VISEGRAD: A more dangerous neighbourhood than thought

By bne IntelliNews May 21, 2014

Annabelle Chapman in Bratislava -


This year’s GLOBSEC security forum in Bratislava on May 14-16 took place under the shadow of the unrest in Ukraine – and its implications for the wider region. We live in a far more dangerous neighbourhood than we previously thought, said Slovak’s foreign minister, Miroslav Lajčák, opening the conference.

Despite the emphasis on European cooperation and unity in the face of the Ukrainian crisis, the rifts between different countries’ positions were easily discernable – even within the Visegrád Group (V4) of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia, which forms the centre of the event. Just before the event began, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban had called for autonomy for Ukraine’s Hungarian minority – a controversial remark which was broadly perceived as a stab in the back for the authorities in Kyiv at a difficult time.

Orbán’s position is not new, said Natalia Galibarenko, Ukraine’s first deputy minister of foreign affairs, who was the Ukrainian dignitary present at the forum (Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk was unable to make it in the end – for understandable reasons). But it is especially striking in this situation, when Ukraine is counting on more constructive support from EU countries, she added coolly, speaking to an audience of European journalists including bne’s correspondent.

The Hungarian prime minister’s position seemed particularly strange when sharing a platform with Donald Tusk, his Polish counterpart, perhaps the European leader who has been most engaged in the Ukrainian crisis. Speaking to the press, Tusk acknowledged this rift, saying differences are normal but that the important thing is to build a common position.

Ukraine kept coming up at the panels over the three-day forum. In one memorable moment, Ian Brzezinski rejected his father Zbigniew Brzezinski’s controversial idea of the “Finlandization” of Ukraine, saying that would reward Russia for its aggression and betray the spirit of the Euromaidan protests that toppled the notoriously corrupt president Viktor Yanukovych in February.

Possibly one of the most interesting discussions took place at a late-night session on Russia, where one of the speakers suggested that the West had stayed with “The End of History”, whereas for Russia the world is now about “The Clash of Civilisations” - both references to two influential works of political science from the early 1990s. There was something of a consensus that “puny guy” Putin was coming out the winner, having gained the respect of some important leaders around the world.

A parallel session on Afghanistan also received praise. When discussing Nato in the context of Ukraine, it’s important to look at its not-too-distant history – namely Afghanistan, Farkhunda Zahra Naderi, a member of the Afghan Parliament who was among the speakers, told bne afterwards.

Among the “City Talks” hosted in the impressive Old Market building in Bratislava's old town, one on the changing face of investigative journalism, featuring the Guardian’s diplomatic editor Julian Borger and Edward Lucas of The Economist, provided an interesting interlude, though it remained rather focused on the Snowden affair.

While Orban’s unpopular stance caused a stir at the conference, the lasting sense that emerged from the conference, which kept coming up indirectly, was the question of how Germany’s – and in particular Angela Merkel’s – position on Ukraine would develop.


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