Hungarian President in Prague

Once united under the same political system of the Soviet bloc - Hungary, and the Czech Republic shared a lot more than just a common political philosophy. But following the fall of Communism, their paths appeared to part as each struggled to find their own identity. Now, eleven years on, Hungary and the Czech Republic, are once again on similar roads. Both became members of NATO in March 1999, both are preparing for EU membership and both nations are currently working on the transformation of their armies. Last week's attacks on the United States, resulted in the forging of a special bond and this week, for the first time, the Czech Republic was honoured by a two-day visit from the Hungarian President, Ferenc Madl. Dita Asiedu reports:

Hungary's Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, Chairman of Parliament, and now the highlight of bilateral relations - the visit of the Hungarian President, Ferenc Madl. These were the words with which Czech President, Vaclav Havel, greeted journalists on Wednesday after meeting his Hungarian counterpart. President Havel, however , pointed out that last week's terrorist attacks on the United States had a lot to do with the visit:

"The visit obviously came as a result of the catastrophic attacks on the United States. Both of us talked about it and agreed that, as NATO member states, we have to take an active role in the battle against - and punishment of - those who were behind the attacks."

Skeptics have voiced fears that the attacks could result in a delay of the EU enlargement process. Mr Havel, however, said he believed the exact opposite would be the case:

"This huge catastrophe will in fact bring democratic states closer together, resulting in rapid integration and the unification of power to be used against the threats that affect them all."

Looking to the future, Hungary's President Madl, noted that in spite of the horror of the attacks, they have resulted in pushing the EU to strengthen its security:

"It is important for the EU's security policy to include early preparation for possible, similar attacks in the future. The condition we find ourselves in actually help to strengthen the EU's security plan."

Besides the impact on Central Europe of last week's horrendous attacks, the meeting between the two presidents also focused on other issues they have in common. Hungary is a step ahead of the Czech Republic as far as transformation of its armed forces is concerned. Here, co-operation and not competition is vital and both Mr Havel and Mr Madl saw importance in the evaluation and incorporation of the most up-to-date information into the transformation process. The same goes for their preparations for EU membership, where the exchange of experience was imperative. According to Mr Madl, there were still a number of areas that needed attention; scholarships, internships, the exchange of students, and the loosening of economic co-operation in order to assure an increase in not only trade but also investment.

As a token of appreciation and in honour of Czech President Havel's long-term efforts to promote democracy, human rights, and the state of law, in Central Europe, President Madl also took the opportunity to award President Havel with Hungary's highest state honour.