The Dzurinda government's chance to steer the country back into the central European integration mainstream arrived in Bratislava on May 14 with the first-ever summit of the 'Visegrad Four' - the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia.
"Visegrad is no longer just a symbol - it is a very serious challenge for Slovakia and its V4 neighbours," said Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan in April. "Meeting this challenge will confirm Slovakia's maturity as a nation."
Pavol Lukáč, an analyst with the Slovak Foreign Policy Association, said that the Bratislava summit should be seen as a rebirth of the Visegrad Alliance.
"Friday's summit should be seen as Visegrad's second birthday," he said. "There's no doubt that strong will exists in Warsaw, Prague, Budapest and Bratislava to push the V4 forward. But we shouldn't forget that this will has appeared only recently after the political elites were changed in all four countries. Opponents of V4 cooperation among nationalists and isolationists still exists. That's why it's necessary to start the Visegrad engine firmly enough that it cannot be stopped again."
The four-member Visegrad group was launched in 1992 in the Hungarian town of Visegrad, the fifteenth-century meeting place of Polish, Czech and Hungarian monarchs who sought closer regional cooperation.
Lukáč said that until this year, Visegrad had been little more than a talking shop, with the Czech Republic in particular choosing to pursure membership in western alliances over the regional club and Slovakia and Hungary mired in disputes. But now that Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic had been accepted as members of NATO and as firm candidates for early EU entry, Lukáč continued, the V4 assembly has assumed a new stature.
Given the V4's new stature, Slovakia's Kukan entertained some very concrete expectations for the Bratislava summit. "I believe the V4 could be an organisation seriously working on issues like a common front against organised crime, illegal migration, cultural cooperation, education and infrastructure projects," Kukan said before the summit after visiting Warsaw, Prague and Budapest.
Kukan said he hoped to arrange multilateral deals on concrete issues between the participants, and to enshrine these pacts in a Frame Intergovernmental Cooperation agreement.
Lukáč added the caveat that "Slovakia should also focus on the motivations of its V4 partners, and on what they expect from cooperation within the V4. Having Slovakia become a NATO country is the best way of achieving security and stabilisation in central Europe."
Polish Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek, Czech Premier Miloš Zeman, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Slovak Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda were scheduled to arrive in Bratislava on May 14 and spend the day in talks at the old Slovak parliament building in downtown Bratislava.
While Orban and Buzek were to leave Slovakia that night, Zeman planned to visit the High Tatras with Dzurinda on Saturday May 15 for further talks. The two men said they hoped to come to a final agreement on the split of joint property left over from the division of the Czechoslovak state in 1993.
17. May 1999 at 0:00 | Daniel Gurlowitz