Central Europe: Fortunately, we still have strudel
4 April 2012
In the wake of the fall of communism, in 1991, Prague, Warsaw, Budapest and Bratislava formed the ' Visegrád' Group. Inspired by a 14th Century alliance of the same countries aimed at fostering trade with Western Europe, the modern Visegrád Group's objective is to foster integration into Western Europe and to give the group political heft. But some twenty years later, each country appears to be following a different piper.
Thinking about what might, today, unite the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary, only one idea came to mind: with only a few variations, a few layers of flavoured puff pastry dough wrapped around apples, cinnamon and raisins. That's the secret of grandmothers in Prague, Bratislava, Warsaw and Pest.
Only a few people are today capable of finding on the map the exact location [Visegrád, in Hungary] where, in 1335, the kings of Poland, Bohemia and Hungary met. Twenty-one years ago, the Visegrád Group [Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia] was inaugurated in great pomp. The member states shared a past, a pro-western European outlook and the aspiration to a sense of security guaranteed by joining NATO.
Czech children no longer understand Slovak
Although the four countries have, since then, joined the West's structures, it seems, over time, always more difficult to find their common denominator. Many supranational firms make no difference between the West and the East of Europe. It can happen that Prague will have to submit to London or that Istanbul takes control of Budapest. The banks have settled their regional headquarters in Vienna.
Poland claims, by right, to be equal to France in terms of size and importance. Back home [in the Czech Republic], we are looking to the other side of the English Channel. As for the [Slovak] dream of a new Switzerland, it is fading because, among other reasons, in the deep forests of the Alps you do not risk running into a Gorilla [a recent major Slovak political scandal].
The Hungarian economy's current difficulties do not favour optimism about the prospects for financial markets in the neighbouring countries. Central Europe's identity is becoming more and more diluted in the well-known melting pot of global culture. Those who are nostalgic for the days when German was the region's lingua franca are forced to note that today, in the ski resorts, Austrians, Hungarians and Slovakians order "two small beers" [in English in the original].
Today, Czech children no longer understand Slovak; the language is no longer being used in the Czech media. And you [Czech readers], when exactly was the last time you went to see the latest Polish or Hungarian film to come out?
One of the aims of the meeting of the three kings at Visegrád, in 1335, was to create an anti-Habsburg coalition. The actual Euro-American Visegrád Group has no common foe. If it came to discretely disappear, no one would notice. We can only hope that strudel, at least, will stand the test of time.