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International Visegrad Fund

Think Visegrad


Mazowiecki, Tadeusz: The Mutual Return to Europe

Europe is experiencing an unusual time. Here you have half a continent, cut off from its roots nearly half a century ago, that now wishes to return...

From the very beginning I viewed the "Visegrad process" with great expectations but, I must admit, a certain scepticism as well. The year 1989 was about more than merely the will to throw off the alien domination forced on us decades earlier by the Soviet system. The sudden awakening and spectacular emergence of Central Europe's peoples onto the public stage was at the same time evidence of their mutual ambitions, including their European aspirations. These aspirations had been hidden for so long that it was hard to foresee at the beginning of the 1990s what direction they would take, or how dynamic they would eventually become.

"Europe is experiencing an unusual time. Here you have half a continent, cut off from its roots nearly half a century ago, that now wishes to return," I said at the beginning of 1990 in a speech at the forum of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. A few months later, building on Central Europe's mutual historical experiences, shared cultural inheritance (which managed to survive communist ideology), and independent contacts between the democratic opposition and catholic circles, the first official meetings took place as a precursor to the establishment of the "Visegrad Group".

The democratically elected leaders of Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Poland decided to accept the challenge of building a cooperation based on the same values and pursuing the same goals. With the Soviet empire collapsing and uniting Europe seeking a new identity, they decided to form a loose structure of dialogue and cooperation. It was a courageous step, but not as obvious a one as it now appears. The years of "international friendship" under the supervision of the USSR had enormously compromised the ideas of cooperation and solidarity. At the same time, this sudden feeling of freedom had revived our differences, rivalries, and narrow visions of our national paths. We may have marched in the same direction, but not always according to the same drummer. Nevertheless, there were occasions on which it all came together, such as in Poland's spontaneous solidarity with Slovakia in its attempts to make up lost political ground and join the EU - proof that we were still joined by mutual aspirations. Regardless of all the difficulties, misunderstandings and mutual prejudices, cooperation within the Visegrad Group proved useful and necessary. And although there have been no spectacular successes so far, the existence of this cooperation is a sign that the political identity of Central Europe has been reborn.

Now, 15 years later, the countries of Central Europe form an integral and important part of the European Union. They also form a strong and predictable pillar within NATO. They provide an oasis of stability in this region of the world, with the ability to solve conflicts through dialogue and compromise. They support the democratic ambitions and the need for freedom of their eastern neighbors with responsibility and interest, being able to understand probably better than anybody else the depth of their longing to return to Europe. A Europe to which - against all the odds - we have always belonged spiritually. It is hard to foresee the future of the Visegrad Group in the European Union. The need to overcome the long-term effects of the division of Europe, and the differences and delays in development indicate that not all of these targets have yet been achieved. Certainly, we are not interested in seeing the members of the Union further divided into "old" and "new". We need to take greater mutual responsibility for the entire European Union. Not only can our countries benefit from Europe, they can also give something to Europe, something related to our legacy and our devotion to freedom (the different and yet similar experiences we all had of resisting Soviet totalitarianism). The cultural cooperation that has developed recently, symbolized by the impressive performance of the Visegrad Fund, should certainly be strengthened and included into the operating mechanisms of the Union. The EU is not only an economic and political alliance of countries. It is as well a "Europe of the spirit," and it was to such a Europe that the Central European countries dreamed of returning.

Tadeusz Mazowiecki
Politician, human rights activist, journalist. Prime Minister of the Republic of Poland (1989-1990). Chairman of the Democratic Union (1991-1994). Member and expert for Solidarity trade union, Editor-in-Chief of Solidarity weekly. Special Rapporteur of the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations during a mission in Yugoslavia (1992-1995).

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