July 7th, 2022 AAAA
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Think Visegrad


Vašáryová, Magda: The Optimal Format for Regional Cooperation

The human memory, with its tendency to rid itself of unnecessary information, is the means by which each of us preserves his integrity. We get rid of experiences and problems that we have come to terms with, as well as those we would rather not remember.

Perhaps it is precisely this mechanism, that of contenting ourselves with what we have achieved, that causes us to forget the circumstances and conditions in which Visegrad regional cooperation arose. The 15th anniversary of "Visegrad" is a suitable occasion on which to recall some of its basic goals and the conditions in which it was born. Who among us today would emphasize the elimination of the relicts of the communist regime as a priority? Following the entry of the Visegrad Four (V4) member countries to the European Union and NATO, we have increasingly forgotten about these goals, which in 1991 seemed virtually impossible to achieve. It is also very important not to forget the second point in the original Visegrad Declaration, which expressed the desire to overcome the historical prejudices and animosities among the countries of Central Europe.

Today it is as if we have forgotten about the relations between our four nations in this hardtested region, relations that were not always harmonious and often were downright unfriendly. This is why we should stress that Visegrad cooperation is an historically unique example of cooperation between four states who were gravely affected by the turbulence of the 20th century, which was the main reason this region lagged behind in terms of culture and civilization in the second half of the 20th century. From this point of view above all it is understandable that for Slovakia, Visegrad cooperation remains today, at the beginning of the 21th century, the optimal form of regional cooperation. This is why Visegrad is a stable entry on the list of Slovak foreign policy priorities.

Today, all of the states of the V4 live with each other in peace and work on developing their market economies; their citizens feel secure and sovereign. Entry to the European Union did not take away our ability to decide our own fates nor the conditions of cooperation with the rest of Europe's states and nations. But because of our common historical experience and our common attempts to get rid of the residue of the totalitarian regimes in our countries, dialogue between the members of Visegrad concerning our role in the European Union remains an important complementary process to pan-European and trans-Atlantic cooperation. At the same time, this intensive dialogue should not lead to political and economic uniformity in Central Europe; it should remain a group of cooperating states that respect each other's differences and similarities.

Visegrad cooperation is a daily reality in the work of all government and state institutions, as well as of countless activities of the non-governmental sector and the International Visegrad Fund. This tool for supporting cultural collaboration in the widest sense of the word has in the past few years quite logically become a means of harmonizing the foreign policy of the V4. Its engagement with Ukraine, Moldova and other neighboring states has increased the scope of the Visegrad Group's activities far beyond the border of simple regional cooperation. The same can be said of the many meetings between the Visegrad Group and other similar regional alliances, such as the Benelux.

The signatories to the Visegrad Declaration in 1991 agreed to do all they could to ease and promote direct contacts between citizens, interest groups, churches, social institutions and nongovernmental organizations. Even through until 1989 we were a part of the Soviet Bloc, we discovered with amazement, and we're still finding out to this day, that we were in fact isolated, that we never knew one another, and that between us was always an enormous space for misunderstandings and the spreading of prejudices. If we were today to evaluate the effectiveness of this aim, we would have to state that this is one of the most successful chapters in Visegrad cooperation, but one that is often forgotten. It is impossible to tabulate everything that has been achieved over these 15 years, but the most important thing of all was that the citizens of the V4 took the initiative into their own hands, and today, freely and without problems, contact each other across mutual borders, meet each other on the municipal and regional levels, and do business together.

If anything remains from the original ideas of the founding fathers that has not seen significant improvement, it is in the area of infrastructure and the connection of energy systems. Building effective connections to allow the widest possible communications between the four main Central European states remains a wish rather than a fact, whether we're talking about roads, high-speed rail links, electricity network connections, the construction of minor gas lines, or other infrastructure connections without which modern states cannot prosper. This is a task that remains alive but problematic in talks between V4 overnment officials. Connections between media concerns, multilateral cooperation in the exchange of information, joint programs, joint presentations, and cooperation in the area of tourism, which were such remote goals for the founding fathers, remain on the V4 agenda. Within the coordination of our European policies these areas of cooperation remain important themes at meetings between ministers, experts, and non-governmental organizations.
Every year there are some journalists who announce the definitive end of Visegrad, as if they were trying to prove the folk saying that anyone who is declared dead while they are still alive, will continue to live for many years. Fifteen years is not a great age, which is why we need to pay attention to the details of Visegrad cooperation, which is the basis of true cooperation. But that does not relieve us of the responsibility, after 15 years, to demonstrate daily that the V4 was not "created at the behest of the West" as some commentators wrote in 1991, but that it belongs among the common strategic interests of four modern European countries, who in this way declare their allegiance to a single region, their responsibility for its development, and their support for interpersonal ties on the level of modern European nations.

Magda Vášáryová
Diplomat, completed studies in philosophy, actress in the Slovak National Theatre (1970-1989). Czechoslovak Ambassador to Austria (1990-93) and Slovak Ambassador to Poland (2000-2005). Founder and director of the Slovak Foreign Policy Association (SFPA, 1993-2000). Since 2005 State Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

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