Visegrad Insight Podcast
8 April 2021
Summary of the video chat meeting on the thirtieth anniversary of the Visegrad Group countries held on 15 February 2021 with an evaluation of past achievements and failures of the last decades.
Last week, the leaders of the Visegrad Group (V4) countries met in Kraków to commemorate the anniversary and discuss the future of the regional format.
During a recent Visegrad Insight Breakfast meeting on 15 February 2021, we discussed the historical significance of the creation of the V4 regional format, an unprecedented moment for Central Europe, and the future vision of the V4 in the EU.
Former Ambassador Magdaléna Vášáryová was the keynote speaker of the breakfast event. She shared her remarkably close view about the Visegrad Group. She highlights from the very start that the V4 is still relevant and necessary, its form being unique in Central Europe.
Firstly, Vášáryová addresses the naivety of Central Europe. After 30 years, we have forgotten about the emotions and possibilities that came after 1989. The V4 states assumed that everyone would welcome them in Europe and rejoice with this, which did not happen as such. Moreover, there is a tendency to forget about the inherited problems of Central Europe and bypass the issues that exist between the four countries.
Not all states in Central Europe were ready to include all in major cooperation such as the V4. Central European countries believed that others would want to listen and understand their story and what their people went through during the post-war and Soviet Union period, but according to Vášáryová, this has not happened. Today, Central Europe has become a sort of problem.
Considering the apprehension of Central European historical experience, the end of the Warsaw Pact marked the start of a conversation between countries from this region.
Still, Poland and Hungary were fundamentally opposed to the formation of Czechoslovakia in 1918. Even during Soviet times, there was a lack of solidarity in Central Europe. Talks only happened through Moscow. There were no physical and diplomatic connections. When the Visegrad Group was established, there was the first opportunity for Central Europe to have an honest and open conversation.
The main quality of the V4 format is that its members talk to each other. However, the tendency of Hungarians to appropriate the group is dangerous for the cohesion of it and jeopardises the diplomatic channels.
From the very beginning, there were misunderstandings about V4 that came both from the inside and outside. Concerning internal issues, Poland has been hesitant in its role and action within the group.
On the outside perception of the V4, Austria attempted to end the group and convince these countries to integrate into other organisations promoted by Austria. Journalists from all over Europe wrote for the first decade of the V4 how it was collapsing and was not useful. Thus, the constructive criticism was hard to find.
According to the former Ambassador, the V4 should have a solid and stable institutional memory, which cannot happen because this aspect is dependent on members of the different foreign affairs ministries, which tend to change yearly. Also, some Czech politicians have used the V4 as a representation of opposition to EU policies, such as the migration ones.
Nonetheless, there needs to be pragmatism and patience from the political elites of Central Europe. Success stories due to the V4 should be talked about, such as the case of Slovakia, which could not have happened without the Visegrad Group.
Without Poland pushing for NATO cooperation, Czech support in the accession procedures to the EU, the V4 could not have joined the EU altogether. Due to the support for democratic forces and political will, the V4 states are now a part of NATO and the EU.
Finally, Vášáryová regrets that the V4 has missed the opportunity to play a decisive role in the whole of Europe as a pro-integration engine, trustworthy partner and join democratic-minded Europeans. Unfortunately, the V4 leans into old prejudices, fears and has succumbed to nationalistic ideas and purity of ethnicity. Neo-nationalism is being revived in all states.
Vášáryová admits that the Visegrad Group will not have again the same chance to show its true quality and convictions for the next 20 years. Indeed, the V4 leadership has violated democratic, liberal and Christian values.
All in all, the V4 has regrettably become a conundrum for the rest of Europe and not a problem-solver.
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