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International Visegrad Fund

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Wałęsa, Lech: From Solidarność (Solidarity) to Cooperation and Integration

Anniversaries are times of reflection, such as the one we are embarking on now, 15 years after the establishment of the Visegrad Group. I believe that this initiative - the manifestation of the good will of free states - is the fruit of the idea of Solidarity, launched 10 years before the start of Visegrad. In 2005 we celebrated the anniversaries of both movements.

Looking back over the last 15 years, we can confirm that the Visegrad Group was founded on mutual foreign policy goals, similar historical experiences, and geographical proximity. These common grounds still provide a substantial reference point in our mutual relationships.

The tangible fruits of this cooperation can be seen nowadays in the integration of our countries with European and Atlantic structures. Today we can see that the Visegrad Group was an important platform for cooperation in achieving the integration aspirations of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia. Our membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was a joint success for candidate and Alliance countries. The Visegrad Four managed to speak with one voice on the most important matters, frequently putting common aims above the interests and rivalries of individual countries. The experiences gained from pre-accession cooperation could be a valuable contribution to further collaboration within the wider family of European countries.

Solidarity in international relation should be envisaged in this way. We need each other, both as separate states, as organizations on the European continent, and as unifying Europe in a globalizing world. These goals should be constantly pursued with appropriate instruments consideration. Such integration, such cooperation is becoming an integral part of wider integration processes. The International Visegrad Fund also plays a significant role during common actions by supporting states as well as governmental and social institutions. Culture and education are, after all, crucial meeting points for various circles, cultures and mentalities, and help build mutual understanding and collaboration. Support for youth is especially valuable. Such actions bring people closer together.

The Visegrad initiative has also experienced its moments of weakness, even moments of breakdown. We were not able to bring the message of true integration to our societies, as our ideas frequently did not go beyond political salons. There were fears that if we concentrated too much on cooperation with each other, our accession to the European Union could be delayed. Sometimes, competition and rivalry also got in the way.

But now all this is behind us. We are now witnesses to an entirely new impulse in the actions of the Group. We are capitalizing on our geographical proximity, our cultural, mental, social, and economic similarities, as well as on the interests and businesses we share. We have an increasingly better understanding of the tasks we have to fulfill, not only for ourselves but also for the whole region. Cooperation between the Visegrad Group and other countries, especially those of Eastern Europe, has become an important assignment, especially given the fact that borders are losing their importance in the globalizing world. This process has been visible in such areas as ecology, infrastructure, transport, energy, tourism, and media. We must invite cooperation from the other countries we share borders with, such as Ukraine, Slovenia, Croatia, Lithuania, Russia, Moldova, and hopefully Belarus, which we are watching with special care. We can play an essential role as a bridge in relation between these states and the whole of Europe and its institutions.

With such actions, we would like to send a message that is close to all our hearts, from the Polish Solidarity (Solidarność) movement. Twenty-five years ago it did not seem possible that we could learn to cooperate so quickly - and as free countries - without compulsion, on our own free will. International solidarity brought us freedom, and today we in Europe and in the world stand in particular need of such solidarity. We have to remember again how much can be achieved through cooperation. The countries of the Visegrad Group have the genuine ability, potential and, I trust, the determination to pass on this message and surmount mutual challenges.

Lech Wałęsa
Founder and the first leader of the Solidarity trade union. Laureate of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983. President of the Republic of Poland (1990-1995).

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