A letter from the Chair of the Central Regional Group of the IBA European Regional Forum

Thursday 15 December 2022

A little over two years ago, in September 2020, I received a phone call from Anna Dabrowska, who was at that time Chair of the Central Regional Group of the IBA European Regional Forum (ERF). She asked if I wanted to take over her position from January 2021, to which I immediately said yes and, with that instinctive decision, a whole new journey of my life started.

We started work with the Group in January 2021, with my only aim being to create a safe place where the Council Members of the Central Regional Group countries (Belarus, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Russia and Slovakia) could share their thoughts and ideas.

We spent the first year exploring various topics to find a common interest for the group. We predominantly discussed mental wellbeing issues, economic, social and governance factors (ESG), and recruitment problems. We held a joint session with the Southeastern Regional Group on tourism issues during the pandemic. By the end of the year, we concluded that the rule of law as a topic very much affected all these countries and was a topic of interest for all Council Members of the group.

From January 2022, the Central Regional Group started to work on a rule of law initiative. Each Council Member prepared a short presentation about the practical aspects of rule of law issues in their own country, given their experience with rule of law issues in their daily legal work. The Council Members shared these presentations in our monthly Zoom calls and we collected these findings in a document called the Rule of Law Matrix. The aim of the Matrix was to show the typical rule of law problems of the region and their importance in each country.

As this initiative developed, we asked the Council Members of the other Regional Groups to contribute to it and share information on the same theme about their own countries. Finally, having received contribution from 25 Council Members all over Europe, we had collected sufficient information to provide the basis of a session organised by the IBA European Regional Forum at the IBA Annual Conference in Miami: Reversing the Rule of Law deficit in Europe: how commercial law firms can help.

Meanwhile, the heartbreaking situation in Ukraine has greatly affected the Group. The countries of the Central Regional Group share much in common historically, politically and economically. Having a war in Europe in one of our neighboring countries was just as unimaginable in 2022 than a pandemic was in 2020. I cannot express enough gratitude for the Council Members of the Group showing empathy and resilience in these difficult times and supporting each other in every possible way. We were especially glad that our Ukrainian Council Member, Olexander Drough could stay with us and could contribute so much through these difficult times. 

In April, we also welcomed new Council Members, Tomasz Cyrol from Poland and Martin Provazník from Slovakia. Both settled in the Group very quickly and became very active members in a short time, bringing fresh ideas and a lot of fun to the Group.

In the midst of an ending pandemic, a war in Europe and a threatening economic and energy crisis we realised that after years of seeing each other only on Zoom, the time had come to meet in person. Some of us had already met in Dublin on the ERF Officer and Council Member Retreat, but the first true meeting occurred in early June when the Central Regional Group came together in Bratislava for its very first in-person meeting. We spent an amazing day together, discussing business and having fun. I would like thank Gabriela Kubicova and Martin Provazník, our Slovakian Council Members, for hosting us in Bratislava.

As summer turned into autumn, we started to prepare for the IBA Annual Conference in Miami. Sadly enough, not all of the Council Members could make it to Miami, but some of us were lucky to see each other again.

My term as Chair of the Central Regional Group ends on 31 December and I am leaving the Group knowing that they will be in good hands with my amazing colleague and friend, Slawomir Uss, who has been nominated to succeed me. Slawek will be supported by Gabriela Kubicova, who has been nominated as Vice Chair.

It is not only me who is officially leaving at the end of the year. Some Council Members were invited to become officers: Pavla Prikrylova has been nominated to become Vice Chair of the Diversity and Inclusion Working Party, and Martin Provazník has been nominated as Vice Chair of the Communications Working Party.

All the other amazing Council Members have been nominated to stay to ensure continuity for the Group: Anikó Keller and József Bulcsú Fenyvesi from Hungary, Tomasz Cyrol and Marek Puwalski from Poland and Anna Rusetskaya from Belarus.

When I started this journey two years ago, I had no idea how I would lead a group of people who I had never met in real life. The Council Members of the Central Regional Group taught me that people do not need to be in the same room, not even in the same country to make friendships and form a community. I am eternally grateful for them supporting me all along the last two years and developing all my crazy ideas into something meaningful.

I know that the Central Regional Group has great plans for 2023 – new Council Members will join the group, great topics will be discussed and great events will be organised. The work we have started together will continue and I could not be prouder of the Group, each of the Council Members, and what they have achieved. Although from a different position, I will be there to support them.

With best wishes,

Viktória Szilágyi

Chair, Central Regional Group, IBA European Regional Forum