A new decade of the 21st century has begun. A decade marked by the uncertainty brought by the global pandemic and its consequences, but also a decade of hope. A decade of opportunities for civilization and for economic recovery, an opportunity to create a world that is better, fairer, greener, and one that respects the principles of sustainable development. As we look to the future, we look for the regions that will be the center of dynamic and positive change. I am certain that Central Europe will be one of those regions, both on a European and global scale.
Central Europe or Eastern Europe (both terms are used interchangeably) is a significant regional entity, a community of shared faith geographically, politically and economically, as well as in terms of ideas and culture. Regarding its location on the map, it is perceived as a region between the Baltic, Adriatic and Black Sea or (although it is a simplification) between Germany and Russia. But above all, we form a common memory circle. We have had our share of similar historical experiences, particularly during the dramatic 20th century. We suffered two totalitarianisms, the brown ones and the red ones, which suppressed and oppressed us. But we also have great, glorious experiences from centuries ago. The fifteenth to seventeenth centuries, the so-called era of “the Europe of the Jagiellonian dynasty”, which would later be called the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, saw a voluntary political union flourish in a substantial part of its territory, a forerunner of today’s European Union , which meant the friendly home for many cultures and religious beliefs, always respectful of the rule of law, parliamentarism and democracy. We carry forward the lessons of those experiences – the good and the bad – as a universal warning, as well as an inspiration to work for the common good, the prosperity of the region and for a fully integrated Europe.
The description of Central Europe in terms of values is equally important. As part of Western civilization for over a thousand years, we share its ideological foundations. Milan Kundera suggestively called Central Europe as “a kidnapped West”, being part of that of Western civilization, but finding itself, against its will, under Soviet imperial and authoritarian domination, unable to manage it rationally. We must emphasize, however, that our commitment to those values that forged European culture is not without reflection. We are aware, perhaps better than others, of the high price that one must pay to defend those values. We are aware that one must cultivate and reconcile freedom and responsibility, rights and duties, individualism and solidarity, the spirit of criticism, innovation and modernization, in communion with the heritage and traditions that define our identity.
On the brink of historic change in 1989, Timothy Garton Ash wrote that the concept of Central Europe awakened the West from thinking in terms of the Cold War, challenged common notions and priorities, but also made there something new to offer in return. . This opinion seems validated today, when the participation of Central European countries in the EU and NATO is a crucial and solidified part of the European and Atlantic order, and when our region, with its solid economic growth, has played a significant role in leap as a civilization. Also today, the concept of Central Europe has a dynamic and positive content. If I set out to accurately define the face of Central Europe, including Poland as the largest country in the region, I would say the following: it is, at the same time, the community of shared successes and aspirations.
Central Europe is the perfect example of the formidable creative power that freedom can comprise. Freedom and its brothers – economic freedom, entrepreneurship, self-government – opened the space for the realization of bold ambitions and aspirations. Development accompanies the progress of freedom. The three decades that have elapsed since the fall of communism, the advances initiated by the Polish “Solidarity” movement, make up the story of great economic success, of social advances of a civilization that have hardly occurred in world history, in a such a short period of time. Poland and all of Central Europe are a fascinating testimony to the opportunities that freedom brings.
Likewise, we can serve as an inspiring example of how cooperation, joint initiatives and ventures bring positive results. Thanks to them Central Europe ceased to be, as it was in adverse times, just a peripheral area between the West and the East, between imperial powers, to become a structure with multiple ties, one that is aware of its interests and that has influence. in the course of European affairs. The emancipation of Central and Eastern Europe was a success; we are a crucial part of the political and civilizing processes.
Let me draw your attention to three important cooperation plans for Central Europe, which are not only regionally relevant, but crucial for the EU, the Atlantic and even the global dimension. The first of these is the Visegrad Group, a long-standing entity that brings together Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. Launched in 1991 as a platform for dialogue and coordination of efforts aimed at obtaining NATO and EU memberships, the Visegrad Group has proven useful regardless of the strategic objectives it achieved. Today it stands as one of the most important agents to activate regional cooperation in Central Europe and seek understanding of European affairs.
The second of the plans is made up of The Bucharest Nine, a structure of countries on the eastern flank of NATO: Poland, Romania, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria. It was established in 2015 in Bucharest, where we signed a joint declaration stating that the Bucharest Nine countries joined forces to ensure, where necessary, a “robust, credible and sustainable allied military presence” in the region. On a large scale, the B9 is a response to the aggressive policies of Russia, to the border violations and of the territorial integrity of the Ukraine border, which constitutes a threat to the regional and Atlantic security; we will not be idle witnesses.
The third cooperation plan is The Three Seas Initiative, which was started in 2015 by the President of Croatia Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović and myself. The group includes countries located between the Baltic, Adriatic and Black Seas: Austria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Hungary. The objective is to make joint investments in infrastructure, transport, energy and new technologies, aimed at promoting the development of our countries and contributing to the cohesion of the European Union. When we look at a map of economic connections within the EU, we will see a significant advantage in horizontal flows through the West-East axis, over vertical flow through the North-South axis. This includes the flow of citizens, goods, services and capital, but also of infrastructure networks: highways, railways, stations, pipelines, power lines and communications. The Three Seas Initiative, a project that aims to drive the structural transformation of this part of Europe, is intended to fill in the missing elements of the “scaffold” that will help reinforce the integration of our region, as well as the entire EU. The fact that beyond capital within the EU, investors from the United States, China and other parts of the world have become involved with The Three Seas Initiative, ensures diversification of benefits and mutual interdependence.
This is the photograph of today and the vision for the future of Central Europe, as a community of shared activities, successes and ambitious aspirations. We have come a long and successful road – having been a region almost nonexistent in the minds of the major players on the world stage for a long time (“in Poland, that is to say nowhere”, as Alfred Jarry wrote in the 19th century ) – to become a region that stands out on the global spectrum as one of the most dynamic development zones and that aspires to become one of the centers of civilization. Central Europe – Doesn’t the name say it all? Feel invited to be part of this fascinating adventure.
The text is published simultaneously by the Polish monthly magazine Wszystko Co Najważniejsze in association with the Warsaw Stock Exchange.
Author: Andrzej Duda
Source: El Nacional February 1, 2021