▲ Warsaw downtown towers [Pixabay].
COMMENT / Anna K. Dulska
Often when we think of Central Europe the country that comes to mind is Germany. This association seems to be a very distant echo of the nineteenth-century term Mitteleuropa (literally " Middle Europe") that encompassed the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Second German Reich and was turned into an expansionist geopolitical conception by Germany during the First World War. However, the subsequent peace treaties reflected in the new political map a formal recognition of the great diversity that had existed in the region since ancient times. The subjection of newly created or recreated states such as Poland, Hungary or Czechoslovakia to Soviet domination under the Yalta and Potsdam agreements did not put an end to this diversity and since the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989 these countries have been searching for their place in today's world and Europe.
There is no clear definition of what Central Europe is today and to understand it in a simpler and more intuitive way, it could be said that for geopolitical, historical and cultural reasons it is neither strictly Western Europe nor Eastern Europe, but an intermediate area that for centuries has acted as a bridge between the two (one of those bridges that during the ups and downs of history sometimes get burned). Nor is there a consensus on the countries that make it up. According to the narrower definition, they are Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary, while according to the broader definition, in addition to these four, they are Austria, southeastern Germany, the Baltic countries (Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia), Slovenia, western Ukraine and northern Italy. Some also add Switzerland, Liechtenstein and the rest of Germany, but thus their delimitation seems to be too diluted and confused.
The current history of the region tips the balance in favor of the narrow view. The trajectories of Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary since 1945, on the one hand, and their transitions to democracy after 1989, on the other, mean that within the geographical region and despite some considerable differences between them, these four countries constitute a distinct political, socioeconomic and cultural bloc. In the early 1990s this sort of imagined community was transformed into an intergovernmental organization known as the Visegrad group (the name of a Hungarian castle where in the 14th century the kings of Poland, Hungary and Bohemia had met and where in 1991 the founding agreement was signed), sometimes abbreviated to V4. Among its objectives were close economic cooperation (agreement Central European Free Trade Agreement, CEFTA), integration with the European Union (completed in 2004, after which all four left CEFTA) and integration with NATO (formalized in 1999; in 2004 in the case of Slovakia). Once these goals were achieved, the initiative lost momentum and seemed to become obsolete.
However, over the past three years, a shift has been observed in this aspect due to the phenomena that are challenging the European Union from outside and from within: migration from the Middle East, growing international tensions and terrorism. It is undeniable that all three are to a greater or lesser extent interrelated and for Europeans, whether Western, Central or Eastern, have a common denominator: security. While the lack of a deliberate and consensual strategy at the level of the European institutions to deal with this issue was evident until very recently challenge, the Central European states, especially Poland and Hungary, want to or have been forced to take matters, at least those that directly affect them, into their own hands. During the course of recent history their neighbors and partners did not have many occasions to hear them speak with their own voice and now it seems to be causing them some consternation.
A good example of this is the concern raised in Brussels and Berlin by the policies carried out by the Polish Government, both in relation to the domestic and international status . Paradoxically, these policies seem to be proving beneficial both for the State and for its society (which, after the halfway point of the term of office, still mostly supports the Government). However, the measures being taken to curb Warsaw's "authoritarian drift", as some media are describing it, especially the interference of EU high officials in the country's internal legislation, over which they have no competence, hinder the dialogue between the Polish Government and the Union's institutions. The threat of activating article 7 of the Treaty on European Union on the suspension of voting rights in the case of non-compliance with the demands of Brussels makes it impossible to rule out that such tensions could provoke other (after Brexit) irreparable fractures within the EU.
In the current geopolitical status , the voices about the need for a profound discussion on the future of the European Union are getting louder and louder, and Central Europe may once again have to play the role of a bridge. For the time being, as far as migration policy is concerned, it seems that the EU has proved V4 right. With the river in turmoil, the question arises as to whether the EU can afford an unnecessary and damaging internal weakening at a time when it needs unity the most.