The hollow shell of Visegrad 4
Would you be for establishing a ,,Visegrad Union” or would you rather abolish it and have all the V4 states integrated into the EU more, as for example join the Eurozone? For me V4 represents the Central Europe. All of the member states are former parts of the Eastern bloc and before the Habsburg empire. In all of them, the communist regime collapsed in the same year. And all of them have raised the same goal – to enter the European institutions and NATO. They´ve achieved these goals in 2004 when Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Czech republic joined the European Union. Since that time, very few or no changes have happened inside the V4 group, either ideologically or brand-wise. Visegrad 4 is really just a hollow shell without any real goal, that is used just as a political leverage against the EU. While countries of Visegrad 4 have already achieved their goals, which were agreed on by the first post-communist leaders in this region (Walesa, Antall, Havel), the relevance of this regional group is now questionable.
Even though the leaders of these countries perpetually state that V4 is very important, they hardly work on common projects, and if they do, they use them for they own political gain in their home country. In the last decade the V4 was united only during the times when they were opposing the European Commission. As Lily Bayer states in her article: ,,One issue on which the Visegrad Group appeared united was their opposition to accepting quotas of migrants allocated by the European Commission” (4). This is just one of many times when the V4 group was used to feed nationalistic policies in the member countries. This is just one of many problems of the V4 but I feel that it is the most pressing one. As Szymon Walkiewicz while interviewed by Vojtěch Boháč explains: ,, Even if Orban, Sobotka, Fico and Szydlo had similar mindsets, I still don’t think that it would be good for developing the bloc within the EU. These politicians think about their respective countries first from a national perspective …The only types of policy they can agree on are the ones that go against the will of the Eu as whole” (2). For me this is a proof and also a sign that without proper leadership, which does not only focus on staying in power, V4 will stay a goalless skeleton of a regional institution.
Long lasting nationalistic policies in each member country prevent the V4 from expanding. Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary, except Slovakia which is already in Eurozone and is the most integrated out of the four, cannot be really integrated into any institutions, neither regional nor continental, because of the nationalistic self-centered leaders who promote these policies. This phenomenon, especially in Poland and Hungary, is the most visible. The ruling Hungarian Fidesz party and Polish PiS party have many similarities. They both came to power with promises of new welfare benefits, their rule could be described as ,, blend of national conservatism with proactive social policies”. Other thing they have in common is that the moment they came to power they started to abuse the judiciary as in Poland or attack the independence of universities as in Hungary ( Ireneusz Pawel Krolewski 2-5). For me these facts are the evidence of growing nationalism in Poland and Hungary but we can find similar examples of this blend of social welfare and populism in other countries of V4. In Slovakia, the Fico administration has introduced ,,free trains” – a policy which made the state-owned trains free for students and senior citizens. But you can rarely find policies which would promote trans-border trade, art or science cooperation, student´s exchange or even cultural heritage awareness. Leaders of the V4 countries have for a long time been focused more inward than outward and that is something that makes the space for political cooperation very narrow.
Countries of the V4, even unified behind the opposition of some EU law or policies, are perceived differently by the West. We can understand this phenomena with help of Jacopo Barigazzi´s article: ,,The European Commission is this week expected to launch infringement proceedings against Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic over their refusal to join in with the EU’s refugee relocation scheme, diplomats said” (2). He explains that Poland and Hungary have not taken a single refugee since the start of the refugee crisis and they’ve been openly against the mandatory scheme. Czech Republic have withdrawn from the scheme because of the ,,security concerns” and Slovakia has taken only 16 refugees out of the 902 mandatory. However, Slovakia is the only V4 country that will not be sanctioned by the European Commission. Personally I don’t believe that the real reason Slovakia won´t be sanctioned is that Slovak Catholic Charity has taken around 200 Assyrian Christian refugees and relocated them into Christian families to assimilate, also Slovakia is the only member of the V4 which is in Eurozone, thus the one most integrated into the European Institutions. Another clue of this imbalance of judgment from the West is provided by Lily Bayer in her Article: ,,A clear sign that Western European governments are not treating all members of the Visegrad Group in the same way came as recently as last week. When French President Emmanuel Macron visited Central and Eastern Europe, he chose to meet in Salzburg with the Czech and Slovak leadership, while snubbing the Polish and Hungarian governments” (4). This could indicate that Slovakia and Czech Republic search for other partners elsewhere. These ,,other” partnerships were explained by Tomas Kafka, director of the Central Europe department at the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs, citing the country’s strategic dialogue with Germany and its so-called Slavkov cooperation with Slovakia and Austria: ,, While leaders of all Visegrad countries emphasize their commitment to the group, officials in Slovakia and the Czech Republic highlight the importance of other relationships. Visegrad is not the only pillar on which the Czech Republic builds its Central European policy, said Tomas Kafka. All three pillars are equally … useful to us, he said” ( Bayer 3). These different approaches just feed the feeling of inequality between the V4 states, and thus make future cooperation much harder. When one side of the contract feels mistreated its will to make a deal radically declines.
One could say that even purposeless regional structure or a group as V4 is needed as a counter weight for the French and German core of the EU. This claim is supported by Lily Bayer: ,,Orbán and [ Polish ruling party leader Jaroslaw] Kaczynski would like to see Visegrad as a breeding ground of a “cultural counter-revolution” in the EU … counterbalancing the liberal, federalist Europe of Germany and France” (3). However, countries of the V4 only seem to be united when it serves the countries‘ leaders. I think the best example is stated by Jacopo Barigazzi: ,, Hungary and Slovakia have challenged the mandatory nature of the relocation scheme at the European Court of Justice” (3). At that time both Slovakia and Hungary were running very harsh political campaigns against the quotas and refugees themselves. Slovak Prime Minister tried to use this for his own political gain in the elections last year. I would suggest that an organization regional or universal, if used for one´s political gain and not for the betterment of the lives of citizens is useless and should be abolished or drastically reformatted so it cannot be misused by power grubbing politicians. And in the case of V4, all of the member countries are also members of the European Union, which means that most of the operations that V4 is doing now could be done through EU’s partnership, thus running the Visegrad Group futile.
So when we sum it all up, V4 is a purposeless regional group, controlled by power–hungry politicians that use this political project as a base for spreading their nationalistic policies, hypothetically endangering the EU membership for all members of the Visegrad group. Of course with a different leadership it could look differently but that’s not the case now. The questionable importance of the group will eventually come up for public discussion, especially during times of prosperity and peace, because without anybody to focus on, to hate , to blame, the truth will come up – that the V4 is goalless. And even though member states say they care about this regional bond, they do nothing to improve it. V4 started out as a common project of 4 post-communist countries that were cooperating for the greater good of the whole region. It aimed to show the West world, that in this part of Europe there is will for a change, progress and development of new partnerships. But after reaching its goals and with the rise of populism and nationalism it has lost its original purpose of developing the bonds between the member states, to expand cultural and scientific knowledge. For now the Visegrad Group is just a ruin, a shell of a political project that waits for its inevitable abolishment or complete and profound change. These changes would have to be comprised of long term, well thought-out solutions, which would lead the member countries into the greater integration in EU institutions and increase the internal exchange in science, culture and trade between the member countries.
With the results of both parliamentary and presindetial elections in Czech Republic, I think it is reasonable to assume that the Czech ,,drift“ away from EU values will be much more faster. This is supported by more frequent talks about ,,Czechzit“ during the presidential elections debate and also by the already running investigation into the finances of the new Czech PM. Another interesting elections will be the upcoming Hungarian elections in April this year, where experts predict another win for Viktor Orbán.
Boháč, Vojtech. “Rebranding the Visegrad Group”. Visegrad Insight, 5 Feb. 2017, visegradinsight.eu/rebranding-the-visegrad-group/.
Bayer, Lili. “Unity of Central Europe’s Visegrad Group under Strain.” POLITICO, 4 Sept. 2017, www.politico.eu/article/unity-of-central-europes-visegrad-group-under-strain/.
Ash, Timothy Garton. “The puzzle of Central Europe.” The New York Review of Books, 18 Mar. 1999. Web.
Karolewski, Ireneusz Paweł. “Neo-Nationalism in Central and Eastern Europe.”21global.Ucsb.edu, Global Dynamics, 16 Mar. 2017, www.21global.ucsb.edu/global-e/march-2017/neo-nationalism-central-and-eastern-europe.
Barigazzi, Jacopo. “Brussels Takes on (Most of the) Visegrad Group over Refugees.”POLITICO, 13 June 2017, www.politico.eu/article/brussels-takes-on-most-of-the-visegrad-group-over-refugees/.
Havel, Václav. “Address given by Vaclav Havel to the Polish Sejm and Senate.” . Address given by Vaclav Havel to the Polish Sejm and Senate (Warsaw, 25 January 1990), 25 Jan. 1990, Warsaw, Polish Sejm and Senate , www.cvce.eu/content/publication/2006/3/27/d639c9ab-79ce-41d9-8767-4a9bd804ec35/publishable_en.pdf.