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29 June 2001

Majority excluded from global decision-making
Ecumenical consultation on economic globalization in central and eastern Europe

cf. WCC Press update, Up-01-19 of 25 June 2001
cf. WCC Press release, PR-01-15 of 18 June 2001

The positive connotations of globalization are difficult to see when the majority of countries are excluded from global decision-making, says a statement issued by a consultation on "Globalization in central and eastern Europe - Responses to the ecological, economic and social consequences". The consultation, sponsored by the World Council of Churches (WCC), the Conference of European Churches (CEC), the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) and its European Area Committee (EAC), gathered almost a hundred participants and observers in Budapest, Hungary, from 24-28 June.

Transformation after the fall of communist rule, European integration, and globalization are the three features that presently characterize the central and eastern European region. Sharing his views at the consultation, Slovakian professor Igor Kiss suggested that globalization can either be a sword of Damocles over humankind or the sword with which humankind will cut through the Gordian knot of world economic problems. The world is at a crossroads. That is why the consultation sent a message on globalization to the churches inside and outside the region, as well as to governments and the wider public of the region itself.

"Communism depended on unrestricted state planning. Consequently, the unrestrained market mechanism was welcomed by many politicians and social leaders as the path to a better future. They neglected to understand that a market without a social, cultural and institutional framework is bound to fail and destroy the social fabric of society," the message emphasizes. Governments, it says, should prevent global finance from playing the decisive role in national economies since economic globalization in its present form threatens traditional values in the region. The message asks churches in the west to persuade decision-makers to stop the exploitation and exclusion of the majority of countries from decision-making processes.

At the consultation, a senior researcher from the Moscow-based Institute for International Economic and Political Studies, Dr Robert McIntyre, characterized the post-communism situation as "in many ways a social and moral disaster". There is false optimism in these countries connected to entry to the European Union (EU), he said. "Countries like Poland, where 60 per cent of children suffer from malnutrition, are not honestly welcomed in the EU," McIntyre observed, adding that "the likely outcome of the process is second-class status for the new entrants".

In 1989 about 14 million people in the former communist bloc lived on less than four dollars a day; by the mid-1990s that number had risen to about 147 million. Nevertheless, as Dr Zlinszky JŠnos, a Hungarian biologist, pointed out, the situation is difficult to assess properly since all the data may not be reliable. One thing is certain however: witnessing the poverty of the majority of eastern European villages, it is no exaggeration to say that the slide of tens of millions of Europeans into poverty may end up costing the EU more in the long run than any war. Reacting to this assessment, the consultation warned that churches should educate their members to understand how the economy works, to enable them to promote a just economy.

Consultation participants noted that women especially are often excluded from the benefits of society. The world-wide tendency of state "shrinkage" is to the disadvantage of women; health and education cuts, for instance, put additional burdens on their shoulders. Thus what once was mainly characteristic of southern countries has now become a global problem.

The discussions revealed the differing cultural traditions, historical experiences and economic development in the various central and eastern European countries. But consultation participants agreed that in spite of the differences, governments should promote genuine cooperation between nations and opportunities for communication and common action - that is, another face of globalization.

Final version of the consultation statement

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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.