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Resistance to Globalisation

East and Central European Christian Churches

 

Below is a strong message from the Central and East European Christian churches against the neo-liberal effects of globalisation. They issue a call to resistance and declare that this resistance must become a matter of faith. It is a question of God or Mammon.






























































































The unregulated flow of capital becomes the arbiter of the economic goodness or badness of all human or political actions.























































































No authority inside or outside the region should ever escape its responsibility to do justice to the poor and the needy by claiming the unavoidability of the requirements of globalization.

About a decade ago, we, the people and churches in Central and Eastern Europe, rejoiced as we realized we were free. It was as if a deep shadow had passed by and that full daylight had returned.

As we review the past ten years, it becomes clear that the magnitude and content of the problems encountered have been grossly underestimated by both governments and churches. Also, as we listen to reports from those whose suffering is most severe, we conclude that not all their difficulties arise directly out of what happened more than ten years ago. This suggests the need to be more vigilant in our journey with the women and men of Central and Eastern Europe.

The countries in the region enjoy great cultural and religious diversity. We heard that some of them show economic growth, increasing employment and environmental improvements according to the data available. In the region as a whole, however, rising unemployment and the falling value of pensions and wages has plunged millions of women and men into poverty. UNDP statistics report that:

· In 1989 about 14 million people in the former communistic block lived on less than four dollars a day. By the midˇnineties that number had risen to 147 million people.

· At the same time, and in sharp contrast, there has developed a new feature, that of excessive wealth for a small minority.

· Life expectancy fell significantly in some of the countries.

· Health care, schooling and education standards declined.

· Commerce based criminality grew rapidly 1.

Search for explanations

In relation to these facts, we felt a moral duty to search more diligently for additional explanations for the prevailing mood of disappointment and the sense of betrayal. Working in groups, the consultation examined the ecological, cultural, economic and social effects of globalization on the region. The groups produced reports including the analysis, evaluation and proposals for alternative action, which are reflected in this message. They identified two main reasons behind the present difficulties in the region.

First was the actual way in which the challenge of the transformation of society was handled by most authorities after 1989. Whereas Communism had depended on unrestricted state planning, politicians and leaders now embraced the unrestrained market-mechanism as the path to a better future. They did not discern that a market without social, cultural, and institutional frameworks would undermine the very fabric of society. Privatization, liberalization and deregulation of the market for the sake of economic growth was made a prerequisite for receiving external loans and financial assistance. This neo-liberal 'shock therapy', requiring a shrinking role for the state, simply disabled existing social provisions for ordinary women and men.

Second was the dynamic released by the new global information and communication technologies and the phenomenal expansion of new 'global' markets. These are often labeled 'globalization'. It is a complex term. Where it refers to growing possibilities for genuine co-operation between nations and peoples with opportunities for communication and common action, it has a positive connotation. Our consultation, for instance, benefited greatly from the participation of Christians from many continents.

It has negative connotations where it refers to the dominance exercised by an ideology legitimizing and promoting the unrestrained activities of players in the global markets, and the unprecedented concentration of financial power in the hands of self-appointed 'rulers'. The unregulated flow of capital becomes the arbiter of the economic goodness or badness of all human or political actions. In our consultation we made a clear distinction between this neo-liberal project, which some call 'globalism', and the historic process of 'globalization' already referred to. It is driven by powerful economic self-interest. It commercializes human and institutional relationships and the very sources of life; the earth, water, air and even the human body itself. The ideology, power structures and practices this project entails accounts for dramatic changes in the economies and societies of Central and Eastern Europe. Its immediate effects are to put pressure on governments at all levels to cut social, medical, educational and environmental expenditure in order to be 'attractive' in the eyes of 'global' capital. Women and other vulnerable groups bear the greatest burden of its consequences.

This ideological emphasis on privatisation at any price, has undermined existing infrastructures. Minimising the role of the state, it left the poor without adequate protection and support and opened the door to criminal and speculative activities. Irresponsible owners who had no interest in the fate of either companies or employees bought out many of the newly privatised enterprises and banks. Alternative paths to ownership were hardly considered, nor the idea that ownership brings social obligations.

Justice to the poor

This confusion about 'globalization' is often used as an alibi, not only by important international agencies, such as the IMF, the WTO and the World Bank, but also a growing number of national governments. They demand harsh sacrifices of ordinary women and men as indicated already. They do this despite reliable evidence that economic growth fails to promote human development unless there is:

· adequate support for the poor, unemployed, and other vulnerable groups;

· environmental protection;

· transparency and accountability in government, and

· effective participation by civil society (including labor unions).

Given this situation, our meeting arrived at the unequivocal conclusion: No authority inside or outside the region should ever escape its responsibility to do justice to the poor and the needy by claiming the unavoidability of the requirements of globalization.

Policies justified in this way are contrary to both scientific findings and the core of Christian faith. They have to stop unconditionally and immediately. For, as it is stated so well in the recent Basic Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church:

"...the danger of differences that may emerge between people's will and international organization's decisions should not be underestimated. These organizations may become instruments for the unfair dominion of strong over weak countries, rich over poor, the technologically and informationally developed over the rest. They may also practice double standards, by applying international law in the interest of more influential states. All this compels the Orthodox Church to call the powers that be, both on national and international levels, to utter responsibility" 2.

It is vitally important for Christians to recognize that dependence upon this neo-liberal ideology has deeply spiritual implications. It compels every participant to invest his or her faith in Mammon. The question for us is a simple one, in whom do we put our trust and in whom do we believe. Faith in the God of life sets us free from domination by Mammon. This is not only a domain where churches can speak, but should speak. This faith, translated into appropriate actions, is the ground of hope against that despair which, until now, so characterizes the present situation and not just in this region.

Economic globalisation in its present form threatens values such as justice, charity, peace and sobriety which are rooted in Christian traditions. It replaces them with the values of unrestrained consumerism and increasing commercialisation (or monetisation) of society.

SERVE PEOPLE, NOT POWER

Call to governments and to the wider public in the region

Globalization dramatically transforms the nature of power. Democratically elected governments and their delegates in international organisations are increasingly losing power to the growing influence of international bureaucracies, transnational corporations, media-owners and actors in the field of financial 'global' capital. We challenge these power structures, urging them to become more transparent, accountable and representative. The peoples of the world should seize control of global political and economic processes. Democracy should be reinstated in the new forms of decision-making, at local, national and international levels.

Many political and economic processes require some kind of regulation at the international level. They should not be employed by the state at the expense of the necessary protection of vulnerable people.

The guiding idea for all our recommendations is the Biblical motif of Jubilee (Lev 25, Dt 15,Neh 5,Jes 61, Luc 4). This implies that all people are entitled to the basic resources of life and the public provision that enables them to live in the household (oikonomia) of God's creation. The economy of our societies ought therefore to be always household-orientated.

This insight leads us to the following recommendations.

Recommendations

· Global finance should not be allowed to monopolise the decisive role in national and regional economies by rendering them over-dependent on Foreign Direct Investment and speculative capital. We strongly recommend that governments persist in striving for the development of their home-economy, with special attention to the role of medium and small businesses, and warn them against prioritising export-orientation at their expense.

· Local economic initiatives need to be supported. This implies the strengthening of local governments. Public authorities at all levels should insist on the maintenance of adequate social support for the poor, and strong environmental standards and resist international financial pressure to eliminate them.

· We ask governments to support the international actions of those governments and civil organisations which, in order to democratise the international monetary system, seek to regulate the flow of speculative international capital. We ask the same support, especially from the rich industrialised countries, for international efforts (like in Rio and Kyoto) in favour of the environment.

· Nations seeking entry to the European Union should equip their electorate to make informed decisions through accurate and transparent evaluation of the impact on social security and other vital interests of their citizens.

· Governments should safeguard cultural values, the dignity and rights of all women and men, and their unhindered development. Economic globalisation in its present form threatens values such as justice, charity, peace and sobriety which are rooted in Christian traditions. It replaces them with the values of unrestrained consumerism and increasing commercialisation (or monetisation) of society. Education, health care, arts, sports, the media, the environment and even safety are increasingly dominated by financial considerations. The culture of economic rivalry is usurping the culture of social co-operation with adverse consequences for weak and vulnerable people.

· Public resources, which from a Christian perspective are designed to serve the common good, should not be ransomed to privatisation policies by governments whether or not they are under pressure from external donors.

· We ask governments to serve people, not power.

...stop the exploitation and exclusion of the majority of the population of the world and the destruction of the earth by the 'golden billion' ˇ the population of Western industrialised countries.

Choose life not death

A call to churches

Today we are confronted by the domination of the idols of competition, consumption and comfort. The Christian understanding of oikonomia, of the world as God's household, embraces relations between people and God, social harmony and peaceful coexistence of human beings with the whole of God's creation. This urges churches and Christians to show the world the example of living according to the principles of cooperation, interdependence and compassion deeply rooted in the Trinitarian basis of our faith. We ask the Holy Spirit for the gift of discernment by which to read the signs of our time and to 'distinguish the spirits'.

In challenging economic globalization the Church is confronted with Jesus' words, "You cannot serve God and Mammon." (Mt. 6:24). Will the churches have the courage to engage with the 'values' of a profit orientated way of life as a matter of faith, or will they withdraw to a private life? This is the question our churches must answer or lose their very soul!

The message of the Gospel and our traditions teach us neither to be acquiescent to the dominant powers of this world, nor to escape the responsibilities into private expressions of faith. Christian communities should radiate love, joy and peace, attract and call others to a new way of life. Our mission is to transform life around us and to respond to all human beings, especially those who are suffering, oppressed and marginalized. In doing so, we proclaim Christ. We urge the churches to raise their prophetic voice so that changes are made for the benefit of every person in every part of the world.

Churches need to engage in a serious way with the following questions:

· Which processes in international politics and the economy are caused by the intrinsic development of trade, information flow, cultural exchange etc.? and -

· Which are the result of 'forced global transformation' aimed at securing the dominance of the richest countries, as well as economic and political groups?

· What are the positive aspects of increasing international cooperation which can be employed for advancing the Christian mission in word and deed?

· How can Christian values, traditions and cultures be preserved and thrive in the context of globalization?

Global economy and global power can be called to account by a global civil society equipped for broad social advocacy. International Christian organizations can provide a basis for cooperation open to and responsive to others, including research bodies, trade unions, environmental movements, and communities of followers of world faiths.

Recommendations

The negative social consequences of globalization must be counterbalanced by effective attention to the needs of the poor, the vulnerable and the powerless.

We call upon churches:

· To resist socially counterproductive policies, especially social and tax dumping and to preserve the dignity of labour.

· To support economic and cultural alternatives to homogenization, including small businesses, local credit and savings mechanisms, independent information exchange systems, with efforts to protect and revitalize national cultures and identities, through mutual tolerance and dialogue.

· To encourage a process of 'localization', by having regard for the expectations, traditions and lifestyles of people in their own place and supporting their initiatives.

· To increase their efforts in the fields of charitable service and social advocacy.

· To raise awareness that integration is accompanied by growing ethnic and religious tension in some parts of the world and separation in others; and to investigate the roots of these conflict situations, which lie not only in these specific regions, but also in the field of international politics and economy.

* We call the churches to remember that they are founded on families and therefore need them to be strong. Family crises have been caused by forced industrialization and now by globalization. The solution lies in a rediscovery of moral values, the ties between the generations, respect for parenthood and the place of women in families and society.

* We call our churches to make the care of the environment a major priority for Christian reflection and social action. It is the 'sustainable society' and 'sustainable communities' rather than economics, which matter. The European Christian Environmental Network is a useful contact.

* We urge the churches in the region to increase public awareness about globalization and its consequences for their population. People need to be informed about the nature of decisions made by their governments in relation to international institutions, and must be able to influence those decisions. Churches can empower the voice of ordinary people by raising their concerns with the authorities.

* Churches and ecumenical groups in the region are encouraged to use the expertise and linkages that the Centre for Networking, Training and Development being established by European Contact Group (ECG), the Work and Economy Network (WEN), and the Ecumenical Academy in Prague can provide.

* We ask churches in our region to respond more actively to the World Council of Churches' (WCC) invitation to reflect on globalization and to search for alternatives to it; to the Conference of European Churches' (CEC) process on the role of churches in European integration and also to the World Alliance of Reformed Churches' (WARC) Debrecen call for Processus Confessionis ˇ a committed process of recognition, education and confession regarding economic injustice and ecological destruction.

* We call the churches in the West to resist the destructive forces of economic globalization and to be advocates for global social justice. We ask the churches and the people in the West to influence public opinion and to persuade decision makers in politics, economy and other sectors of society to stop the exploitation and exclusion of the majority of the population of the world and the destruction of the earth by the 'golden billion' ˇ the population of Western industrialised countries.

* We ask the churches to educate their members so that they may rediscover the traditional Christian values of self restraint and asceticism (simplicity of lifestyle), and to propagate them in society as a way of counteracting individualism and consumerism, and as an alternative foundation for economic and social development.

* We strongly support the Message to the Churches in the North from the participants of the Symposium on the Consequences of Economic Globalization (Bangkok, Thailand, November 12-15, 1999) that was shared at our meeting.

* We assure the churches in the global South of our solidarity. Our part of Europe bears a considerable measure of responsibility for many developments, with both good and bad consequences, in Southern countries.

* Today our peoples share many similar problems and challenges, and we deeply need each other in order to find solutions. In the spirit of ecumenical partnership for mutual being we call the WCC and other ecumenical organizations to support cooperation and networking between churches in Central and Eastern Europe and with churches in the global South through consultation on globalization.

* Global networking between Christians and others on the issues of globalization is urgently needed, especially from parish to parish, from one group of researchers to another, e.g. from a Reformed radio in Hungary to a Catholic newspaper in Indonesia and a Moslem TV studio in Kazakhstan. Ecumenical and interfaith organizations will play the key role in this network building. We should not let the spirit of this world separate us. The difficult reality we are facing requires a response which we can only make together.

* We acknowledge the work done by Anglican, Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Churches, as well as international Christian organizations, which have studied the problems of globalisation and have acted in this regard. The process started by the World Coucil of Churches and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches must be encouraged, continued and broadened.

* We commit ourselves to establishing an effective follow-up process to this consultation in the region of Central and Eastern Europe.

1. United Nations Development Programme, Human Development Report for Central and Eastern Europe and CIS, New York 1999; http.//www.undp.org/rbec/publications)

2. The Foundations of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church, http://www.russian-orthodox-church .org.ru/sd00e.htm)

Forty seven representatives of churches from Central and Eastern Europe, along with resource persons, met June 24-28, 2001, in Budapest, Hungary. They were from Orthodox, Protestant and Roman Catholic churches. They came at the invitation of the World Council of Churches (WCC), The World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC), the Conference of European Churches and the WARC European Area Committee. Also accompanying the process was the Lutheran World Federation (LWF). The consultation is part of the joint process on globalization of these organizations that grew out of the call of the WARC General Council in 1997 in Debrecen, Hungary for 'covenanting for justice in the economy and the earth (Processus Confessionis)' and the recommendations on golobalization made by the general Assembly of the World Council of Churches 1998 in Harare. It is the second in a series of regional meetings that began with a symposium in Bangkok and will continue with meetings of churches in the Pacific, Western Europe, Latin America, Africa and North America. The consultation was graciously supported and hosted by the Reformed Church in Hungary, and was held at the Reformed Theological College (Raday) of Budapest.

 
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