Research & Studies

Why Should We Reinvent Central Europe?

The European Union has been going through a crisis. It has lost its dynamism and can only strengthen its competitiveness and increase economic and social cohesion if the member states, regions, local governments and, not least, activist groups of local societies strive to achieve these aims. Not all public figures seem to have understood this in our country. It is only in a new spirit that new forms and methods of cooperation can achieve success. The various actors in the European construction ought to share a holistic vision even if, at the same time, the reality and possibilities are constantly changing in response to enlargement. While competing, they need to seek new opportunities for the necessity of cooperation. Within the new framework of cooperation, they will have to adopt to a new rhythm of institutional and social transformation. None of this is possible if the patterns of thought and action, characteristic of the era of nation state, are not overcome. The twenty-five member states, and their well-known differences, will obviously not cooperate in everything all the time. It would be naive to think so. However, a small or medium-size country is clearly unable to secure its interests alone in a club of such size. One of the main driving forces of the European Union was, even before the Eastern enlargement, the regional or even international lobbying power and negotiating capacities of individual groups of countries. It is time, therefore, for the newly joined countries, namely the eastern part of Central Europe, to
discover the possibility of regional cooperation and mobilize all those positive elements of their past which may strengthen this new cooperation. In order for the EU to become a successful global actor and for the integration process to continue satisfactorily, and for the new member states to view themselves as individually and collectively successful, Central Europeans need to invent Central Europe. Rediscovery does not mean a return to the past and I do not intend to suggest a nostalgic escape. Nevertheless, certain historical frames of cooperation and coexistence exist to lead us out of the trap.

Regional instead of central authority

The newly revived historic regions such as the Bánát or Western Pannonia can provide a newmodel for the as yet unformed frontier regions; they may represent a strategy of escape fromthe vicious circle of divided existence and mutual exclusion for those trapped in historical and/or political dead-ends. The metaphor of regions linked to each other like the Olympic rings accurately presents the new, potential boundaries of coexistence in the European Union.We should not visualize these regions mechanically, positioned side-by-side as nation states, but rather as new units entwined like the Olympic rings, supporting and sustaining each other. With their garlands of cities, open institutions, universities and research centres, these intertwined regions could strengthen social cohesion, sustaining with force and appeal the intellectual radiation of a larger region. This larger region is Central Europe. Successful regions could be the leaders in co-ordinating relations and networking in Central Europe: they could help demolish feudal and feudal-bolshevik structures in the post-communist states. Instead of re-enforcing a non-accountable and therefore often irresponsible central power, they would be capable of locally ensuring a good quality of life. So far Hungarian regions do not provide a good example as they lack decision-making power, but there are successful regions operating on the western side of Europe. Inter-connected regions could preserve and cultivate the diversity of cultural, linguistic, ethnic and religious values in Central Europe better than any central power or wobbling cultural policy. If we want to invent Central Europe,we first have to invent and empower its regions, whether new, revived or revivable. There have been some encouraging signs of this new Central European cooperation and regional networking: the spread of quality tourism; the expansion of twin city relations; the rapid formation of academic and university networks; music festival traditions; the rediscovery of shared cultural treasures in the fields of literature, theatre, architecture or gastronomy are all unmistakable signs of the revival of regionalism. All of these endeavours have begun to appear in the programmes and activities of NGOs and in the visions of Euro-regions which traverse national frontiers – such as the West-Pannon region. World economic actors have realized this for a long time.

Read more on the Institute for Social and European Studies website.