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Think Visegrad


Janas, Zbigniew: How I Started Visegrad in Mroziewicz's Kitchen?

If I had to say when the Visegrad Agreement began to take shape, I would pick the moment in the 1970s, in the mountains, when the representatives of KOR (the Committee for the Defence of Workers) and Charter 77 began meeting with each other. Or afterwards, in 1981, when the Polish-Czechoslovak Solidarity was established. Or maybe the time in 1979 in Podkowa Leśna, during the hunger strike in defence of the arrested Mirek Chojecki, when the Hungarian opposition representative Tibor Páth came over from Hungary. He was the first herald of the impending Polish-Hungarian Solidarity, which was officially constituted later, in the 1980s.
It was natural that as soon as the communist system collapsed in all our countries, we started to think of what to do to sustain the values we had nurtured in difficult times, to preserve the spirit of cooperation and solidarity. By this time certain misunderstandings had already taken place, unfriendly comments been uttered, and various points of view on the nature of the cooperation presented.
When in January 1990 President Václav Havel came for the first time to Poland and did not fly to Gdańsk to meet Lech Wałęsa (he didn't have enough time, as I know because I prepared his visit as the representative of the Czechoslovak president), the media began speculating about a Polish-Czechoslovak conflict. We cut it short by organising a meeting between Havel and Wałęsa in the Giant Mountains as an expression of Polish-Czechoslovak Solidarity. People were also conscious of the need to discuss new ideas and organizations to adapt to the changing situation. In this way we approached the idea known today as the Visegrad Agreement.
After numerous talks with friends from the Czech Republic and Slovakia, I took a tape recorder and interviewed the most important people engaged in cooperation between our countries, such as Professor Bronisław Geremek and Adam Michnik. Armed with this material I turned to Robert Mroziewicz to write a proposed mission statement that could be approved during the meeting in Bratislava, the place suggested by President Havel. The text, whose original version I have preserved, was composed on the kitchen table in Mroziewicz's flat. In the evening I took it to Michnik, who in turn went with it to the flat of the Polish minister of foreign affairs, Professor Krzysztof Skubiszewski. The next morning we met at the airport before the flight to Prague, and Adam handed me the text with the minister's handwritten corrections. We then flew to Prague to meet with our friends. Later on, the Czechs and Slovaks contacted the Hungarians. In this way, the first great meeting, at President Havel's invitation, took place in Bratislava on 9 April, 1990. Presidents, Prime Ministers, Ministers of Foreign Affairs, and parliamentarians from Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland participated in it. During the plenary session in the castle, various forms of future cooperation were debated, and despite much disagreement, the seed that was soon to yield the Visegrad Agreement was planted.
Two months later, in June, Professor Bronisław Geremek and I attended a consultative meeting in Prague. Václav Havel said in welcome: "Look, Zbyszek, the fact that today we can talk about consolidating the cooperation between our countries is something we owe to having kept on meeting, in the most difficult times and against all odds, to discuss projects concerning the future."
In Prague we discussed the practical forms of cooperation with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jiří Dienstbier, and with our former friends from the meetings in the mountains, who did not hold important posts, but who had an impact on political issues. And, obviously, we talked most with President Havel himself.
After the talks in the castle, Havel took us to a restaurant for dinner. We went on foot, and the President conducted us through the restaurant. At a certain point he stopped next to a couple sitting at a table and spoke to them for a while. When Professor Geremek and I approached, he introduced us. It turned out to be film director Miloš Forman. Professor Geremek told me later that Havel and Forman had not contacted each other for some time, but that Havel had taken advantage of our presence (it is a privilege to be taken advantage of in such a way) to renew contact with the famous director.
This was more or less the beginning of the cooperation that led to the establishment of the Visegrad Triangle. It is a pity that the meeting itself in Visegrad was without the parliamentarians of our countries, the people who started this agreement. However, for me, the most important thing is that despite various phases, discussions, and even conflicts, Visegrad is still alive today. It was of great value that the Visegrad Fund was established, as it is very helpful in various mutual financial undertakings. It is also wonderful that the Polish-Czech-Slovak-Hungarian Solidarity found people to carry it on, people who are ready, despite many problems, to promote cooperation between our nations.

Zbigniew Janas
Politician, Solidarity's activist. Member and co-founder of the Polish-Czechoslovak Solidarity and founder of Polish-Hungarian Solidarity. Founder and Director of the Forum for Central and Eastern Europe at the Stefan Batory Foundation. Member of Parliament (1989-2001).

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