PAP. Marek Kuchcinski on Carpathian Europe: Soft politics

PAP: For years you have been piloting a program called Europe of the Carpathians, which, in a nutshell, aims to strengthen cooperation between Central European countries. It's a nice idea, but I wonder if it's realistic. The European Union was also a beautiful idea of nation states cooperating with each other, but it turned out that the conflicting interests of individual countries made this cooperation very difficult. Aren't you afraid that Europe of the Carpathians may be the same? After all, we know that, for example, the interests of Hungary or Serbia are different than, say, Poland or Romania.

Marek Kuchciński: And this is the challenge - to strengthen the cooperation of European countries, and at the same time preserve their diverse wealth and look for a solution in areas where this cooperation is difficult. In addition, the reality is very changeable, after all, until recently Slovakia was considered a pro-Russian state, and today it is one of the countries that supports Ukraine the most, and in military terms. So is the Czech Republic. Regardless of the sometimes difficult to understand course of events in current politics, Central Europe has been developing in recent years the awareness of the interdependence of the countries of this region, where the success of some countries means greater or lesser success, but still the success of others. This is great capital for the future.

Coming back to the Europe of the Carpathians - the goal of this initiative was a bit abstract and, let's call it, soft - enabling meetings and inviting various institutions, environments and individuals from eight Central European countries located in the Carpathians to cooperate. We are connected not only by geography and territory, but also by common issues of a social, natural, communication and development policy nature. These connections are already quite strong, considering that the Carpathian Europe conferences have been held regularly for 2 decades, which makes this event one of the oldest in the region, and even in Europe.

Although history shows that the Carpathians sometimes separated, successfully defending those who live in the south against various invasions from the north or east, but at the same time these mountains connect - precisely because of interests. I will give two examples. The first: none of the countries located in this area will be able to cope alone - in a multi-generational perspective - with providing drinking water for their societies.

PAP: The Carpathians are a water reservoir for this part of Europe.

MK: Yes it is. And only international cooperation can provide sufficient resources of this "strategic resource for people." And it is not only about the stepping of various areas - as can be seen in Poland or Hungary, for example, but also about stopping the lowering of groundwater levels, making forest areas able to retain water to a greater extent than at present, or preventing catastrophic floods.

The second example is politically grateful and ideologically important: it is about nature and landscape protection. The Carpathians are the area that is the most abundant in various species of animals and plants throughout Europe.

PAP: There is also a lot of endemic vegetation that does not occur anywhere else.

MK: That is why they need to be protected, not only in limited areas, such as national parks, such as the Tatra or Bieszczady parks - probably the only tripartite biosphere reserve in the world located in three neighboring countries - or the Danube delta. In my opinion, most of the territory of the Carpathians should be protected as a natural and cultural heritage by UNESCO. There is one more thing that is important - the Carpathians have an unprecedented cultural, linguistic, ethnic and ethnographic diversity. And also the world's only sacral wooden architecture: churches and orthodox churches, often dating back to the Middle Ages. We don't appreciate that. We say "Slovaks", "Hungarians", "Ukrainians", "Poles", "Czechs", "Romanians", "Serbs", "Croats", but among them these highland peoples or ethnic groups are very diverse, also linguistically. This is one of the foundations of the wealth of the nations of Central Europe.

PAP: Sometimes it is enough to go from one village to another, also in Poland, to hear a completely different language. Some "mazurka", others soften ...

MK: And this diversity should be ensured in the first place by states, but also by international organizations - in my opinion, UNESCO should protect the entire Carpathian Mountains: Orawa, Spisz, Podhalańskie, Sądeckie regions ... the culture of Lachs and highlanders from the Beskids to Romanian Bukovina ... Because every village She's differrent. If we look at the map of the Carpathians from above, from a great distance, we will see that this great diversity of people, nature and customs is located in a small area. Do you know how many Nobel Prize winners Central Europe has given the world? Almost 80! Milan Kundera put it so nicely: maximum diversity in minimum territory. And so it is. Great diversity compared to, for example, the German-speaking area or Russia.

PAP: However, despite this Carpathian diversity, we come from common ancestors - e.g. Hutsuls, who walked and founded settlements.

MK: Wallachians and Hutsuls, that's true. Several years ago I had an interesting situation in the vicinity of Hoverla (the highest peak of the Beskids - 2061 m above sea level - and the highest peak of Ukraine): when my friend and I were going up the mountain, we met a Hutsul, a highlander in a frock coat, with an ax behind his belt and a thick stick, walking down the mountain path . We greeted him in Polish, he stopped and started talking to us in broken "Highlander Polish" with a Madiarski accent. Such a meaningless, but for sentimental reasons, cute exchange like "are you going to the top, friends? It's a long way… when will you be coming back, etc.” Vincenz's spirit is still there! I had a similar incident in the Bieszczady Mountains on the slopes of Otryt in the late 1970s, where there were no trails yet and slopes had only just begun to be built. And it was such small events, combined with the beauty and diversity of the Carpathians, that made us think about how to protect them. Also this wonderful nature, landscape, so that they are not destroyed by ill-considered infrastructure. We decided that it was from this side that we had to enter politics.

PAP: Soft?

MK: Yes, just softly, without imposing any concepts invented by officials and experts on others, but rather draw from people, be inspired by their life experience, stimulate the exchange of ideas and ideas. And this gives good results, because it allows you to reconcile the expectations of residents, their natural need to live in a clean and beautiful environment, and at the same time implement the policy of cooperation between countries and regions more fully. This is a conservative approach. Of course, different countries have different, sometimes conflicting interests - political, economic - but, in general, this does not apply to long-term issues, including nature conservation, diversity, caring for the Carpathians.

PAP: Have you seen any achievements related to this "soft" Carpathian policy? Because I can only think of Via Carpatia and the Carpathian redyk.

MK: Even once or twice I had the patronage over these sheep migrations in the Carpathians along the Wallachian trail, it's a great initiative. But there are other, more immeasurable successes, such as building a climate and a positive atmosphere for cooperation. I believe that the Visegrad Group has clearly strengthened after 2010, especially in relations with the European Union – it was easier for our governments to act together when the political atmosphere was positive. Its other effect, to some extent, is the Three Seas Initiative and, in general, directing attention to cooperation in Central Europe on the north-south line, crossing the borders of the EU, Schengen or the euro zone. We have been developing relations with Ukraine for many years. We wanted cooperation conducted not only between governments, presidents, parliaments, but also at various other levels - by local authorities, NGOs, local governments, universities, local and regional communities. These are amazing meetings, so close. I remember how in the Europe of the Carpathians in Węgierska Górka, the Golec brothers' mother told how she raised them, how she ran the house. She spoke a beautiful local language and people listened to her like magic.

PAP: Did you know that this year, on April 21, in the commune of Węgierska Górka, the 10th Jubilee Dialogue Dictation "The highlander's dignity will never be lost" was held. Highlanders cherish their speech, but also dance and music.

MK: The inhabitants of the Carpathians are proud of their heritage, they are proud of it. They have one more thing that I value very much: great respect for nature. They have it imprinted in their genes that if you live in nature, you have to protect and respect it, look for harmony in life and draw inspiration, also in art.

Hence, for us in Law and Justice, the principle of sustainable development is understood not only as an even development of all regions of Poland, but also as a balance between ecology and economy. We don't always succeed, but we try, we try.

The already mentioned good climate for cooperation is also important because to this day, in the 21st century, we can see the effects of staying in the Ruthenian zone for years on our countries: until recently, our cooperation was basically limited to local matters, and we looked at each other suspiciously. The Soviet occupation made us lose our awareness of our long-standing neighborhood and common history. Now it is possible and necessary to rebuild this Central European identity, and such informal meetings are a good opportunity to do so. Conferences of Europe of the Carpathians facilitate meetings and dialogue, which means that borders are no longer a psychological barrier. But everything is still ahead of us, because this is work for generations - to reach the situation that is in the Alpine area, on the German-French border or in the Benelux countries.

But we have already managed to return to talks about building a common road infrastructure in the north-south section of Europe - I mean Via Carpatia, the idea of which was announced in the early 1990s. , we have maintained this initiative all the time, only to return to it in 2015. The idea of Via Carpatia was not treated seriously at first, I often heard "first there must be an economic argument to build it", i.e. how many cars pass this road - at that time there was no expressway between Lublin and Rzeszów - cars pass daily. And it turned out that it was not enough to make the construction of the motorway profitable. We tried to convince the rulers of the time that this argument is of secondary importance, a political decision should be made first, because only after we build a decent road, we will be able to talk about increased traffic, while politically it is about - firstly - connecting northern Europe and the Baltic states with and secondly - knowing that Via Carpatia will run through eastern Poland, i.e. economically less developed areas, make every kilometer of a good road translate into permanent jobs - that was our calculation.

PAP: Via Carpatia is not limited to just one road.

MK: Yes, it is to be the core of the entire network of branches leading, for example, to Gdańsk or Odessa. But not only this road is to connect the north with the south of Europe. The idea, which is already being finalized, also assumes the creation of a high-speed Warsaw-Brno-Bratislava-Budapest railway, and then perhaps further, to Belgrade. For starters, you will be able to drive to Budapest in a few hours. In Austro-Hungarian times, you could get from Lviv to Krakow in three hours by train, not to mention Budapest - although that was 100 years ago - right? Today we have ambitious plans, we want other roads and railways to run through Podkarpacie and Lesser Poland to the south, e.g. in Malhowice, Nowy Łupków and Muszyna, through Slovakia, Hungary and further. The construction of the S3 road to the south in western Poland is also a success, and in Węgierska Górka, i.e. in Śląsk Żywiecki and Cieszyn, we are finalizing the highway to the south ... Yes, it takes many years and our role is to convince governments that do not always prioritize such projects, to work on them together. It varies, for example, there are problems with the Slovak government, which is somehow hesitant to get involved in Via Carpatia. The Slovaks have so far postponed the completion of the construction of a several-dozen-kilometre section for the next few years, which makes communication difficult.

PAP: Maybe now that the European Union has recognized Via Carpatia as a key communication route, the construction will start?

MK: Yes, it can encourage the Slovaks, because they will get additional funds for it - several hundred million euros, so they will not have to build it from their own budget, but from the EU funds - and this is a chance to convince Slovak friends to do it make this road a priority.

PAP: How does Europe of the Carpathians relate to the idea of the Three Seas Initiative?

MK: The Three Seas Initiative is an organization established as a result of an agreement between the governments and presidents of 12 European Union countries, thanks to which a fund was created to support projects creating transport, energy and digital infrastructure in the region. We also encourage it to open up to non-EU countries - the Balkans and the Eastern Partnership. Nevertheless, the Three Seas Initiative - 3M - is a legally sanctioned entity and financed in the form of a fund, which is purely commercial - there are no state subsidies. The Europe of the Carpathians, on the other hand, is a platform for meetings and conversations on all topics, difficult and easy, where you can discuss and negotiate various issues without rigid procedures and diplomatic protocols. This lack of formalism facilitates dialogue, and it is common knowledge that many matters are also dealt with behind the scenes in the EU, not during meetings that are recorded in minutes. Moreover, this dialogue also concerns countries outside the European Union, such as Ukraine. In the current context of Russia's aggression and the war in Ukraine, this is particularly important. I think that therefore the next meeting of Europe of the Carpathians in February next year will be even more important, especially for the countries neighboring Ukraine.

PAP: Is Poland a leading role in Europe of the Carpathians?

MK: In the history of Poland, from the beginning of the Piast dynasty, one period is very interesting for economic and political reasons: the times of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and then for a while - the Three Nations. This parliamentarism was based, among other things, on on an equal footing, free with free. I believe that even today this principle can bring the best results in the cooperation of countries in Central Europe. If a country felt that it was being treated secondarily, it would rather not be willing to cooperate. In the European Union, we are fighting for our part of Europe, including Poland, not to be treated as a secondary colonial supplement - we want to be treated as equals and free with the free. Similarly in Europe of the Carpathians. Although the Slovaks, Czechs, Hungarians - these countries are much smaller than Poland, but if we made them understand that for this reason we should be more important, our cooperation would not develop. The Germans would have more advantages than us. But when we cooperate together in Central Europe, although we are one of the weakest regions in terms of competition, we are developing the fastest, even on a global scale!

Europe of the Carpathians Conference, Krasiczyn, February 2022, photo: M. Olejnik


Parliamentary committees

Law and Justice



Skip to content