we should proceed jointly whenever appropriate and beneficial.

However, it turned out that our still-living countries’ past is somewhat “older”, dating back as it does to the era between two World Wars, a time when our countries did not have all that much in common. Furthermore, it is an era that could not be openly discussed for a long time. In short, it is mainly the memory of what had been swept under the carpet by previous regimes that has come back to haunt us with a vengeance.

Another thing that has become evident over the past few months is that our shared feature is a collective and individual selfishness; one that evolved, quite naturally, as a response to the collectivism that the state had imposed on us.

Nevertheless, the weak yet growing civil societies in our four countries, which were able to take advantage of the modest resources provided by the Visegrad Foundation, have proved their mettle. They have remained loyal to the founding idea.

Regardless of all the disappointments of recent months, I would still insist that all channels of Visegrád communication be kept open, even if, at this moment, they seem to be dragging us out of Central Europe. Rather than our common features or similarities, it is perhaps the challenges we are now fac- ing that will make us appreciate our mutual differences.

However, this will happen only if our politicians and media elites do not try to spare us too much and speak their minds openly. After all, the one thing we still have in common is the awareness of our own past descent into perdition stemming from the loss of freedom, which we continue to carry within us. This gives us hope that, even if we may not be able to see clearly at this moment in time, we will open our eyes eventually, even if it is at the last minute.

For we are surely still the same people who, along with the Charter 77 philosopher Jan Patočka, understood that the things one suffers for are precisely those worth living for. “The rest of Europe”, on the other hand, knows this only from reading about it.

PETR PITHART (b. 1941) – the first Prime Minister of the Czech Republic (1990-1992) and the First Deputy Chairman of the Senate of the Parliament of the Czech Republic (2004-2012).