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Opinion: Czecho-Slovak Liberal Axis Instead of V4

Dániel Deme 2023.02.08.

The last visit of the outgoing Czech head of state to Slovakia has confirmed that the Visegrad 4 (Slovakia, Czechia, Hungary, Poland) cooperation is not a constant, apolitical entity, instead its intensity is strongly determined by the ideological profile of serving governments. However, those in the current Czech and Slovak leadership, who wish to see it being transformed into a polite club of four countries that happen to be next to one another, while being fully committed to the currently dominant Euro-Atlantic mainstream, are embroiled in serious contradictions when trying to redefine its mission.

“I believe that the very good Czech-Slovak cooperation will continue with my successor,” outgoing Czech President Milos Zeman said during his farewell visit to Slovakia. He added that although he did not support Pavel in the election, he wished him to be successful in the interests of the Czech Republic. His Slovak counterpart, Zuzana Caputová said she perceived her closeness in values and with Pavel and expected good cooperation. “I look forward to the cooperation,

…we will be able to be a strong voice of reason, pro-Western orientation and respect for European values within the region.

Čaputová said.

The Czech and Slovak presidents also discussed regional cooperation. According to Čaputová, the Visegrad Four are not united on the question of rule of law or assistance to Ukraine, a statement which is clearly meant to be a not-so-veiled reprimand to Hungary.

This comes only days after the Czech president-elect Petr Pavel had made his sentiments clear toward the government of Viktor Orbán. Despite the fact that heads of state are expected to remain neutral in political issues, and especially avoid engaging in criticism of foreign governments, Pavel has felt obliged to send a message of loyalty primarily directed towards the EU by singling out Brussel’s number one ideological adversary, Viktor Orbán.

He claimed that although he has never held a negative attitude towards Hungary as a country, he feels that there is a problem with some of Viktor Orbán’s views and his approaches. In an interview with TASR, the Czech president-elect explained this to be in connection with Hungary’s stance concerning the conflict in Ukraine.

There is no doubt that Viktor Orbán has changed a lot, because at the time when he started in politics as a very progressive young liberal, certainly nobody would doubt for a moment that this is the right way. But the turn that Viktor Orbán has made since then is almost 180 degrees,

Pavel said, adding that nowadays, “quite objectively”, some of the views of the Hungarian leadership do not correspond with those of the other Visegrad Four (V4) countries. “We are talking here, first of all, about support for Ukraine and about the relationship with Russia, which are quite fundamental things,” he pointed out.
However, he would not want to break a stick over the V4 as an institution, because its origins, motivation and the foundations on which it stands are still relevant today, he said. However, he pointed out that if there are differences on fundamental issues such as the relationship with Russia or the promotion of democracy, cooperation will not be completely smooth. “We should work to bring those positions closer together again, if possible, because then we will not have much relevance as a grouping”, he added.

The fact that Pavel felt comfortable with venturing back into the 1980s in his assessment of Viktor Orbán’s alleged 180 degree turn will surprise many who have followed the recent Czech presidential contest. The former general was himself a subject of a character assassination attempt, being accused of not telling the truth about his career before 1989. A video in which attorney and former military prosecutor Miroslav Kříženecký has criticized then presidential candidate Petr Pavel is circulating on the internet.

During the 15-minute monologue, he mainly addresses Pavel’s communist past. Attorney Kříženecký, who was himself a member of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia and chief military prosecutor during the previous regime, spoke about Pavel’s communist past. It is a fact that Pavel had submitted his candidacy for the membership in the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia in 1983, and has been granted membership in 1985, after which he rose quickly through the ranks. In a later interview, General Pavel had confirmed these allegations and had explained his reasons for joining the Communist Party.

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Reportedly, the military archive in Olomouc contains a broader personal file on General Petr Pavel throughout his career in the army. The presidential candidate does not intend to make these available, among other reasons, because he believes they contain purely personal information.

In the video, Kříženecký also denounced Pavel, because as a general, criticized the current president, Milos Zeman – the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. “This is simply not done,” the lawyer pointed out.

Despite the fact that it is hard to overlook the irony of a former communist turned committed Europhile  and president of a democratic country criticizing the Hungarian Prime Minister for an alleged u-turn, deciphering what he meant by fundamental differences in the “promotion of democracy” is proving even harder. While alongside Poland and the United Kingdom, Czechia had turned out to be one of the more hawkish countries in terms of military support for Ukraine, and Hungary had clearly chosen a very different path, it is mystery as what legal or moral basis Pavel has for contrasting the Czech Republic’s democratic standards to those of Hungary.

This objection is even more acute with regards to the Slovakia’s President’s remarks in which she calls for a respect for European values in the region in clear allusion to Hungary. Given the fact that in 2018 a young investigative journalist has been murdered alongside with his girlfriend in the country, that in the same year as well as in 2019 two foreigners have been murdered in the capital Bratislava by racists thugs, that in 2022 two members of the gay community were shot dead in Slovakia, begs the question as why Zuzana Caputová feels entitled to call the Hungarian government to account for violations of European values and the rule of law. No such incidents have been recorded in Hungary in the recent years, not since the Orbán government has taken office in 2010.

Also given Slovakia’s record, where a former minister of interior has been arrested due to alleged ties to organized crime, the former central bank governor faces charges for corruption, where the head of the police has ended up in handcuffs for abuse of power, and even the special state prosecutor, who was supposed to investigate ties between criminal entities and politicians had himself ended up in the dock, Caputová’s sneering remarks on account of the Hungarian leadership seem fairly overbearing.

Anyone can make their own mind up about which of the Visegrad 4 countries have succeeded better in implementing democratic reforms since the Fall of the iron curtain, but it is undeniable that Hungarian conservative politicians have exercised more diplomatic discretion when confronted with rule of law issues in Visegrad 4 partner countries. They abstained from criticizing the Czech government for exporting arms to Russia even after the 2014 annexation of Crimea, nor did they complain when Orbán’s ally, Andrej Babis’ was unseated by a media campaign called Pandora’s Papers, launched only a week before the parliamentary elections by a US financed international media syndicate.

The Orbán government had shown restraint when attempts were made against ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia to confiscate their private property on the basis of the post WWII Benes decrees. Such restraint is no doubt a prerequisite for the future of the V4 alliances’ survival and success. The staggering amount of posturing that comes Hungary’s way makes regional co-operation near impossible, despite the noble declarations coming from the new Czecho-Slovak entente cordiale.

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Featured Image: Twitter Zuzana Caputová

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