RV discussed in the first interview the situation around the Visegrad Group with experts from V4 countries and Lyubov Shishelina represented point of view from Russia. To have another opinion RV also asked Professor of History and International Relations at Boston University Igor Lukes to share with us his understanding of the uneasy situation inside the Visegrad Group countries.
The Visegrad Group (V4) now looks – due to different attitudes towards the Russian-Ukrainian military confrontation –as V3+1. Can it mean the end of the Visegrad co-operation or will Poland be able to regain its trust in its allies?
Russia’s Anschluß of Crimea and eastern Ukraine presents a challenge not only to the Visegrad Four but to the EU and the West as such. Putin, the financial crisis of 2008 and various lingering problems, such as, immigration, contributed to the fact that nearly 30 percent of European voters supported anti-EU candidates in the last elections. The West had slumbered for more than 20 years of the Ukrainian quest for its identity, and the result is here. Russian tanks and boots on the ground, and lots of active measures (aktivnye meropriatia) by Russia’s special services aimed at all policy-makers in Brussels and at the public opinion. The EU sprang into action only when violence broke out in Kiev. Its failure can be summed up in two words: Too late.
And the Visegrad countries? The picture is not pretty. In Hungary we have the ideological somersault of Viktor Orbán, who had abandoned his rebel image of the 1980s and has now become a de facto cheerleader for the Kremlin.
Only a psychiatrist could explain another volte-face regarding Ukraine, this one in Prague. In 2005 Vaclav Klaus famously declared himself to be an admirer of Ukraine, its thousand year-long history, and the Orange Revolution. He stated that the Czech Republic would support Ukraine’s desire to join the EU and NATO. Now he suddenly and without any explanation dismisses Ukraine as an artificial country that was bound to collapse. Could he have forgotten that it was Hitler, Goebbels, Stalin, and Molotov who had used this sort of language in reference to Czechoslovakia and Poland during the crisis in 1938-1939?
The Slovak political class has been more professional than Klaus when assessing the Russo-Ukrainian conflict, but it leaves no doubt that nothing will be allowed to interfere with Bratislava’s economic interests.
What will Poland do in this company?
In this company the Poles stand out tall among intellectual pigmies. Together with Estonia they understood the seriousness of the crisis sooner than others. Consequently they achieved a leadership position not within the V4 but within the European Union. It is unlikely that Warsaw would declare the Visegrad system dead. But why should it bother with Prague, Budapest, and Bratislava, where some politicians still apparently believe that the MH17 was shot down by the CIA and that Lavrov, Putin’s foreign minister, is a trustworthy man?
All the V4 countries have had a bitter experience with the U.S.S.R as well as Russia, although, three of them seem to have forgotten it. It is not too farsighted at a time when the world faces Putin´s aggressive politics.
You are right. Nevertheless the V4 countries seem to be doomed to repeat their history. It would take Russian armor gathering up behind the horizon for them to find a shared foreign policy interest. But we should not indulge in pessimism.
There are good signs as well. For instance, the recent massive demonstrations in Budapest—albeit provoked by an unrelated event—forced Orbán to retreat. In a similar vein, the Czech president Milos Zeman met with criticism for his decision to attend a conference sponsored by Vladimir Yakunin, an old KGB officer, a friend of Putin, and one of the Kremlin officials blacklisted by the West. His claim that Taiwan “belongs” to China and his rejection of the accent on human rights associated with Vaclav Havel seemed to have been also less than overwhelmingly popular.
Can the Visegrad Group overcome its current troubles?
The V4 will not be buried, yet. But Warsaw will be ever more determined to make itself heard in Brussels, and the less relevant playing field of Visegrad will be marginalized even further.
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