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25 June 2001

Eastern Europe: "A piece of the continent"

cf. WCC Press release; PR-01-15 of 18 June 2001-06-25

Czech president Vaclav Havel's assessment that "the worst in communism is what comes after it" was cited on the first day of a 24-29 June consultation on "Globalization in central and eastern Europe - Responses to the ecological, economic and social consequences" taking place in Budapest, Hungary. The consultation, sponsored by the World Council of Churches (WCC), the World Alliance of Reformed Churches(WARC), the Conference of European Churches (CEC) and the WARC European Area Committee (EAC), gathered almost a hundred participants and observers in Budapest.

The post-communism situation in the region was depicted as "in many ways a social and moral disaster" by Dr Robert McIntyre. The senior researcher from the Moscow-based Institute for International Economic and Political Studies examined four aspects - health and nutrition; income support; environmental protection; local economic stimulation and anti-poverty measures - of the role of the state in countries in transition from communism.

"There is massive false optimism in these countries connected to entry to the European Union," he said, "because in this region most governments are not dealing seriously with internal social dissolution, poverty and despair." According to McIntyre, countries like Portugal and Spain which were relatively poor when they entered the union were subsidized with billions of dollars. But countries like Poland, where 60 per cent of children suffer from malnutrition, are not honestly welcomed in the EU. "Current candidate countries are very far from EU living standards. Thus the likely outcome of the process is second-class status for the new entrants," he pointed out.

This evaluation of the situation was reinforced by Russian archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, who represented the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church at the consultation. Chaplin said that what used to be state property in his country has become the property of a handful of businessmen, "some of whom come from the undisguised criminal community". According to Chaplin, globalization has become a strong challenge for a Russian national self-awareness, deeply rooted in the Orthodox faith, collectivism and the teaching on the priority of the spiritual over the earthly. "Globalization should cease to be a one-way street," he urged, suggesting that various cultures, political and economic systems should play role in international decision-making. "Even the anti-globalization movement has become totally globalized, while global civil society is capable of influencing international organizations" he pointed out.

Another speaker, P. László Lukács, SchP, from Hungary, continued in a similar critical vein. A delegate from the Conference of European Catholic Bishops, Lukács referred to the occasions when, after the Hungarian revolution in 1956, and the Polish revolt in 1968, the support of the Western world was requested and was not forthcoming. In both cases, he testified, these countries felt that "nobody cares for this region". Then again at the end of the 1980s, eastern Europe witnessed that the Western part of the continent is "not a good Samaritarian", Lukács added.

Such testimony about disappointed hopes in the region was echoed by Lutheran pastor Márta Tóth from Hungary, who said that although people had been proud of working for Philips or IBM at the beginning of the 1990s, they now feel cheated by the multinational companies.

Dr Jacob Trajan of the Evangelical Church of the Czech Brethren suggested that "the balance of the local community and the state should guarantee that no one is lost in God's household". Unfortunately, that has not been the case in eastern Europe over the past century: since the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918, there have been a number of profound changes in the society of this region that have caused a remarkable historical discontinuity.

The Budapest consultation is presently continuing its work in the spirit of a maxim by John Donne that "No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main".

For further information, please contact Szilárd Szónyi, Mobile: (+36) 30 982 56 82

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The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 337, in more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the assembly, which meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general secretary Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.