Reconciliation in Central-Eastern-Europe – a dream or reality?

A conference entitled “The Role of Churches in Social Reconciliation in East-Central Europe” is to be held in Budapest, between 10-12 March. The event, which has the subtitle “Central Europe as a Model of Religious Diversity,” is being organised by the Ecumenical Council of Churches in Hungary (ECCH), the Budapest office of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAS), and the foundation called Reconciliation in South East Europe (RSEE), within the framework of the “Healing of Memories” project. The program is a highlighted event of the Reformed Church in Hungary during the Hungarian EU Presidency in 2011. What opinion do the Reformed contributors have about the conference’s goals?

The main goal of the ‘Healing of Memories’ conference, which begins 10th of March, is strengthening the role of churches in social pacification in Central Eastern Europe. The organizers hope that the ecumenical dialogue between  the Hungarian historical churches and the Austrian, Romanian, Serbian, Slovakian, Ukrainian churches will help the strengthening of cooperation in Europe.

Is it possible to reach an ideal model of diversity in religious views, especially nowadays in Central Europe where social and political tensions are getting more and more general? What kind of success would be enough and when could we say: ‘This conference was successful!’?

Bishop Imre Szebik, president of the Ecumenical Council of Churches in Hungary, said that already the coming into existence of the conference was just success because this topic can help to establish  peace among churches.

He is not alone with his opinion because a lot of people think that direct networking between prominent religious people is already valuable. János Molnár, professor of the University in Debrecen though it would be a great success if through this conference, scholars of history of  different schools or approaches can speak to eachother at the same event. However, until we reach a point of agreement in the most substantial criteria of history writing, there will be no chance of mutual understanding.

According to the opinion of Miklós Kocsev, professor of the Theological Academy in Pápa, the key result of the conference can be the clear formulation of the differing viewpoints. Nevertheless, the cooperative, tolerant and open-minded approach of the participants is a substantial element of this. The conference thus could play an important role in reducing general distrust. Defining the main message as well as areas of  social cooperation of the churches, or strengthening of active relations and boosting new concrete programs would be a huge milestone.

It is indeed a question, however, how the politically sensitive issues can be debated at the conference. János Molnár, who is the professor of theology at Selye János University in Komárno, forewarned: ‘If we do not take up the hotly debated, difficult questions, the solution will be shallow. We have to name general problems and then we have the possibility to reach real reconciliation.’

Miklós Kocsev has the same opinion but he thinks that carefulness is the most important. In international cooperation we can tread on delicate ground if the questions are real problems and they were not born from politics. We have the chance to create successful discussions in forums with a well-thought-out strategy, but on the other hand there are many skeptic people, who think that individual opinions cannot be successful in international cooperation. However, the church has a great advantage, which is the common base of the Holy Scripture – on these principles shall our negotiations be based.

But there is something that is able to contradict the negative voices and that is the actual historical model of Western-Europe. The fact is that there are nations which have succeeded in putting the theories of reconciliation into practice on an international level- such as Austria, Switzerland, or even Germany. János Molnár, professor of Selye János University in Komárno said, that in his opinion the only European country giving an excellent example is Finland if we talk about cooperation of nations. Well, these countries mentioned above do handle the situation – living together with different nations – smartly. The only question is if these Western-European examples showed could be aaplied to the Eastern-European region or not.

János Molnár, professor at Debrecen, puts his arguments on the nature of the different types of solutions. He says that these attempts by our Eastern neighbours will just not fit into the Central-Eastern-European region, so there’s not much chance to succeed. Miklós Kocsev has a similar opinion. He believes that it’s difficult to achieve success in this field because every problem dates back to different reasons. At the same time, churches play a more important role in the  lives of people in Central and Eastern European countries than they do in western countries. Consequently, they could take wider responsibility as far as virtual reprochment is concerned, if they would.

All in all, from March 10-12 the focus will not be on the question ’who is right?’, but first of all on the process of defining the positions, moreover revealing the roots of these opinions. After the main principals are set and done finally the search for common and mutually acceptable solutions can begin regarding the reconciliation in Central and Eastern Europe.

According to the preliminary programme of the conference, the speakers will include Bishop Gusztáv Bölcskei, President for Religious Matters of the Reformed Church of Hungary; Irinej Bulovic, Bishop of the Orthodox Eparchy of Bácska; Péter Gáncs, Presiding Bishop of the Lutheran Church in Hungary; Christoph Klein, Bishop Emeritus of the Lutheran Church of the Transylvanian Saxons; Rüdiger Noll, Director of the Church and Society Commission of the Conference of European Churches; Tony Peck, President of the European Baptist Federation; Markus Meckel, former German Foreign Minister; Laurentiu Streza, Archbishop of the Orthodox Church of Nagyszeben.

The project entitled Healing of Memories (HoM) is a joint initiative of the Conference of European Churches (CEC) and the Community of Protestant Churches in Europe – Leuenberg Church Fellowship (CPCE), which aims to realise the goals set out by the CEC, the Council of Catholic Episcopal Conferences in Europe (CCEE) and the World Council of Churches (WCC) in the Charta Oecumenica drafted in 1998, in order to eradicate the still-existing misunderstanding and prejudice that surfaced over the centuries between majority and minority churches. Within the framework of the programme, several conferences have been organised across the Carpathian Basin since 2004, with the co-operation of European partner churches, as well as training events for church employees, volunteers, pastoral counsellors in the areas of pastoral care, communication, mediation and group work. There has also been a local Healing of Memories scientific conference with the participation of all historical churches of the region.