Who really leads Central Europe

Wojciech Przybylski

You can be a president of a small Central Europe state and yet lead the whole region.

The common feature of the countries in our region was living in a background. The history, geography, wars, economic backwardness have not only remodelled this part of the world but also doomed it to be forgotten and humiliated.

We come out from the background of old, powerful empires, each country in its own way, consistently. Although, sometimes not boldly enough.

Nevertheless, there are two countries in Europe which transform from the pariah role into leaders of changes.

“Estonia is smaller than some companies in the world; we have too few people, but due to IT we can apply economies of scale and do not have to worry about having too few people,” says Tomas Henrik Ilves in the interview for Visegrad Insight.

This former journalist and diplomat, chosen for office by the parliament without a resounding campaign, is famous for his sharp tongue, ominous prophecies about return of neo-imperialist appetites of Russia and for being a geek president who would not be parted from his badges-covered laptop.

Although barely known in the beginning and not necessarily liked because of his eccentric clothes and sense of humour, soon he won not only the compatriots’ hearts but also recognition of a broader international community.

He also became one of the representatives of innovative Europe, pointing out Russia’s aggressive actions at the same time without falling into national chauvinism.

“We have a revanchist and revisionist neighbour who does not think that the European order, established by the peoples freed 25 years ago, should last. And whose emissaries declare that tolerance is just a sign of decadence and liberal democracy as we understand it is only a peculiarity of Western civilization” he said in his recent speech. In 2014 he became one of the directors of a steering group for the Internet and Development at the World Bank as well as the chairman of a similar group operating at the World Economic Forum.

He has been occupied by the subject of cyber-safety and e-health for many years – by lending his name to the most advanced state digitisation program in Europe.

Estonia considered the most important partner of Poland

President Ilves has sought special relations with Poland not without reason. The objective of both countries cooperation is to deepen almost intuitive understanding of issues concerning safety and economic model of countries that come out of socialist economy habits. The economic exchange between Poland and Estonia is growing.

Ilves’s efforts to raise the prestige of his, yet rather small, country was so successful that the newly chosen Polish President – Andrzej Duda – as the leader of the largest country in the region, aspiring to be called the leader at the same time, chose Estonia to be the first country to visit.

Although it may seem peculiar from the Poland’s point of view, justice has to be done to the Estonians who gave the new authorities of Poland a lesson of consistency and pragmatism.

A change for better needs leaders and such lesson was done by the Estonians relatively early, as they decided in the early 1990s that new technologies will become the tool for a social change which leads from homo sovieticus to modernity.

Good change from iron to silicon

It turns out that the real change for better – also in the scale of the whole region – does not have to be hidden behind empty pre-election slogans. The newly chosen 52-year-old entrepreneur and philanthropist quickly became the symbol of changes and new wave in the Visegrád Group (V4).

Since 2014 the smallest and the youngest member of V4 has been led by Andrej Kiska – independent president who after his success in business and charity activities focused on new ideas in politics.

“Slovakia must come up with the new public policies if it is to conduct its economy from the iron age to the silicon age,” says President Andrej Kiska.

Thereby, he became the guide for the new economic strategy of Slovakia, which has been dependent on an economic exchange with Germany for a long time and the primary driving force so far has been the automotive production – Slovakia is the front-runner in the production of cars per citizen worldwide.

Kiska competently promotes his country through the whole region also in the world. In 2014 in New York he was in the forefront of the Visegrád delegation and was encouraging the participants to invest in new technologies in V4 countries. There, he suggested founding the so called Visegrád House in the Silicon Valley which would serve relations with the US investors ready to invest in our region.

Yet, the real leadership is still ahead of him. He not only leads the country whose government appeals from the decision on refugee relocation and puts the relations with the rest of EU to a serious test, but he also has to confront openly with the unfriendly public feelings inside his country towards refugees.

His calmness and consistency in justifying both in media and before the Slovak National Council that such cooperation with the EU is the only way to obtain a positive solution is worth of admiration. He does that as the only president in the group’s countries.

Lessons for Poland

Two portraits of small countries leaders which are the symbols of innovations nowadays may become the example for putting resistance towards geopolitical burdens of the past disputes.

Neither Ilves nor Kiska have made a mass out of the history lesson, but they reached the pragmatic conclusions for future and appear to be the good representation of our part of the world.

Today, those presidents of small countries are much greater leaders than many others who attribute power and significance to the geographical region. Politics in the age of digital revolution has its own economy of scale.