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Think Visegrad


Göncz, Arpád: Visegrad Three, Visegrad Four

When the leaders of the Visegrad countries - the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, and of course Hungary - met in Hungary in 1991 to debate their various thorny issues, they were not meeting for the first time. The first ever "summit" between them had occurred in the early middle ages, in 1335, with their three kings, the Polish Kazimierz, the Czech Jan, and the Hungarian Charles Robert, assembling at Visegrad to set an example for posterity of diplomatic negotiations and the reconciliation of interests.

The Visegrad Four were still Three in 1991, before the separation of the Czech Republic and Slovakia, when the Hungarian Prime Minister of the time, József Antall, suggested the idea of another such meeting in our age.

This did not, of course, happen by accident. History provided the foundations for cooperation between the Visegrad countries, and from the outset made connections between these countries both necessary and inevitable, not just because they are neighbors, but because of the power game that this proximity brings with it. Their history and their political situation was always somehow shared. Throughout history, almost with a kind of inevitability, the societies of these Central European countries also developed in very similar ways, in a European way as well as in a particularly Central European way that was distinct from the societies of countries to the West or to the East.

Despite some small differences, our recent history is also a shared one. In the era of socialism, this common fate was linked to the fact that, under the rule of the Soviet Union, our image of the enemy became a collective one. It is no accident that during the change of the regime in 1989 these countries, which had just fought for their freedom, faced essentially the same problems. We need only consider that these countries were still finding their places in a renewed Europe, in which power games were still shapeless and unresolved.

Shapeless and awaiting resolution. The Visegrad countries, over the centuries, have learned that together they are stronger, and that together their voice is better heard.

Even if the Visegrad summits had no tangible diplomatic or historical consequences, they gave a perspective to cooperation from the very beginning, and established personal connections that later, when the situation required, could at any moment inspire a reconciliation and a common stand on things.

The need for this was very evident at the time of the accession of the Visegrad Four countries to the European Union, for they could have formed a separate unit within the group of accession countries at a time when a common battle had to be fought against the interests of the western states. And even if the scissors have sometimes widened during the last decade and a half, and cooperation has flagged, again and again it has been made clear how, if their backs are up against the same wall, the Visegrad Four countries can strengthen each other in this alliance of interests.

Árpád Göncz
Politician, writer and translator. Former President of the Republic of Hungary (1990-2000). Founding member of the Alliance of Free Democrats in 1988 and President of the Hungarian League for Human Rights. Political prisoner after the Hungarian uprising in 1956.

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