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Notes for Karpacz: Is Central Europe (or Perhaps Central-Europeism) a Meaningful Concept?

English Pages, 7. 9. 2022

Many thanks for organizing this special session and for giving me the floor. I feel obliged to say that even though I consider myself and my country to be part of Central Europe, I know that saying so is a rather problematic statement.

Let me start by quoting the words devoted to this session in the program of the Forum, which we received in advance: “it is our duty to build one´s own identity and defend one´s own interests”. This is an excellent starting point. Nevertheless, our main identity (at least for most of us) is associated with the nation and its state – not with collectivities of nations or with supranational entities, such as the European Union. As I see it, however, Central Europe is not seeking to become a supranational entity.

I would like to stress that I do stand for the concept of Central Europe. It represents a meaningful identity for me. I am a Prager, I am Czech and I am also Central European. These three identities are stronger for me than the fact that I feel – geographically and culturally, not geopolitically – also a European.

The organizers raised a fundamental question whether we, in Central Europe, are ready to “build our own future”. It needs to be clarified, first, what the pronoun “we” means. How to define Central Europe? Geographically? Culturally? Historically? Or is just a feeling sufficient? I am not sure.

I don’t deny the existence of a Central European identity. Poles, Slovaks, Hungarians, Austrians, even Germans are in many respects much closer to a Czech like me than e.g. Finns, Italians, Bulgarians or Spaniards. What does it mean, however, to be “closer”? Do we share more common characteristics? Probably yes. Is that sufficient for us to do something together? Especially “to build our own future”? Again, I am not sure.

I mentioned six nationalities and nations. They are not homogeneous in several respects.

There is still a dividing line between the former communist Central European countries and the countries which didn’t share the Communist experience. Because of this, they don’t fully understand us and, in addition, the West Europeans have a feeling of special superiority which is unacceptable to us. This still creates a deep trench between us and blocks any possibility for the emergence of any Central European entity.

We have to find an answer to the question whether Central Europe is a territory between Western and Eastern Europe or a territory between Germany and Russia? The real issue, therefore, is the position of Germany. As a side remark, is Germany strongly represented here, in Karpacz?

There is also a difference in geography. Poland is large, self-confident, has a coastline, and is closer to Russia. We are small, much more modest, without a sea, with undisputed, historically given boarders, and have never been neighbours with Russia. As a result, the interests of Czechs and Poles are not identical.

We should try to search for a strong connecting motive. Some events and developments unify us, others disunify us. Migration crisis in 2015 was a unifying element and motivated us to behave as a kind of implicit entity. The rest of the EU didn’t like that. The Ukrainian war, on the other hand, seems to be dividing us. Should we stop speculating and wait for “another event” instead?

We should, perhaps, pay attention to the difference between the two verbs I used: to connect and to unify. The first implies a weaker form of association, the latter a stronger one. We, definitely, don’t want to be unified, we don’t plan to build institutions, we don’t intend to hire a permanent staff for them or to choose an artificial capital (as we see in the problems of Canberra or Brasilia).

Therefore, I guess, our cooperation should remain on an ad hoc basis. It should be guided by our authentic interests.

Václav Klaus, Panel Discussion: Facing Geopolitics - Central Europe in Search or Its Future, XXXI Economic Forum Karpacz, Poland, September 7, 2022.


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