The Visegrad group countries in Central Europe (Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia – V4) are often perceived as a regional bloc of nations sharing similar aspirations, aims and challenges. They share common history, communist past, Soviet occupation and all joined the EU and NATO to embed themselves in the western civilization and transform their post-communist societies. However, there are internal forces in each of the Visegrad group countries trying to subvert and undo this journey and change the cultural and geopolitical orientation of each country.
Such e orts are aided and strengthened also by foreign actors who use every opportunity to sow discontent, create divisions and provide alternative narrative for the whole region. Russia as the main regional actor operating outside of the EU-NATO framework is projecting its power in Central Europe region by means of diplomatic activities, energy and economic policy, information warfare and support to domestic political forces (both mainstream and fringe) sympathetic to the Russian narrative, with the overall aim of restoring its influence in the region and weakening the EU and NATO. Following the outcome of the U.S. presidential elections, the issue of Russian influence in Central Europe has become more important than ever.
How vulnerable are the Visegrad four societies to such subversive foreign influence?
Where are the weak spots to be remedied and what are the examples of best practices in addressing these threats?
Despite the wealth of available statistical data and existing research, no attempt was made, until now, to summarise these ndings in a concise comparative analysis mapping the vulnerabilities of the V4 countries to such subversive foreign influences. In order to provide decision and opinion makers with an overview of such vulnerabilities, the GLOBSEC Policy Institute developed a methodology based on measurable set of societal and political indicators, analyses of opinion poll data, political landscape, structure of the media and the state of civil society. By pooling together data and insights from the Central European experts, we were able to rank the region’s vulnerabilities.
As a result, a fact-based Vulnerability Index of Central European countries was developed to understand the on-going dynamics in Central Europe and attitudes towards the United States, Russia, the European Union and NATO, and to provide a comparative overview of what measures need to be implemented (and in which country) in order to make us more secure. The Vulnerability Index measures vulnerability of a given country on a scale of 0 to 100, where the higher score represents the higher vulnerability to subversive foreign influence.
Our Vulnerability Index shows, that Hungary is the most vulnerable country in the Visegrad group to hostile foreign influence with an overall score of 57 out of 100. This outcome con rms the growing rift between Hungary and Western Europe on many fundamental issues, which is largely a result of Hungary` s sliding into illiberalism and the attraction of Hungarian political elites towards the Russian geopolitical orbit. However, this is in contrast with public opinion in Hungary, which, according to polls, clearly prefers a pro-western geopolitical orientation and shows a relatively stable support for NATO, the EU and the U.S.
Slovakia ranked as the second most vulnerable country, with an overall score of 51 out of 100. Transactional and opportunistic attitudes towards the EU and NATO, widely shared by the political elites and the public, persistent energy ties to Russia and political elites’ naïve perceptions of the Kremlin`s geopolitical goals in Central Europe put Slovakia in a very vulnerable position. A small push could change the course of the country in either direction.
The Czech Republic ranked the third among the Visegrad group with an overall vulnerability index of38 out of 100. Czech society, despite being quite euro-sceptic, simultaneously rejects a pro- Russian orientation. One notable exception is Czech President Miloš Zeman, who is regarded by many as the most important and visible pro-Russian political actor in the region. At the same time, the current Czech government is leading the way in addressing subversive foreign e orts by setting up a dedicated anti-hybrid threats task force at the Ministry of Interior and is in close cooperation with a very active civil society.
According to Vulnerability Index, Poland is the least vulnerable country in the region to subversive foreign influence with a score of 30 out of 100. Due to the hard lessons learned by Poland in its turbulent history and the contemporary geopolitical situation, Polish society is the most stable ally of the West in the Visegrad Group. Yet, despite having one of the most pro-European populations in Europe, last year Polish voters elected a conservative Eurosceptic government, which shares some common tendencies with the Hungarian regime. Despite its alignment with the EU, Poland rejects any criticism of its governance by Brussels. It holds the United States as its primary and strategic ally.
Download the full Vulnerability Index: Subversive Russian Influence in Central Europe report here. The executive summary and country overview of the Vunerability Index report in Slovak is available here.
This publication and research was supported by the National Endowment for Democracy.
© GLOBSEC Policy Institute 2017
The GLOBSEC Policy Institute and the National Endowment for Democracy assume no responsibility for facts or opinions expressed in this publication or their subsequent use. Sole responsibility lies with the authors of this publication.