The V4 countries, the Visegrad Group or Visegrad Four – these terms appear quite often when Central-European politics are discussed. But what is the story behind them?
The Visegrad Four, also known as the V4 group, consist of four Central European countries: Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia. The name "Visegrad" comes from the middle ages and constitutes a reference to a cooperation between the Bohemian King John of Luxembourg, Casimir III of Poland, and the Hungarian King Charles I of Anjou. In 1335 the three monarchs met for a two-month congress in order to address common threats and issues being faced by the region at that time. The summit took place in Visegrad, the royal seat of Charles I of Hungary, located on a top of a hill (hence the name Visegrad – Slavic for "high castle"). The Congress of Visegrad is considered to be the starting point for the political and economic cooperation between the countries in the region. Its outcome comprised of various financial and trade agreements, peace treaties, and even a marriage contract between Bohemian and Polish dynasties, Luxembourgs and Piasts. The collaboration in the middle ages determined relations between the states until the end of the 14th century.
The idea of common regional goals resulting from a similar regional history proved to be even more durable, however, as it resurfaced again at the end of the 20th century. As the communist regimes collapsed, it was obvious that a new political and economic order was underway. But what role would the Central and East European countries play in the new Europe? To some politicians, similar heritages of Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Poland predisposed them to partner up and to create a common, stronger standpoint from which the negotiations with other European countries could be carried out. As Vaclav Havel, the President of Czechoslovakia commented: "Can we agree that we do not wish to place obstacles in each other's way, or even envy each other, but on the contrary, that we want to assist each other?".
The official recommendation to renew the Visegrad cooperation was given by József Antall, the Hungarian Prime Minister, in Paris in 1990. The Visegrad Declaration was signed on 15 February 1991 by Vaclav Havel, József Antall, and Lech Wałęsa, the President of Poland. The agreement was built upon political guidelines such as: construction of democratic systems, elimination of totalitarian legal remnants, implementation of the rule of law, creation of liberal economies and fulfilling the requirements for joining the European Union.
After the initial emphasis on the political issues, the focus had then shifted more onto cultural and educational matters. The Bratislava-based International Visegrad Fund – so far the only institutionalized form of V4 cooperation – was created in 2000 for the purpose of supporting cultural, research and educational projects, as well as of intensifying contacts between Visegrad societies. The V4 countries organise as well several platforms where representatives of the member countries and also non-V4 participants can discuss issues ranging from history to information technologies or current political developments, such as Think Visegrad (V4 Think-Thank Platform), Think BDPST conference and numerous projects supported by IVF, including the 2017 editions of the In Between? project.
By Fruzsina Czeglédi