Edited by Anna Popper

NATO marks 75 years following the signing of the Alliance’s founding document, the North Atlantic Treaty. Since its creation on 4 April 1949 in Washington D.C., the transatlantic Alliance has grown from 12 founding members to 32 member countries. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation has evolved over more than seven decades, while maintaining its core mission of protecting its members from any threat. NATO celebrated its anniversary on 4 April 2024 at the NATO Headquarters in Brussels.

On 16 April 2024, the Embassy of the Czech Republic, together with the Polish and Slovak Embassies in Budapest, organised a commemoration and a moderated panel discussion entitled: “For 20 / 25 years in the zone of peace, security and stability. Anniversary of the V4 countries joining NATO”. From the V4 member countries Czechia, Hungary and Poland joined NATO in 1999, marking 25 years of their admission, while Slovakia’s accession took place in 2004, thus celebrating its 20th anniversary of NATO membership this year.

The event commenced with the opening speeches delivered by H.E. Eva Dvořáková, Ambassador of the Czech Republic to Hungary, followed by H.E. Pavol Hamžík, Ambassador of the Slovak Republic to Hungary, then H.E. Sebastian Kęciek, Ambassador of the Republic of Poland to Hungary and Mr. Gyula Somogyi, Director of the Security Policy and Non-Proliferation Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Hungary.

Dedicated to a jubilee, the event was graced by the presence of Ambassador Géza Jeszenszky, former Foreign Minister of Hungary, who played a pivotal role in the successful integration of Hungary into Euro-Atlantic structures. His efforts contributed to Hungary’s accession to NATO in 1999 and to the European Union in 2004.

Subsequently, a panel discussion ensued, where esteemed experts in security and Central European affairs from the prestigious V4 think-tanks debated about security challenges facing Europe in the context of Russian aggression against Ukraine. It is of utmost importance to our region that WeAreNATO.

During the panel discussion the audience engaged with the panellists:

Mr. Martin Svárovský, Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung Senior Fellow for European Policy, Prague, Mr.Tomáš Strážay, Director of the Slovak Foreign Policy Association (SFPA), Bratislava, Mr. Andrzej Sadecki, Head of Central European Department at the Centre for Eastern Studies (OSW), Warsaw, Mr. Tamás Péter Baranyi, Strategic Director at the Hungarian Institute of International Affairs (HIIA), Budapest. Their discussion proved to be both intriguing and comprehensive, reflecting diverse viewpoints and exploring the dynamics between the V4 countries and NATO, alongside their prospective roles within the alliance. Discussion was skilfully moderated by Mr. András Rácz, Senior Fellow in German Council on Foreign Relations and Master Lecturer at Corvinus University of Budapest.

The presentations not only provided a retrospective on the significance of NATO membership for the V4 countries within the context of their historical journey, but also delved into their responses to the contemporary European landscape. This encompassed foreign policy, strategic, security and defence perspectives, notably addressing Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and its antagonistic stance towards Western democracies. The consensus echoed was the pivotal role of “WeAreNATO” in shaping the future of Central Europe.

This event, held within the framework of the Czech V4 Presidency, leading the group for one year, from 1 July 2023 to 30 June 2024, under its motto “V4 Citizens”, drew the interest of around 80 attendees, including diplomats, experts and students, illustrating the importance and enthusiasm for the topics discussed.

Alongside the reception, following the official proceedings, guests had the chance to view an exhibition recounting the history of the Czech Republic’s NATO membership. The exhibition, with informative roll-ups and a plethora of photos, highlighted the pivotal role of former Czech President Václav Havel (1936-2011) in the country’s democratic transformation and the NATO accession process, as well as in modern European politics.

The words of President Václav Havel, the visionary leader and committed Atlanticist, on the occasion of the Czech Republic’s accession to NATO on 12 March 1999 are often quoted as follows: “It gives us hope that our country will never succumb, nor will it be sacrificed to any aggressor, and at the same time expresses a clear resolve to be jointly responsible for freedom of nations, human rights, democratic values and peace on our continent.”

The upcoming NATO Summit will take place between 9-11 July 2024 in Washington D.C., where its founding treaty was signed.

Photo by Helene C. Stikkel

Source: Embassy of Czechia in Budapest

Photos by the Embassies of Czechia and Poland, and DPA