World Council of Churches Office of Communication
Press Release
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22 November 1999


Czech dissidents complain of lack of support during the communist regime

cf. WCC Press Release of 16 November 1999

The general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), Konrad Raiser, has expressed himself in favour of a full and critical re-assessment of the past, notably the cold-war period. Lines set for the WCC in the course of its development needed to be re-interpreted in the light of sober historical analysis, he said at the weekend, in conversation with former Czech dissidents in Prague. The latter accuse the WCC of failing to speak out against human-rights violations in the former Czechoslovakia.

Instead of categorically condemning human-rights violations in communist countries in the same way as it did apartheid in South Africa, the WCC had tried to come to a consensus with East bloc states, complained the Protestant pastor, Alfred Kocab, one of the signatories of "Charter 77". There had been no indication that the WCC understood the dissidents’ position. The institution should try in future to be more differentiated in its judgment on controversial issues of this nature and seek dialogue with all parties in any conflict, Kocab insisted.

Petitions and reports about pastors suffering political persecution had fallen on deaf ears, added civil-rights activist Jan Dus. Only official declarations by church authorities had received attention. People in the civil-rights movement felt the WCC had failed them.

The WCC and its unswerving stance had constituted an additional burden for parish pastors already under pressure from the state, added Rev. Pavel Hlavak. The views of the dissidents and the WCC had differed fundamentally.

The WCC had meanwhile learned this lesson, Raiser said. He was prepared to take the questions and criticisms seriously, even though he could not agree with many depictions of the historical course of events. Views on how the WCC should have reacted to certain challenges were to some extent due to basic differences in assessment and ethical judgment of the situation. The conversation that had now been started should be continued, and all voices should be heard.

Invitation to Forum 2000

During his visit to the Czech Republic, 17-21 November, Raiser met leading representatives of WCC member churches and theological faculties, as well as the Primate of the Czech Catholic Church, Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, and representatives of the Ministry of Culture. During their conversation, State President Václav Havel invited Raiser to attend the Forum 2000 conference next year in Prague.

The WCC general secretary also visited the memorial in the Czech village of Lidice, which was burned to the ground by the SS in retaliation for the assassination of the then acting Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia, Reinhard Heydrich. Lidice today was a symbol of reconciliation, he said. Here people would always be confronted anew with the need to settle the world’s conflicts by peaceful means and not through the use of force, Raiser emphasized.

Speaking of the situation of the churches in the Czech Republic, the WCC general secretary said that they realized they were in a marginal position and that their country had now become a "mission field". He said he had been impressed by their proactive search for new ways of being the church in contemporary society and presenting themselves in public life, as well as their concern to find an appropriate solution to the question of church-state relations. The WCC had no simple model to offer for this, he said, but he would try to bring the Czech churches into contact with other churches in a similar situation, for an exchange of views on their experiences in this area.

The Czech Republic is said to be among the most secularized of the former East bloc countries. More than half the population has no church connection. According to official figures, 40% still belong to the Roman Catholic Church. Together, members of non-Catholic churches represent less than 5% of the population. Pastors in the Czech Republic are still paid by the state. The issue of the return of church property taken over by the state under communist rule has still not been settled ten years after the change of political regime.

Ecumenical relations between the churches in the Czech Republic were positive, in Raiser’s view. There was clearly a readiness to talk among church leadership, and evidence of strong ecumenical commitment at the grassroots. It was encouraging to see that, with the agreement and support of church leaders, steps were being taken in many places to overcome confessional divisions. The general secretary emphasized that the WCC would "do all in its power to support and further this process".

For more information contact:
Karin Achtelstetter, Media Relations Officer
tel.: (+41 22) 791 6153 (office);
e-mail: media
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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.