The Visegrad Group is a story of great mutual success. Through Visegrad, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia recorded a new and profitable chapter in their histories. Each of the four member countries owes this success to hard, relentless work in their own backyards; Visegrad cooperation has significantly multiplied our potential. Although there have been ups and downs, our mutual voice has undoubtedly become much stronger, more significant, and more carefully listened to. Visegrad means creativity and efficacy.
This much can be seen clearly when we look back at the past 15 years and how much ground we have covered since signing the Founding Declaration on 15 February, 1991. My predecessor as President, Lech Walesa, represented Poland during the summit in Visegrad. Visegrad cooperation was also one of the priorities of my 10-year presidency. It is part of the Polish sense of statehood. It is how Warsaw views cooperation with our Central European partners, regardless of the political changes on our domestic scene. I am convinced that these statements will remain true in the future. The Visegrad Triangle, which later on was transformed into the V4 Group, came to life, above all, because we wanted to support each other in the international arena. We understood that it was useful to consult and coordinate our actions; that together, we could achieve more. We aspired to combine our efforts and advantages in a special way to gain entry to NATO and the EU. It was one of the greatest challenges in our contemporary history. Although it was not easy, we achieved a great success.
We strengthened our security within the circle of NATO allies. Great development prospects opened up for all of us within the family of uniting Europe. The Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia - we are all playing in the European premier league. We all contribute to the formation of our continent. We take our share of responsibility for international peace, order and stability. We have managed to promote the Visegrad Group, which has become a tested and renowned brand name. The term "Visegrad countries" has entered the dictionary of politicians, analysts, and journalists for good. These achievements are explicitly linked to our skill in conducting dialogue, to partnership, predictability, and the stability of our region, and to our established democracies and consistent reforms. These assets brought us the trust and sympathy of the international community; they eased our entry to NATO and the European Union.
There is also a deeper element to our cooperation. The Visegrad Group is a symbol of the history we share. This became visible especially after the Second World War, when, as Milan Kundera put it, we became "a kidnapped West". Our societies fought on many occasions for freedom, sovereignty, and human rights. After 1989, we threw off the yoke of the previous regime and of Soviet domination. We made a gigantic attempt at transformation and astonished the world with our pioneer spirit. We returned to our European home.
However, this mutual fate goes back further, into the depths of history. It shapes our Central European identity. A beautiful and ancient town, Visegrad was chosen as the site of the founding summit in 1991 because it had been the site in 1335 of a meeting between the Polish king, Kazimierz the Great, the king of Bohemia, Jan Luxembourg, and the king of Hungary, Charles Robert. This is not just an attempt at political analogy or a reference to tradition. The Visegrad Group builds on the entire legacy of Central Europe, which includes such pearls of European civilisation as Kraków, Prague, Buda and Levoča.
The common Central European identity comes from a shared memory, a proud and original memory, since it was here in the middle of the continent that our cultures, religions and mentalities met. That is why our contribution to the European cultural treasury is so interesting. At the same time, this mutual memory is a very painful one for our nations. We were squeezed between the European powers as if between millwheels. Wars were fought here, our lands were torn, our nations enslaved. The history of Central Europe - so colorful, so tragic and so magnificent in its victories over its own historical fate - is instructive for all Europeans. The Visegrad Group also bears this message. Solidarity and cooperation between the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia still has enormous significance, both for us and for uniting Europe. Like the partnership between the Benelux countries, and like the Nordic cooperation, the Visegrad Group is an important factor for the integration of the continent.
We look forward to the challenges ahead of us. The Visegrad Group countries should continue to play a significant role in the formation of the eastern policy of the EU towards such countries as Russia, Belarus, and particularly Ukraine. We have rich experiences of contacts with the East, and we know which of the processes that are going on over there can present an opportunity for Europe, and which can be a threat. We understand perhaps better than other European countries what promising prospects were created by the success of the Orange Revolution in Ukraine as well as the pro-European ambitions of Ukrainians.
The other area where the Visegrad Group could do a lot is in the Union's policies towards the western Balkans. The Uniting Europe has already invited Croatia to join; it should not remain indifferent to the problems of countries such as Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro. The Visegrad Group has been regarded as the positive antithesis of the Balkan region, which until quite recently has been wracked by tragic conflicts. Today, for those who are struggling to overcome the painful experience of war, for those who are undergoing the hardships of transformation, for those who aspire to join NATO and the European Union, we can serve as an example of collaboration and integration.
Most of all, however, Visegrad cooperation is necessary for us Czechs, Hungarians, Poles, and Slovaks. It has really brought us a lot of benefits, not just those with historical meaning, but also less spectacular gains of an everyday nature. Regular meetings of Presidents and Prime Ministers, as well as defence, transport, justice, culture, and environment ministers have borne excellent fruit. The launch in 2000 of the International Visegrad Fund with headquarters in Bratislava has helped strengthen civic initiatives and support non-government organizations. Visegrad cooperation has reached ever further down the hierarchy of power, drawing in local communities, and thanks to this, has become more concrete and effective.
Now that we have made our home in the European Union, we should take even greater advantage of the chances created by the Visegrad partnership for our countries. Some challenges we should look at more "globally", such as the industrial restructuring of Silesia or building a transport infrastructure through our countries from north to south.
We must remember that the EU is not only an integration effort on a continental scale, but it also involves regional thinking. The Visegrad Group has become a perfect part of the European network, bringing people closer and making them want to rely on each other and build a common future together.
Let me say it once again: the Visegrad Group is a success story, and I am convinced that the coming chapters in the tale will be just as successful.
Politician. Former President of the Republic of Poland (1995-2005). Founding member and chairman of the Social Democratic Party in 1990. Member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and chairman of the Constitutional Committee of National Assembly (1993-1995).