Europe Living Together. Lessons from Slovakia

Europe Living Together. Lessons from Slovakia

Peace, Justice And Truth After The Fall Of The Iron Curtain


Final Statementof the International Workshop of the Conference of European Justice and Peace Commissions, 11-14 October 2019, Bratislava/Slovakia


With the  fall of  the Iron Curtain we  believed that  freedom  was  achieved. 30  years  later  we  see  that freedom,  justice  and  reconciliation involve more  than  removing  iron  curtains.  We  now realise freedom is a never-ending project upon which we must work everyday.

 

We  have  learned  that  listening  to  the  stories,  especially  the  painful stories,  of  those  who  have suffered and  taken  risks, is  the  starting  point  for freedom. Freedom though  is  only  possible  with  a real and deep  process  of  reconciliation and the  possibility  of  forgiveness. In  the  case  of  Slovakia we have  learned  that  truth  telling  and  justice  for  those  who  were  the  victims  under  the  communist regime is  critical  to a  free society,  which  respects  the  inherent  value  and  dignity  of  each  human being.

 

For example, former political prisoners suffer due to a lack of acknowledgement of their sacrificesfor freedom and these people do not have a liveable pension. Further,individuals, who were part of the communist regime, are  still  shaping  society  today. The lack  of legal prosecution  of crimes of communism, limits the ability to create a free, just and socially cohesive society.

 

Although  the  barbed  wired  borders  of  communist  times  have  been  removed, there  are  other borders, which confront us. In the example of Slovakia, there are many social inequalities like that of an aging population who feel isolated due to a lack of sufficient personal and infrastructural support. Further,  16%  of  the  population  lives  in  poverty,  including  single  parent  families  and  families  with more than three children who are at high risk. The Roma community is also a challenge of  freedom.  Because of  discrimination, the  Roma  have difficulties  in  accessing  education,  health  care  services, social  housing  and  employment.  The  solution  is  not  just financial; it  requires  the  building  of community. A further example is the situation of Migration -immigration as well as emigration –and rising nationalism, challenges of the gift of freedom.

 

The  challenges we  described  are  not  solely  for  Slovakia,  but  these  are  issues  for  Europe  as  a whole. We are all facing problems with poverty and exclusion, migration and dealing with pastinjustices. We need to work together in solidarity to find common solutions to these challenges of freedom.

 

As Church we  orient  ourselves  on  the  belief  that  every  human  being  is  made  in  the  image  of  God. Thus, each person must be respected and their freedom protected, especially protecting the freedom of  the  poor  and  those  who  are  disadvantaged,  excluded  and  underprivileged.  As  Justice  and  Peace Europe,  we have  learned from  the European  experience  of  totalitarianism, that Freedom  of  speech, belief, property and movement are crucial to acknowledging the image of God in every person.

 

Based  upon  these  values  we  see  our  role as Justice  and Peace  Commissions  of  Europe  to challenge and  encourage the  Church, governments, civic groups  and  every  citizen  to  promote  peace,  justice and truth. This  must  be  done  at  individual  level  of  listening  and relationship building  but  also  at the structural level of government and public policy making. Inparticular,education (i.e. the teaching of history and its  impact  on  today) as  well  as  the  promotion  of  critical  thinking  and safe  spaces  for dialogue are essential fora free Europe defined by human rights, reconciliation and solidarity.

 

Bratislava, 14.10.2019