I believe one of the most innovative and fascinating projects that EWI did in 1990s was the creation of the Carpathian Euroregion, which later lead to the establishment of the Carpathian Foundation. The whole process started in 1992, at the time when the wars in the Balkans and in the former Soviet Union started to spread. Carpathian region incorporating 5 post-communist countries (Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Ukraine) was seen as a possible area of conflicts due to its ethnic and religious diversity and economic under-development. EWI decided to explore the idea of cross-border cooperation on the local level, including the creation of a euroregion as a means for preventing such conflicts.
Early negotiations were very tough! Each of the countries involved had their worries: Slovaks and Romanians were afraid that the project was just a way to split the regions of Slovakia/Romania dominated by the Hungarian minority from the home countries; Ukrainians were afraid of possible secessionist intentions by Ruthenians living in Western Ukraine; Hungarians were afraid of losing their traditional contacts with Hungarian brethrens through new confusing structures (such as euroregion) and some Poles were worried about growing influence of the Orthodox church in that part of Poland. Estabishing the Carpathian Euroregion was a true exercise of public diplomacy in its best! One of the real heroes of that time is Sergey Ustich, who was Deputy Governor of Zakarpatia Region of Ukraine. I remember situations when the discussions got very hot and it looked like the end of negotiations. Sergey would then ask for a break and he would invite heads of all delegations, as well as EWI leaders, to his room. He would serve Transcarpathian cognac (Tisza) and some horilka, as well as traditional Ukrainian salo and okurec. Suddenly, officials would get less official and things were easier to discuss. Problems were solved! Such moments will stay in my memory forever! And, we’ve remained close friends with Sergey till today!
Photo: Sergey Ustich and myself during a ceremony at the “Annual European Forum on Cross-border Cooperation” where Sergey received an award for his life-long contribution to promoting cross-border cooperation in wider Europe.