Vladimír PALKO:

With respect to Vladimír Palko's current illness,
publicist Jaroslav Daniška delivered a speech on his behalf

Your Eminence Cardinal, dear Prime Minister Ján Čarnogurský, ladies and gentlemen, members of Parliament, Your Excellences, honoured guests!

Once again, I would like to start by excusing an absence of Vladimír Palko. He was really looking forward to being – as he said – among friends, but was unable to come due to backache. He is very sorry and sends his apologies; however, having been duly prompted by organisers, he wrote a paper which I am going to read for you.

Ladies and gentlemen, dear Central Europeans,

It is both an honour and pleasure to speak to you and I thank Patrimonium Sancti Adalberti for this opportunity. We are all connected by the strong bonds of our common history. And by that I don't mean that we are tied up, that is, unfree. No, we are connected. This connection through history is a source of learning for us and an opportunity to continue our relationship and our cooperation at a higher level. Cooperation is perhaps necessary against a backdrop of huge global political changes.

I apologise in advance if I occasionally mix up Central Europe with the Visegrad Four (V4). I know Central Europe is a broader term, but I do so for simplicity's sake.

Let me first present a few thematic areas where we have seen informal cooperation between the V4 countries over the last more than twenty years, or at least identical political thinking. This is a mindset that is rarely found in the ruling political circles in the West.

Let us not be confused by the fact that occasionally one of the foursome is missing. Sometimes the bottle is not one hundred percent full and it is a matter of being optimistic or pessimistic whether we say that the bottle is half full or half empty.

The first such area is the preference for the preservation of nation states in the European Union over the creation of a superstate. I should have read the subheading too. The first comment is "Prioritising the preservation of nation states in the EU over the creation of a superstate". The first such area is the preference for the preservation of nation states in the European Union over the creation of a superstate. In the Czech Republic, for example, this was the long-standing position of former President Václav Klaus. In Slovakia in 2005, when the Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe appeared, the ruling Christian Democratic Movement Party rejected it as it also later rejected the Lisbon Treaty, which was identical in content to the Constitutional Treaty. In Poland, the government led by the Law and Justice Party gained an exemption from the Lisbon Treaty in the area of family law.

Although our efforts have not been very successful, our common thinking in this thematic area persists.

Secondly: Resistance to ideological colonisation in cultural and ethical issues

The second thematic area is resistance to the ideological colonisation of our space by Brussels and Washington. The term ideological colonisation comes from Pope Francis, but is essentially identical in content to the older term culture war. From our point of view, this is a defensive war, because we are defending ourselves against LGBT+ ideology in particular.

It has been going on for over twenty years. In 2002, the Slovak Parliament, on the proposal of the Christian Democrats, adopted a declaration that the EU should not interfere in the decision-making of the Member States on cultural and ethical issues such as the protection of the family and the protection of life. This declaration became the model for a similar declaration adopted by the Polish Sejm in 2003.

In 2004, the Slovak Ministers of the Interior and Justice vetoed a proposal for mutual recognition of registered same-sex partnerships by Member States at the EU Council of Ministers. In 2006, Czech President Klaus vetoed a law on registered partnerships in the Czech Republic, although his veto was subsequently overridden by Parliament.

As part of the defence strategy, laws were passed to protect traditional marriage in Poland, Slovakia and Hungary. The Czech Republic is now deciding whether same-sex marriage will be accepted. Until now, however, the geographical boundary between the countries that have it and those that do not is very similar to the line of the former Iron Curtain. Apparently, it is because countries that have experienced communist utopias are afraid of new utopias.

The Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary refuse to ratify the Istanbul Convention because of concerns about gender ideology.

The targets of the biggest attacks from the EU on these cultural and ethical issues are Poland and Hungary. In Slovakia, we sporadically try to express solidarity with them through media.

Thirdly: Pro-family policy

The third area of common thinking is pro-family policy. The V4 governments do not see financial support to families only as helping the weaker ones, but sometimes as an investment and sometimes as a fair reward for what families have done for the state.

Reports of innovative activities in favour of families come from all V4 countries. In Slovakia, we have taken a revolutionary step in the area of old-age pension scheme. We have been living for years in a time of demographic decline, and it is clear that the state pension and health care systems are only sustainable if children, the future contributors to these systems, are born. Therefore, it is necessary to reward parents for raising these children.

We have introduced the parental pension, which is an additional pension. Both parents receive a parental pension for each working child who contributes to the state pension scheme, equal to one and a half per cent of the child's gross wages.

I had the honour of initiating the debate on this pension scheme seventeen years ago, and during the last government I advised the Minister of Social Affairs and Family, Milan Krajniak, on this matter. Minister Krajniak succeeded in pushing through the parental pension politically and it was paid out for the first time this year.

Fourthly: Aiming to preserve the European nature of the Continent

The fourth area of common ground is the fight against uncontrolled migration, because we want to preserve the European nature of our Continent's culture. The cooperation of the V4 countries was key to the rejection of the quotas proposed by the EU in the crisis year of 2015. Hungary in particular has taken the lead on this topic.

Fifthly: War and peace in Europe

The fifth heading is the war or peace in Ukraine. The West is united in principle in condemning the Russian invasion. However, it is divided on naming the roots of the war and on the issue of achieving peace. The ruling version explains the causes of the war in a way that de facto resembles the "reductio ad Hitlerum" method, and sees the solution only in arming Ukraine and restoring its 1991 borders. This does not seem to be a realistic solution. The second version, suppressed by politicians and by the media, says that the war was a Russian reaction to NATO's expansion and that it was a proxy war between the USA and Russia. The proponents of this version are in favour of negotiations, i.e. diplomacy.

So far, there has been only one country in the EU that has taken that minority position. It is a Central European country. It is Hungary. A few days ago, decision-making whether Slovakia, another Central European country, would become another one after the elections was underway. However controversial a politician Robert Fico may be, I mostly agree with his leaning towards Viktor Orbán's position on the war.

So once again we see a kind of Central European core offering Europe an alternative view.

Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,

I think that the above experience with our identical thinking can fill us with some optimism. But let me also point out the natural complications.

I will start with the relationship between Slovakia and Hungary. We had lived in one state for a thousand years. Slovaks unfortunately do not have good memories of the last hundred years. After the break-up at the end of the First World War, we have come to view Hungarian politics with some distrust, but we are not hysterical.

However, the situation is improving. A few years ago, we could see the Slovak National Party and a party whose majority of voters belonged to the Hungarian ethnic group in the Slovak government at the same time, which was unthinkable in the 1990s.

In Slovak conservative circles, there is a cautious discussion about how to commemorate the Slovak share in the thousand-year old history of Hungary.

In the last two years, small groups of conservative intellectuals from Slovakia and Hungary have been taking part in a joint commemoration of the Battle of Veľké Vozokany in 1652, in which Slovaks and Hungarians fought against Turks, which was initiated by Ján Čarnogurský.

We will see.

A few remarks on Poland. Poland was a key factor in overcoming communism in Europe, and Poland's self-confidence as an EU member can be an example to us. The war in Ukraine has created some misunderstandings between Poland and Hungary. In addition to the Central European vector, Poland understandably has a historical Eastern vector, as it is the heir to the legacy of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Therefore, in the first year of the war, the relationship between Poland and Ukraine seemed like a brotherly one.

Today it is different, and it is not just because of the grain trade. The problem is the legacy of Stepan Bandera, which is visible in Ukraine. Poland has repeatedly pointed this out, even in times of war. I believe that this dispute will continue. Poland cannot come to terms with the cult of Bandera, and at the same time, in Ukraine, since the Maidan Revolution, the legacy of Stepan Bandera has been somewhat part of the state ideology.

We are watching with anticipation and interest how Poland will take an interest in Central Europe.

Ladies and gentlemen,

When we met here in Prague more than a year ago, the panel participants were asked to say in one or two words what Central Europe meant to them. I said at that time that it was a "common destiny".

May we be able to rise to the challenges of our times in fulfilling this common destiny.

Thank you for your attention.