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The Visegrad Group: Rebels in the EU bloc

Updated: Mar 4

On the 15th of February 1991, the Visegrad Group was born at a meeting between the President of Poland, Lech Walesa, the President of Czechoslovakia, Vaclav Havel and the Prime Minister of Hungary, Jozsef Antall. 


Named after the small Hungarian town where the meeting took place, it proved a crucial intensification of relations and friendship prior to the collapse of the USSR. 


The meeting was a nod to the historic 1335 Visegrad congress. Back then, the King of Poland, Kazimierz III, the King of Hungary, Charles I of Anjou and the King of Bohemia, John of Luxembourg, met to agree an alliance against the Habsburg monarchy. 


Over 600 years later, the Visegrad group was a clear statement against the collapsing griphold of the Soviet Union over Eastern and Central Europe. 


Following the Soviet collapse in December of 1991, the Visegrad group countries embarked on joint policy ventures to begin the processes for accession to NATO and the European Union. In March 1999, Poland, Hungary and Czechia became the first former Warsaw Pact countries to join NATO. Five years later, all 4 of the Visegrad countries (the separation of Czechoslovakia in 1993 led to Slovakia becoming a new member) became EU member states.


It is evident that the V4 share the same goals: to develop stronger economies and bolster their countries' security. 


However, as of 2022, the Visegrad Group is in a standoff with the European Union after its response to the war in Ukraine. 


In regards to the European Union, Poland and Hungary have been the rebellious twins of the V4 group, whilst the Czechs have been the moderates. Both countries have been accused of undermining the rule of law in their countries and have thus had heavy sanctions imposed on them by the EU.


Poland, in particular, has sharply criticised Germany and France, the two countries who rule the EU, yet fight amongst each other about whose policy approach and initiatives should be adopted by the Union. 


In March of 2022, the leaders of two V4 countries, Prime Minister of Poland, Mateusz Morawiecki and the Czech Prime Minister, Petr Fiala, travelled to Kyiv, alongside the Slovenian PM, Janez Jansa, in a landmark show of solidarity with the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy.


Nonetheless, in response to the festering grain crisis, all V4 countries have banned the sale of cheap Ukrainian grain in their countries. An influx would knock out their native grain markets while permitting the passage of goods through their territories to Mediterranean ports. This would reinstate the former trading relationships with countries in Africa and the Middle East, prevented by the Russian control over Ukrainian ports and Russia's recent violations of the crucial grain deal, arresting trade through the black sea. The UN reports its success has led to a 20% decline in food prices. 


Thus, the Russian-caused grain crisis is of enormous significance, and the European Union's failure to find a suitable solution when recreating pre-war trading relationships on behalf of Ukraine is catastrophic. All the while, Vladimir Putin seeks to place a chokehold on global food prices, just like he did with European energy resources. 


Nevertheless, in Ukraine's statement against the countries of the V4 group at the UN, Zelensky suggested that they were making a "political thriller". However, all acted swiftly in Ukraine's support, sending tanks, munitions, resources and capital to Ukraine as soon as the invasion began. Zelenksy's claim has sent the wrong message. 


On the 21st of September, 2023, Morawiecki announced that Poland would no longer send new weapons to Ukraine. Instead, it will focus on continuing its military investment, purchasing 96 state-of-the-art Apache helicopters worth 12 billion USD. Since the beginning of the war, the country has sent 320 Soviet-era tanks and 14 MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine. Apart from facilitating NATO and US contributions and providing logistical support, it can offer little more. 


Given that most Visegrad Group countries, excluding Czechia, have also been concerned about the grain crisis, it is probable that Hungary and Slovakia will follow suit.


At the height of this diplomatic standoff, the Visegrad Group is likely to convene again. There is no doubt that there are now disagreements within the Group. The Czechs represent EU proposals and will seek to cool down the situation. The Hungarians are the only V4 country not to break ties with Russia or commit support to Ukraine. All sides have a seat at that historic table.


A lot rests on the future discussions held in the small Hungarian town of Visegrad. 

Image: Getty Images

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