What awaits the Visegrád Four?

A couple of weeks ago an excellent article appeared in Atlatszo.hu with the striking title “Visegrád is dead—An anti-Orbán alliance is in the making in Central Europe.” The alliance the author, Botond Bőtös, is referring to is the so-called Slavkov Triangle, comprising Austria, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia. Slavkov is better known to most of us as Austerlitz, where the Battle of the Three Emperors (Napoleon, Tsar Alexander I, and Emperor Francis II) was fought in 1805.

Actually, the Slavkov Triangle is not new. It was in January 2015, in the middle of the Ukrainian crisis, that on the initiative of the Czech Republic the three prime ministers–Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann, and Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico–signed a declaration that envisaged close cooperation in areas of infrastructure development, traffic, energy safety, and, most important, joint consultations prior to European Union summits. At the time quite a few Polish and Czech analyses appeared, but in Hungarian I found only one, in HVG, by Csaba Tóth of the Republikon Institute, which was subsequently translated into English and published by the Budapest Sentinel under the title “Slavkov Triangle threatens to isolate Hungary from its European allies.” The Slavkov Declaration, as Tóth noted,“betrays such a level of cooperation … as to suggest that if this plan is executed, the Visegrád Cooperation will become an empty structure.”

Not much happened in the intervening months. But at the end of June Bohuslav Sobotka, Robert Fico, and the new Austrian chancellor Christian Kern sat down again to continue their project and talk about the “convergence of old and new Europe.” According to Botond Bőtös, in the last couple of years the Czech Republic in particular has become concerned that the Visegrád 4 countries are being labelled intransigent opponents of everything the European Union stands for. Czech politicians began asking whether it was in the best interests of the Czech Republic to be identified with the Polish-Hungarian dominated group.

Bőtös is convinced that Orbán was always something of an irritant to the others, but after the 2015 Polish election that brought the right-wing Law and Justice Party (PiS) to power, “the foreign policy of Orbán became the official strategy of the Visegrád Group.” That was too much for the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Especially after the September 2016 V4-meeting in Bratislava, it became increasingly apparent that the Czechs and Slovaks held different views from their Polish and Hungarian colleagues. They differ on European integration, and they are not happy with the authoritarian turn of events in Poland and Hungary. They came to the conclusion that the V4 has no common, positive message for the rest of Europe. And the outside political world has a very negative opinion of the V4 countries. These are the considerations underpinning the revival of the Slavkov Triangle.

Christian Kern, Bohuslav Sobotka, and Robert Fico in front of the Austerlitz Palace

A couple of days ago Austrian chancellor Christian Kern gave an interview to the German paper Handelsblatt in which he talked at some length about the Visegrád 4 Group. He began by saying that there is a visible split in the group between Poland and Hungary on one side and the Czech Republic and Slovakia on the other. Kern pointed out that the EU often reproached the Polish and Hungarian governments, to no avail, but “now this conflict must have a resolution.” If necessary, through financial retribution.

Péter Szijjártó, the Hungarian foreign minister, reacted by saying that the Hungarian government has been aware for some time that certain Western European politicians are attempting to divide the Visegrád Group. “But we have bad news for them. It will not work. The Visegrád Group is the closest and most effective alliance within the European Union.”

Yesterday Viktor Orbán himself spoke about the Austrian chancellor’s reference to Hungary and the fractured Visegrád 4 in his Kossuth Rádió interview. Let me translate the passage verbatim because it says a lot about him and his interaction with the rest of the world.

It is never fortunate in politics when someone confuses his desires with reality. I understand that the Austrians are hurt because they are not part of the Visegrád Group. Austria is a lonely country anyway, and thus we don’t even know exactly where it is trying to find its strategic interests. Since the collapse of the monarchy it has been the historical question of Central Europe where Austria belongs. Until now Austria has been a very successful country. Therefore we can tip our hats because between the end of World War II and now it has achieved the highest standard of living and the greatest economic development. So, it is a talented country, but in a foreign policy sense it is at a loss because it is not a member of NATO yet a member of the European Union, not a member of V4 although it belongs to Central Europe. So there are many uncertainties here. It is not worthwhile for our friends to hope that they can break the unity of the Visegrád 4. The basic principle of V4 is simple: one for all and all for one.

Orbán at his best. Condescending, contemptuous, and arrogant when, by the look of it, it is he and his country who seem to be in some trouble on the international stage.

July 8, 2017
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Guest

At last, other members of the EU, who are also our close neighbours geographically, are making it clear that the antics of the V4, orchestrated mostly by Orbán, I suspect, is not to be tolerated. But when will the finacial sanctions be implemented?

Member
time4change: But when will the financial sanctions be implemented?” Not before the next money giving cycle, that starts 2020. The negotiations about the money will start before. These won’t be actual sanctions. Hungary and Poöand will just get less money. These are the actions EU countries are considering (to my knowledge): – due to Brexit the then missing money of GB, which was a big netto payer, just won’t be replaced by other countries, especially to pay countries, that does not respect rule of law. – Germany already has a concept to connect the paying of EU money to the rule of law. France supports this measure. Juncker didn’t agree in first response. – the European commission must be just very strict with infringement procedures and stolen EU money by the corrupt Orban government and fine them or take the stolen money back (I have the impression they already started, they only can’t say it loud). – the EU is establishing a prosecutor, who will have the power to charge EU countries for money abuse. If Hungary doesn’t take part, the paying countries won’t be willing to give monies. Yes, the EU is slow. Understandably one gets umpatiant and asks:… Read more »
Guest

Austrians will have a hearty laugh reading these comments by the big O !
Just a reminder:
After WW1 they were so angry with their Emperor and his aristocracy that they scrapped all those nice titles like “von”, Baron, Prince, Graf etc and forbade their use.
Afaik the government also took most/all of their ill gained posessions.

PS:
And once again – Austrians (at least all those I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know) consider Hungary and the other Visegrad countries as part of “The Balkan” i e the center of East European Corruption, not Central Europe …

And from personal experience:
I’ve driven through Austria to Hungary/Slovenia/Croatia more than a hundred times and every time the difference is obvious – the state of the houses, the roads etc, the way people move, the stores …
There’s no mistaking the borderline …

Istvan
Guest
The idea that Austrians are a lonely people because of their separation from NATO and the EU expressed by Orban was bizarre. The Nordic nations are not seen as lonely or at a loss for identity because of their less formal loser relations with the EU and NATO. Because Hungarian foreign policy has been dominated by maneuvering between blocks for so long possibly PM Orban simply can’t see the world in any other manner. There is also some psychological drama going on here relating to kisebbrendűségi komplexus, which simply beyond my full cultural comprehension as a Hungarian American. We Americans are notoriously arrogant to a fault, probably not to the extent of Trump for most, but it is our own problem. It gets us into deep trouble on a world scale, as does the lingering Hungarian inferiority complex get Hungary into trouble. The idea of isolationism has had a deep historical appeal here in the USA and Trump is a reincarnation of it yet again. It has to do with the vastness of the USA and the extent of our own internal resources which reinforce this isolationist America first nonesense while at the same time being a promoter of US… Read more »
exTor
Guest

comment image

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Ugly_American

Good piece, Istvan. You might consider reading [up on] The Ugly American, written [1958] not long after you were born. There’s a connection to the Vietnam War, an added inducement.

American Exceptionalism is part of the reason for the US involvement in Southeast Asia. It can be argued that 9/11 occurred because of AE. Of course, the US response to 9/11 led to the illegal Iraq War [2003], a flimsy pretext providing its moral undergirding. Very few would deny the connection between the US destruction of a region of the Middle East and the subsequent worldwide militant-Islamic insurgency and offshoot terrorism.

Donald Trump occupies the present of the AE continuum.

MAGYARKOZÓ

Istvan
Guest

As a veteran of the last days of combat by US forces in Vietnam in 1972, I would say there is truth in the idea that arrogance got my country so deep into Vietnam. One of the interesting reflections on that US fault was by South Vietnamese General Lam Quang Thi who wrote a very detailed book about the battle of An Loc which I was involved in as my first and most unnerving combat experience almost right out of college. Thi was a fierce anti-communist and Vietnamese nationalist. He at one point reflected on US officers with far less or no combat experience, and officers from a military with vast resources, offering advice to experienced South Vietnamese officers who had even fought with the French that were sometimes actually orders. Was he writing about me, I wondered and still do? I asked him having met him if he recalled me in the middle of that chaos of the battle at An Loc he said I was too low ranking for him to recall me, but the US attitude was pretty generalized from his perspective. Interestingly I never saw it that way until I read his book.

petofi
Guest

No, Istvan.

What got the US further into Vietnam was,
a) the needs of the military-industrial complex;

b) the need to use dead soldiers’ bodies to transport heroin into the US.

Member

After the Macron saying, that the EU is not a supermaket with regard to Poland and Hungary, which take anything they need from the EU while not showing any solidarity with other EU countries, Chancellor Kern said, that the same countries think of the EU just as a cahpoint.

I only hope, that in Austria Sebastian Kurz won’t become next chancellor. This one is highly suspicous to me. He is currently foreign minister and became chief of ÖVP and therefore chancellor candidate. He redesigned ÖVP to a Fidesz like undemocratic party, where only he he leader has the say.

bimbi
Guest

The Orbán government in Hungary = The boil on the backside of the European Union.

Good to see that the Czechs and Slovaks have woken up to the reality that they have been seduced into supporting Orbán’s tawdry plans for an Eastern European Gang of Four.

As to his so-called “Visegrad Four” this was nothing more than an attempt to highjack a name that still has dignity for the base purpose of dissent and “me-too-ism” within the EU. Pathetic and disgraceful (include five-a-side Szijjarto in this also).

It has yet to take form but one can only wish that the EU is in the process of re-examining itself with a view to giving itself some teeth and driving towards a more constructive and prosperous future (but without Little Viktor, the thief of Hungary).

wrfree
Guest

Re: ‘boil on the backside’

What a ‘pita’, eh?

In looking particularly at the Czechs it just may be the they’re feeling the ghost of Havel.

Perhaps they have come to the realization that sailing on with Orban will result in a cruise to the doldrums where ‘water water is everywhere and not a drop to drink’. They may not want to have that albatross of Adm Orban and his complement hanging around their necks and perhaps having to ‘sleep with the fishes’.

aida
Guest
OT. I have been thinking today about Brexit. Hard, soft or pussycat. There is a total failure to understand any of it. Let me explain why I think that the whole movement is a corrupt takeover based on the most primitive lies. Take the Brexit deal which predicates smooth export import outside the single market etc but with May’s dishonest dream of access to it. I have chosen one produce CHEESE. Tariffs free exchange of almost inedible Cheddar against, say Camembert. This is the same for anything else. Lamb, beef, fruit, aircraft or motor car bits. As long as the farm subsidy regime is agreed at the outset in Europe and in the UK it is fine. Assume the worthhles English decide to change the rules. Vide DUP deal to keep the Tory criminals in power. I have seen many such in my time. They tried to keep car making a priority which swallowed billions of taxpayers money to make cars they could not sell except to the Third World under the guise of Imperial preferences in return for inedible and unmarketable crappy fruit and veg. I remember it well. If any issue occurs as to compliance with the anti… Read more »
Member

US Secretary of State Tillerson praises the Turkish government.

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-turkey-idUSKBN19U0WE

petofi
Guest

Re: Tillerson

Revealing.
Of course, both Trump & Tillerson are Russian assets by now.
Tillerson, in for a life-time deal on that oil exploration worth 500 billion with the Russkies.
Trump, who won’t release his taxes for the simple reason that his income for the last 15 or so years relied on Russian connections.

While the above is hateful, I reserve my greatest antipathy for the Republican power structure that will stomach anything to stay in power…

petofi
Guest

re: praising Erdogan

The US as Russia’s flunky.
This sounds quite similar to what Orban does for the Russkies, too.

Silly
Guest

Problem 1: Czechia could elect Andrej Babis who is an ally of Zemen. So the Czech Republic is actually on the verge of consolidating it’s government similar to Poland and Hungary.

Problem 2: As long as PiS is in power in Poland (possibly Civic Platform as well) than Hungary will always be supported by Poland.

The V4 government’s are already suspicious of Austria’s attempt to get cozy with the group and try and break the ties of the 4 countries, which is why they don’t plan on expanding the V4 anytime soon.

Problem 3: Slovakia is in the same exact boat as Hungary is and won’t be supportive of sanctions and is a big supporter of the V4, because it’s one of the few platforms the country has on the international stage.

I predict that things will continue as they are and that the Czech Republic will also consolidate it’s government in the next 2-yrs.

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