It is still alive, and even more so on Twitter: Despite having been frequently declared dead, the Visegrád Group has been enjoying considerable political attention in the past years. But what keeps it so alive? Recent theories claim that it is the discourse that makes a region politically relevant. This article looks at the discursive creation of the hashtags #Visegrád and #V4 on Twitter.
- The Visegrád Group has enjoyed increased attention on Twitter. Noteworthy peaks include the Brexit negotiations (670 Tweets), Poland’s refusal to endorse Donald Tusk’s second term as the European Council President (366 Tweets), and the V4’s stance on the refugee relocation quotas (270 Tweets).
- Most Visegrád-related Tweets occur prior to European Council Summits; this indicates a strategy of timely pushing preferred agendas to influence decisive negotiations.
- While in 2012 the entirety of #Visegrád-Tweets came from official accounts from the V4 countries, this share has fallen to roughly one fourth in the past four years.
- Approximately 75% of official Tweets are posted by Polish accounts, followed by Slovak and Czech accounts. Hungary has conspicuously absented itself from tweeting about Visegrád.
Under the label of constructivism and postmodernism, recent thinkers have asserted that most political phenomena do not exist as such, but that they are socially constructed. The main building block with which to create them are discourses. By applying this logic, they find, for example, that security issues do not really exist unless they artificially emerge via sustained discussions through which elite actors rhetorically decorate the issue as a fundamental threat – there are no security issues unless they are labelled as such.
Likewise, ‘regions’ have no objective reality. If you ask postmodernist constructivists what makes the Visegrád Group a region – i.e. the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia, often abbreviated as V4 – they would claim that, at least analytically speaking, there are no shared geographical features, no common factual history, no ethnic commonalities, nothing but merely artificially created narratives that made the four countries a political grouping as it is today.
The Visegrád Group is still alive – particularly on Twitter
The Visegrád Group has regularly been declared dead since its inception in 1991. After having attained its explicit goal of acquiring EU membership in 2004, the grouping’s raison d’être indeed faced the need to re-orientate in a shifted political setting. (Never mind that the founding declaration’s primary objective was the “full restitution of … democracy and freedom” – a never-ending goal, according to Václav Havel, because it is inherently moral and moral ends know no limits. But the exploration of how far the V4’s ‘illiberal democracies’ are today from that primary objective is not the purpose of this article . . .).
Regardless of the parenthesis you just read, the V4 is far from dead today. It achieved a splendid resurrection amidst the negotiations which threatened a cut of British welfare benefits for migrants, also called the anti-Brexit deal, during which the four states amplified their voices by insisting that it is their shared political stance rather than simply one small central European government’s whim. Today, the ones who oppose the EU-wide relocation of refugees are not primarily perceived as one or two Central European countries, but as the Visegrád Group as a whole. The perception of Visegrád as a significant player in EU politics increases their leverage, in particular for small countries such as Slovakia, which would otherwise have a hard time advocating for its cause against 27 other EU-Member States.
With Twitter having become a main venue of politicians’ communication with publics, let’s see how the hashtags #Visegrád and #V4 were used as a proxy to create the Visegrád Group as a region. I manually removed all the Tweets that obviously referred to the city Visegrád in Hungary or to Višegrad in Bosnia-Herzegovina, or where #V4 apparently referred to a music band or to a four-cylinder engine. I only filtered the Tweets that were posted during European Council Summits (EUCO) since 2010, in addition to three days preceding and three days following the EUCOs:
This first graph allows the identification of two take-off points for the hashtags #Visegrád or #V4. A nascent start can be detected in 2012, interestingly right after the Polish Presidency of the Council (a clearer look can be seen in Fig. 3 below). A more decisive departure finally took place in 2014. A first peak was reached during the September 2015 EUCO with 270 Tweets – that was the very same summit during which Czechia, Hungary and Slovakia, together with Romania, openly voiced their opposition to the refugee relocation plans.
The highest surge so far occurred during the EUCO in February 2016 (with 652 Tweets): The most prominent topic was now Visegrád’s perceived decisive role as the main opponent against David Cameron’s Anti-Brexit-plans. British Prime Minister Cameron’s intent to restrict social benefits for migrant workers in the UK propelled the V4 onto the center stage of these negotiations. The Visegrád Group shrewdly exploited their political clout, which is reflected in the unprecedented attention the region enjoyed in political discussions on Twitter.
The graph demonstrates that the V4 has become a regular factor that needs to be taken into account for each European Council Summit. In June 2016, the meeting between the V4 and Germany received great attention, and in September 2016, it was an Austrian right-wing politician and presidential candidate Norbert Hofer’s assertion that Austria should join the V4. During that EUCO, moreover, V4 asserted that it could block Brexit – which, again, led to an immense surge of #Visegrád. In the first half of 2017, tweeting about the V4 outpoured when Poland spectacularly refused to endorse the continuation of Donald Tusk’s term as Council President (March 2017), and when the V4 met with Emmanuel Macron (which alone sparked 156 Tweets) before enjoying yet another summit with the Benelux countries (June 2017).
The Timing of the Tweets
Breaking down the Tweets to those before, during, and after the EUCO reveals an interesting picture:
One can detect a trend that the V4 sends political signals before the EUCOs. This strategy of framing their agenda prior to the decisive summits probably seeks to influence the negotiations. During the EUCO, ‘Twiplomacy’ reaches its traditional presence, but discussions about #Visegrád visibly abate after the meetings.
Not only does the graph show that the Central European countries systematically seek to influence the EUCO negotiations, but also that there may be a deliberate and joint effort to promote the idea of a strong and united V4 group everytime there is such a prominent international meeting. The discursive work of constructing V4 is not detached from time; the effort is rather linked to temporal factors that strategically heighten the region’s relevance
Which V4 Country Tweets the Most?
As the first graph above depicted it with the orange bars next to the blue ones, the share of the V4 countries’ official Twitter accounts tweeting about Visegrád is sometimes considerable. Before 2014, that official share accounted for 100% of all Tweets about the region. From 2014 to 2017, the proportion fell to an average of 23,86 %, meaning that roughly three fourths of all Tweets about V4 are today conducted by outsiders. This lends support to the claim that the construction of V4 through discourses was a success.
Breaking this official share down to the respective member state reveals a striking pattern:
Figure 3: Share of the V4 countries' official accounts responsible for Tweets with #Visegrad or #V4.
Figure 3 does not only show with greater clarity that the official discursive creation of #Visegrád took off in 2012, i.e. right after the Polish Council Presidency during which Poland might have learned the value of social media presence. It also shows that it is precisely this country which is the significant motor behind the hashtag; Poland accounted for 100% of official Tweets until well into 2013, a share that only fell to an average of 62,19 % between 2015 and 2017. Slovakia (18 % in average during 2015-2017) and the Czech Republic (15 % in the same timeframe) have recently been competing for the second place, while Hungary is the least enthusiast Tweeter in this regard (less than 5% in the past three years). The numbers for the period between 2016 and the first half of 2017 are different inasmuch that Poland even accounted for approximately 75 % of all official Tweets.
What this article showed is that the four Central European countries, led by Poland, succeeded in constructing the idea of a resurrected, strong and united Visegrád Group.
It was not difficult to repeatedly declare the death of the Visegrád Group at times when media attention was still low. But this has changed with the ascendance of Twiplomacy. The V4’s stances are often at odds with the rest of the EU’s, so much that they effectively block coordinated policies. This adversity has clearly helped to ‘regionalize’ the group. Social media mirror this trend, and Twitter demonstrates that the V4 has become a politically relevant factor in EU politics. However, imbalances are conspicuous – it is solely Poland which drives the presence of #Visegrád or #V4, at least among official accounts, while Slovakia and the Czech Republic only exert a smaller degree of social media clout. Hungary seems absent.
This article was merely impressionistic and is based on an informal research. A scientific approach should pursue questions about the discursive creation of the Visegrád Group in a rigorous methodology with explicit intercoder reliability and a clear coding of variables, and it should go beyond mere quantifications to identify reasons for the observed trends and patterns. This text is nevertheless highly indicative of how shrewd, or less so, officials strategically use Twiplomacy, and of what accounts for the discursive liveliness of #Visegrád.
Image: A photo taken during the V4’s summit with Nordic and Baltic countries [Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland / Flickr].