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24 September 1999
Original: ENGLISH

Nyborg, Denmark
21 to 26 September 1999



On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Conference of European Churches, 10 years after the destruction of the Berlin Wall which strikingly symbolised the fall of the Iron Curtain, the Central Committee of the Conference wishes to communicate more widely its desire for a peaceful and just Europe which brings together the rich diversity of traditions, cultures and confessions in the search for greater unity and understanding. In particular, it asks the largely new leadership of the European institutions and organisations to address urgently the divisions of Europe.

The Conference of European Churches was founded in 1959 to build and maintain bridges between Anglican, Old Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant churches and between people throughout the whole of Europe. The most recent expression of its overall concerns was in the second European Ecumenical Assembly, organised jointly with the Council of Catholic Bishops Conferences in Europe in Graz in 1997 on the theme Reconciliation - Gift of God and Source of New Life. Its work has always been closely linked with the history and developments across the European continent from the Atlantic to the Urals and from the Arctic to the Mediterranean.

During the first 30 years bridges had to be built and maintained across an ideological divide. The Conference of European Churches therefore rejoiced together with people throughout Europe, when the Berlin Wall disappeared. The developments in 1989 gave rise to new hopes for a just, sustainable and participatory Europe based on the implementation of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. We praise God for this new opportunity and are thankful for all who struggled for greater freedom and increased opportunities for all people in Europe to realise their full human potential.

Many political divisions remain. A striking example is the dividing line in Nicosia and throughout Cyprus. Elsewhere too many other cities remain divided. Acts of terrorism continue to occur in many places and new instances underline the fragility of human existence. The use of violence in conflict situations has increased. At its anniversary meeting in Nyborg, Denmark, the Central Committee reflected extensively on the situation in Kosovo. The conflict in South Eastern Europe requires continuing and committed action by political authorities and by the Conference and its member churches in fields of humanitarian relief, reconstruction, reconciliation and of building a civil society based on democratic values and the observance of human rights for people of all ethnic and religious communities. In the light

of this discussion and earlier statements and ongoing peace-building initiatives of the Conference of European Churches and other ecumenical organisations, we appeal to all political leaders and religious communities to spare no effort to build a just and lasting peace for the whole Balkan region by non-violent means

In addition, old divisions are being replaced by new ones, sometimes along cultural, military or economic lines, sometimes between or within countries. The United Nations Development Programme's (UNDP) Human Development Report for Central and Eastern Europe and the CIS 1999 provides statistical evidence that while in some, but by no means all, of the countries covered by the report there have been improvements in some economic indicators, the quality of life of many citizens and the general level of human development have seriously deteriorated.

Among the indicators identified in the report as costs of the transition to a market economy are: .

  • a fall in life expectancy in several major countries;

  • a rise in levels of disease and the resurgence of diseases such as tuberculosis which had been reduced to marginal health threats;

  • a severe rise in poverty;

  • sharp increases in wealth- and income-inequality;

  • a decline in the economic security and political role of women;

  • a deterioration of education;

  • rises in unemployment, underemployment and the informalisation of employment.

These statistical measures have been reflected in the experiences of the churches in the countries covered by the report. In some countries, the root of the problems has been the virtual collapse of political and administrative structures and social protection systems and/or the establishment of a free market unaccompanied by the rules and the democratic oversight which ensure that the market does not lead to unjust social and environmental results.

The Central Committee of the Conference of European Churches believes that this is the moment to appeal to all with political responsibility in individual countries and in the various European institutions to address these problems before it is too late and before new divisions become entrenched in Europe and pose new threats to Europe's peace and security and impose lasting poverty and frustration on many of Europe's peoples. Across Europe, there needs to be a growth of generosity, sharing and participation which should be reflected in political and economic decisions. Governments, parliaments and European institutions need to recover the political responsibility which they have tended to surrender to the market. This becomes more pressing with the advance of globalisation which also underlines the global responsibilities which fall on European countries and institutions.

Present developments throughout Europe also pose a challenge to the churches as they themselves promote values like unity and reconciliation and as they search for the effective implementation of human rights. National governments and European institutions frequently expect churches to take on social responsibilities previously taken care of by the state. Churches and their organisations are often also among the first to respond to the needs of uprooted people coming from within Europe and from other Continents. While the Central Committee emphasises the willingness of the Conference of European Churches to continue and develop the dialogue with the political institutions and organisations in order to evolve ways of overcoming divisions, both old and new, the issues raised here require a commitment by political decision-makers to mobilise the whole of society.

Nyborg, Denmark
24 September 1999