Troubled anniversary

Slovakia should argue for a looser cooperation at the European level so long as its strategic priorities differ from those of Poland or Hungary. Hungary has also flirted with alternatives to Western alliances – developing relations with Russia and China, from vaccines to nuclear power plants.  
For Slovakia to be perceived through the lenses of the Visegrad 4 is both injustice and a burden. It has had ups and downs in the past before. In her first act after being elected president, Caputova lit a candle at an unofficial memorial for Kuciak and Kusnirova. Its natural instinct is to go for a Scandinavian type of consensual politics. It makes sense for Slovakia to draw a line and distinguish what kind of Visegrad 4 it is ready to accept: initiatives that bring societies together – yes; politically divisive tirades and Eurosceptic offensives – no.   
The Visegrad 4 today is a shadow of its former self. Together we joined the EU and NATO bringing Central Europe back into relevance. Objectively speaking, these countries are linked together: they are a special partner of Germany, they are exposed to the revisionist politics of Russia and China, steadfast allies of the US. In October 2020, the Hungarian Minister of Justice, Judith Varga, announced that a Christian-Democratic institute will be established under the auspices of the Visegrad 4. Today, however, Central Europe is divided and the Visegrad 4 is less of an obvious choice. It used to steer or co-shape some initiatives such as the Eastern Partnership and the enlargement agenda for the Balkans. It used to be a symbol of successful EU and NATO enlargement, as well as a systemic transition.  
The celebrations this week are muted and subdued, partly due to the ongoing pandemic. 30 years ago, in February of 1991 and on the banks of Danube, the leaders of four countries in Central Europe (echoing another meeting of kings from the 14th century) joined forces to better integrate with the West. John Paul II, during a Visegrad Group Foreign Ministers meeting in Wadowice, Poland on July, 7 2020. The Visegrad 4 is far from doomed. This is a true value of the Visegrad 4 today – church choirs, basketball teams, local theatres acquiring little funds from the International Visegrad Fund for common projects. epa08532153 Slovak Foreign Minister Ivan Korcok (4-L), Polish FM Jacek Czaputowicz (3-L), Hungarian FM Peter Szijjarto (2-L) and Czech FM Tomas Petricek (L) lay flowers at the Monument of the St.  
The current government understands it well. To be the smallest member does not mean to have less rights. Prague and Bratislava have noticed that the Visegrad 4 is considered in Poland and Hungary as a tool to further the influence of nationalistic, ultra-conservative, Eurosceptic of Budapest and Warsaw. Without ditching the Visegrad 4, Slovakia needs to begin playing on more instruments such as the Slavkov, or Austerlitz, format of a loose cooperation agreement with Austria and the Czech Republic.   The Slovaks were livid at this usurpation of the Visegrad 4 brand to what was rightly considered in Bratislava as a propaganda tool against Brussels. In the 1990s, the Visegrad 4 developed extremely useful platforms and channels of communication and cooperation among public administration, local government officials, transborder communities and other civil society representatives, academia, arts and more – this is a lasting effect to this day, which is not connected to (the sometimes toxic) politics and politicians themselves.  
The patience is wearing thin in some parts of the quartet. Societies and political establishments can turn back, sometimes unexpectedly, from divisive confrontational politics. Think of the Vladimír Meciar-era in Slovakia’s politics, which used to affect the dynamics within the Visegrad 4. In her acceptance speech, Caputova said, “I am happy not just for the result, but mainly that it is possible not to succumb to populism, to tell the truth, to raise interest without aggressive vocabulary.” There could hardly be a starker contrast with statements of Viktor Orban and Jaroslaw Kaczynski. This is the first meeting at this level under Poland’s annual presidency of the regional lobby, which was inaugurated on 01 July 2020. It’s Budapest and Warsaw who have the rule of law problems; not us, both Slovaks and Czechs rightfully assume. The Visegrad 4 is now known for its “niet” (no) policies to several important EU initiatives, such as the immigration package of 2016. It has a terrible image of troublemakers who love to throw spanners in the work of the European Council. The societies share a common mindset different from say, Austria to the west and Ukraine to the east. Other grouping formations take the lead on various issues such as the Baltics and relations with Belarus and Russia.  
These days, at the European level, the Visegrad 4 is heard of mostly though rhetoric – Hungary and Poland benefit the most by claiming – less and less successfully – that their “cultural counterrevolution” in Europe is on behalf of the whole of Central Europe. style=”font-size:40px; line-height: 1.3em; font-weight: 800; padding:7px;”>Troubled anniversary

By Jakub Wisniewski
Vice President of GLOBSEC and the former Polish Ambassador to the OECD. The murders of Jan Kuciak, a 27-year-old investigative journalist, and his fiancee, Martina Kusnirova, in February 2018 and the subsequent mass protests began the rejuvenation of the country. Do not put off the Visegrad 4 just yet, although be prepared for some “strategic pause” in regards to activist Visegrad 4 policies at the European level. The face of this process was Zuzana Caputova. Not anymore. EPA-EFE/LUKASZ GAGULSKI POLAND OUT

Slovak Foreign Minister Ivan Korcok (4-L), former Polish FM Jacek Czaputowicz (3-L), Hungarian FM Peter Szijjarto (2-L) and Czech FM Tomas Petricek (L) lay flowers at a Monument to former pope, St. EPA-EFE//LUKASZ GAGULSKI

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The Visegrad 4 of Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland has been a tremendous success. John Paul II, during the Visegrad Group Foreign Ministers meeting in Wadowice, southern Poland 07 July 2020.