The International Visegrad Fund is an organization residing in Bratislava – it has been the only formalized institution of the Visegrad Group since 2000. Back then, prime ministers of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia signed an agreement which establishes the Fund’s objectives with a focus on collaboration among the four countries via various cultural, research, tourist, and educational projects, as well as study stays. The Fund’s current executive director, Edit Szilágyiné Bátorfi, says that though the effort to improve the region via the Fund’s support is a noble task, it is also a great responsibility.
1. Last year, the Fund celebrated twenty years of its existence. I assume it was an occasion to look back on how the institution succeeded in fulfilling its essential goals. What do you consider to be the greatest success of the institution as such, but also the biggest achievements under its current leadership? What philosophy is the driving force behind your everyday work and what responsibility does it bring along?
In the twenty years of our existence, we and our partners have completed more than 6,000 projects. Up to 3,000 students have been given the opportunity to study in another country of the Visegrad group as part of the scholarship programme.
This includes also our artistic and literary residencies in the V4 area, but also elsewhere, for example, in New York. Overall, we are talking about over 3,400 organizations in 600 cities funded with more than 100 million euros in total. Culture-specific projects receive about thirty percent of the total annual funding budget. It’s wonderful to think about how many meetings, phone calls, and emails were done and written in English and the V4 languages to give rise to new partnerships and friendships. If I can exaggerate a little: we are creating new and inexhaustible sources of interhuman energy, sources of ideas for change.
Last year, our greatest achievement was the fact that we could keep the cooperation among our partners going despite the hard pandemic times and help them execute their projects, nonetheless. We were looking for the best technical solutions in each project and tried to complete the projects as efficiently as possible. I think we were very successful.
2. Many people think the Visegrad Fund is a potential source of funding that is quite hard to get to, though. Quite naturally, the applicant has to demonstrate collaboration with subjects from the partner countries and, of course, declare that the cooperation is not self-serving, but aiming at promoting mutual interconnection and cultural enrichment. What else is required of the applicants? And how does the mechanism of application evaluation work? How many rounds of assessment are standard?
In their projects, grant applicants must include at least three organizations, each being from a different V4 country. The only exception are cross-border projects, which require only the partnership of two neighbouring countries. As far as the so-called V4+ projects in the Western Balkans and the Eastern Partnership countries are concerned, the involvement of these third countries is necessary, of course.
A strong partnership relying on the involvement of all members of the project in an equal and active extent is the foundation for a successful approval of the project and its implementation. This is how permanent relations are made among the countries – which is the fund’s mission – and the projects’ results are more universally useful. The twenty years of our experience have shown that the greatest added value comes from projects done with relevant partners from all four countries. We evaluate the projects in three assessment rounds in which we verify formal and factual requirements.
The online application form asks all applicants to demonstrate their competence in the given area as well as their understanding of the issue the project aspires to resolve. The solution itself should be both innovative and practical, that is, useful for other people in the region as well. All parts of the application form can be found in our rules and regulations. Applicants can also contact our team and consult their draft application before it is submitted. All the relevant information is available at our website, where you can also find the success stories of the most inspiring projects.
3. Is the support provided by the International Visegrad Fund purely financial, or can it include other forms, too? For example, as mentoring programmes or initiatives aimed at interconnecting involved subjects with similar goals?
The necessary condition of running functional partnerships more or less predefines our task as well: though our job is primarily to provide funding, we actively work with the databases of our projects and can also assist in other areas. Our team of project managers offers consultations for applicants prior to the submission of the application. This allows applicants to check the validity of their ideas as well as other technical aspects of their projects, which might be more difficult for first-time applicants. During the implementation of their projects, grantees are assigned a manager who is familiar with their project and can help in any situation.
At present, we are working on theme-based webinars that should aim to improve the interconnection between organizations in all countries. Applicants will also find useful our online database map.visegradfund.org containing an overview of projects according to their subjects and locations.
4. This year, the Visegrad group is celebrating 30 years since its foundation. One of the main goals of the partnership was to foster collaboration in order to promote the process of European integration – a process completed with the accession of the member countries in the EU. Today, peculiarly enough, it seems that we are moving away from this starting idea – the political elites in Hungary and Poland are trying to suppress some of the freedoms constituted by the essential ideas of the operation of the EU, the representatives of the Czech and Slovak governments alternately join their Hungarian and Polish politicians and endorse approaches that are not in line with the common European worldview. In this sense, isn’t the Visegrad partnership more of a burden for us? Do the controversial decisions made by V4 governments affect the operation of the Fund?
The Visegrad Fund supports partnerships in culture, science and research, sport, and social development. The political layer of the Visegrad partnership is solely in the hands of the elected representatives of V4 countries. Their positive evaluation and vision for the future can be found in the Krakow declaration of the prime ministers that was published on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the Visegrad group. I am convinced that the Visegrad partnership in projects that enable the sharing of knowledge, ideas, and experience is beneficial. We should not forget that these partnerships can be made owing to the financial support from the Visegrad countries.
Their governments have always supported the Fund’s activities and the development of local and regional collaboration. The most recent proof of this kind of support is the decision made by the prime ministers of the four countries in February this year – they agreed to increase the Fund’s budget by two million euros to a total of ten million starting in 2022. This will provide new opportunities for non-profit organizations, cultural and research institutions, as well as other types of organizations in the third sector and allow them to get involved in the Fund’s new calls focused on young people in the region. As far as the ministers of culture of V4 countries are concerned, their interest in the operation of the Fund and its projects is incessant. This is also evident in the Visegrad Prize in culture which has been awarded since 2005.
5. How does the fact that we are part of the Visegrad area shape our cultural identity? The parallels between the Czech and Slovak culture are indisputable, but does a citizen of Hungary perceive any affinity to the Polish culture, for example? Is this awareness stronger among those who naturally tend towards collaboration, such as artists or scientists?
Our region is often much more culturally interconnected than we tend to believe. In this sense, we should not just look at the traditional relations between the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Good evidence for the interconnection is that our cultural projects never struggle to identify common topics or to create partnerships across the region. Similarly, as part of the residency and scholarship schemes, we support frequent exchanges of students and artists between all V4 countries.
Most recently, for example, the Platform for Women Artists from Central and Eastern Europe published the so-called Secondary Archive, where you can find up a summary of the work of three generations of more than 250 female artists from all four countries. It’s an incredible vault of information and I definitely recommend you look at it. It’s one of the examples when the connection of all four cultures was essential.
6. One of the principal activities supported by the Fund are mobilities and residencies. Artistic residencies are now very popular in Slovakia, too. How many residencies does the Fund sponsor every year? Are some mobility schemes more popular than others? Where do people like to go?
Artistic residencies are divided into four categories – performative art, visual art, sound art, and literary residencies. Our residency in Brooklyn, New York is special because of its popularity. Last year, we recorded greater interest in literary residencies, which we also appreciate very much. We offer a total of sixty residential stays to artists – with 146,000 euros worth of funding for artistic activities and over 108,000 euros for the hosting institutions. In Slovakia, for example, a residency at the Žilina-Záriečie Station has been very popular. In Polish Krakow it’s the Villa Decius, in the Czech Republic the FUTURA gallery of contemporary art, and in Hungary the Trafó House centre for contemporary art.
7. Do you remember any theatre projects and/or performative arts projects supported by the Fund that you consider to be good examples of fulfilling the ideas of the Visegrad Fund?
For fourteen years, the Theatre without a Home has organized in the Error festival in Bratislava. In the past six years, the festival has been supported by the Fund and has become an international event. It introduces audiences to the world of people from marginalized groups via theatre. In 2020, we managed to organize the entire festival, including the subsequent conference, online. In the difficult times of the pandemic, this was a great success.
There will be more invitations for this summer, though. Let me mention, for example, the OPEN AIR Theatre Festival in the outdoor locations of the Polish town of Wroclaw. Theatres from V4 countries will perform their productions on environmental themes. At the end of the festival, audiences will be able to enjoy one common production of all four street theatre groups. Slovakia’s represented by the non-profit organization NEO, which has produced the title Younak. It contains circus elements connected with a folklore take on the story of Juraj Jánošík. This project was also funded by the International Visegrad Fund.
I would also like to mention the international festival Divadelná Nitra whose programme includes a one-week workshop for theatre critics from the region.
8. At the end of a project, do you do back evaluation of whether it succeeded in meeting its objectives and contributed to the broadening of mutual cooperation?
Each of our grantees writes about the progress of their project in the final report. For us, however, the final report does not equal the end of the project. We internally evaluate all aspects of the project – from the number of involved people with regard to V4 proportionality, through the efficiency of involving project partners, all the way to particular project outcomes. Taking into account project results, we are preparing stories of our successful projects that may inspire others. In addition, we are analyzing the added value of each project for our region as well as whether it could be in any way extended in potential future projects.
More information available at visegradfund.org
Edit Szilágyiné Bátorfi (interviewee)
Martina Mašlárová (interviewer)