Since the countries of the Visegrad Group succeeded in cutting their umbilical cord with the former USSR in 1989, they have worked hard to establish a new but common identity for themselves. I am fascinated by the transition changes that have taken place in the Visegrad countries, which have been a gold mine for a social anthropologist such as me. Wherever I go I see fascinating dynamic transitions that involve every aspect of the human drama.
It was only 15 years ago that the totalitarian regimes in these countries were toppled and democracy, human rights, civic movements and market economies took their places. Capitalism hit the region like a tidal wave, not only in the form of privatization but also material consumerism. But the societies of Central Europe rode out the storm. It was not easy, but the economic changes turned out to be the easy part. The most difficult challenge was for people to understand how their societies' value systems had changed. This was a burden for everybody, but especially for older people who had to undergo rehabilitation both psychologically and spiritually. However, they never lost heart. They had trust in their intellectual powers, their rich culture and history. They concentrated on restoring human values. Their efforts to overcome this difficult transitional period were truly enlightening to the outside observer, and convinced us that mankind has a bright future.
Whenever I read the history of this region, I am always impressed by the rich variety in people's ways of doing things. Surrounded by dominant countries, the Visegrad nations had always faced external pressures, and sometimes had found themselves in a vulnerable position. At one time they disappeared from the map entirely, leaving the area blank. But this vulnerability gave way to a unique identity and facilitated a long period of inter-ethnic relations as well as mixed cultures.
By way of contrast, it was only 130 years ago that Japan opened its doors to the rest of the world, a decision that accelerated the development of national identity. I believe that external pressure helps to accelerate the emergence of national identity.
The process of trial and error continues in Central Europe, and almost every day I notice newspaper articles on the region, even in the Japanese media. Some of them are rather depressing, but most of the news one reads is encouraging and promising. What I wanted to stress was the diversity of the human drama that has played out in the region. Against all of our expectations, the end of the Cold War did not bring peace to the world. Instead we were witness to the most dreadful chaos and a series of wars. However, as long as Central Europe keeps looking for peaceful solutions, we can expect a more peaceful and orderly world in the future. That's why I call what is happening in the region "the Central European restoration".
One thing I can say, at least of the transition phenomena in the region, is that the power of consistency is overwhelming. Among the many challenges and reforms that the Visegrad countries tackled over the last 15 years, I see the wisdom of mankind. When I review the various achievements, it is a rather miraculous and eye-opening experience, and holds great promise for future civilization in helping mankind to transcend his territorial problems and find a new paradigm - a non-territorial world order.
Economist and anthropologist. Advisor to the President of the Nippon Foundation. Executive Director of the Japan P.E.N. Club.