Dimitrij RUPEL:

Ladies, gentlemen, Excellencies, friends.
I have divided my contribution into four points.

I. Between Prussians and Russians

In December 1869, Fran Levec, an influential Slovenian literary historian and publisher, in a letter to novelist Janko Kersnik presented a dilemma that today seems absurd and obsolete. He wrote: "We, Slovenians have no future! We shall be either Prussians or Russians!" In 2018, I used this message as a title to one of my books. [1] In the past, some Central European nations were indeed - and not only once - challenged to divide their sympathies, or directly choose between these two European super-powers.

In 1941, Slovenia disappeared from the European map. A large portion of its territory became part of the Third Reich. After the war, the dilemma was resolved by the Communist Yugoslavia and indirectly by Soviet Union. In 1991, Slovenia - supported by Germany and by the European Community - became independent, sharing its destiny with other Central European countries. In 2004, it joined the EU and NATO, clearly distancing itself from Russia. The problem was that Russia which in 1991 had divorced itself from Soviet Union, later contemplated its recovery.

II. Empty space of power

For Slovenia, the problem was that at one point, it became impregnated with the idea of a kind of hybrid Socialist-Capitalist system. After 2008, a growing number of signs indicated a recovery of the old regime. In the January/February 1995 issue of Foreign relations, Zbigniew Brzezinski published the article "A Plan for Europe". Among other topics, he discussed enlargement of NATO with four Višegrad countries, Ukraine and the Baltic countries. He expected objections from Russia, and praised the Russian foreign minister Kozyrev who seemed to support even convergence between Russia and the EC. (In 1992, Kozyrev held two opposite speeches: first, on Russia withdrawing from cooperation with Europe, and second, on the danger of this narrative to become true, if Yeltsin left his post. In this context, Brzezinski warns:

The void left by communist ideology has not yet been filled. [2]

It seems that the void has not been adequately filled even today. In connection with this, I should mention the trotskyist author Claude Lefort who argued that democracy was a "form of society" in which the "place of power" was an "empty space." In Slovenia - in 1990 - this "empty space" was initially, partially and provisorily filled with new Conservative and Liberal parties, but after a couple of years, Communists recovered and started penetrating democratic institutions without really embracing democracy. One "innovative" aspect of this recovery was the concept of putting in charge of high offices "new faces", meaning ever new individuals, mostly unknown "talents". The generation that led the independence movement have retired, some have even died. At this point, the "deep state" consisting of surviving Communist apparatchiks and members of their families started systematically to fill high government posts and state-owned industries' boards with loyal new faces whose political and professional biographies were generally empty. The duration of these substitute leaders was generally quite short (around two years each) and contributed to instability The characteristic method of accession to power was a sweeping use of the media, predominantly owned by the deep state tycoons. If by chance non-communists (heirs to the 1990 change) won elections, they were smeared by the opposition according to the Latin saying "calumniare audacter, aliquid semper haeret". The electoral campaign slogans did not offer concepts, only the demand to "vacate" the Government positions, previously and temporarily (20% of the time after 1990) filled with Liberals or Conservatives.

The Leftist leaders and media were joined by the NGO's that without cessation, day by day, month by month, produced and published statements about pressures against freedom of the media, freedom of expression, repression of human rights... Frequently, the democratically elected officials were labelled dictators and even fascists, while their Government would be labelled as totalitarian, meaning that it had to be emptied.

III. The universal game of (in)dependence

On top of the difficulties of transition to full-fledged sovereignty and economic recovery, some further European and international complications are affecting the Central European countries - like Slovenia. Recent developments in the EU and in NATO - associated with the war in Ukraine and with sanctions against Russia - could be defined as a fight for, or at least, a far reaching game of (in)dependence. The processes of globalisation have been accompanied - as Petr Drulak has put it - by a rejection of geopolitical engagement and by economical grabbing "what they can from each side, the USA, China and Russia".[3] So, at present, European and American exports of weapons to Ukraine, defence measures and economic sanctions are conditioned by the dependence on oil and gas imports from Russia. In the case of interrupted deliveries, Germany and its Central European partners would find themselves in difficulties that the Hungarian Prime minister has compared with atom bomb. Russia, on the other hand, depending on Western payments for its exports, probably has not given up the idea of revival of the Nord Stream II.

The good reputation and organisation of the European union have undergone severe damage after brexit and the subsequent improvisations by the French-German monopolistic behaviour. As far as the European foreign policy and diplomacy are concerned, the formats of external action have become quite exclusive [4], not to mention the recent proposals to simplify the decision making procedures with abolition of the unanimity vote. The proposals have been accompanied by unusually harsh rhetoric accusing Central European countries of neglecting or even simply rejecting European legal and democratic standards, not to speak about alleged succumbing to nationalism.

IV. The future Central Europe

I would advocate and I can imagine the future of Central Europe as an alliance - or rather close cooperation - of countries like the Višegrad Four, Slovenia, Croatia, the Baltic group, maybe Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania... The arguments for the composition are cultural proximity, Soviet/Communist experience and volatile physical location between Germany and Russia. After such selection, it would be absolutely necessary to discuss also the Ukrainian issue.

The success of such alliance would depend on the integration processes in the EU and NATO. Special attention should be addressed to the developments concerning the French-German connection and the solution to the German (in)dependence vis-a-vis Russia. Most Central European countries were, in the past, attracted to Germany and reserved towards Russia. In the case of a continuation of the Russian war in Ukraine or establishment of new frozen conflicts, the CE reservations towards Russia will increase, and so will the attraction towards Germany. Primarily, the outcome will depend on the developments in NATO and United States of America.

It seems that the Romantic ideas of Central Europe as a land of Strauss's music, Gemütlichkeit and Schlamperei are gone. Approaching may be the times of close political, defense, diplomatic and cultural cooperation, certainly not ignoring the achievements of the past.

[1] Dimitrij Rupel, Bomo Prusi ali Rusi?, Kranj 2018.
[2] Zbigniew Brzezinski, "A Plan for Europe - How to Expand NATO", Foreign Relations, January/February 1995.
[3] Petr Drulak, "A dangerous world and the Central European integration as a necessity", Saint Adalbert and Central Europe, Prague 2021, p.36.
[4] President Macron and Chancellor Scholz, not the President of the EU - that practically does not exist - traveled individually to Moscow to persuade President Putin to change his mind about the war in the name of the EU.