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"Cultural Policy, Democracy and Christian Values
in Central and Eastern Europe.
The Current Situation, Challenges and Orientations"

This seminar was organized jointly by the Pontifical Council for Culture, the Institute for Religion and Peace in Vienna and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation. It took place at Cadenabbia from the 9th to the 13th of November 1997, and was chaired by His Eminence Cardinal Paul Poupard. The 27 people it brought together were politicians, professors, directors and staff from Catholic cultural centres, lay people and clergy, from Wester, Central and Eastern Europe, all committed to building God's Kingdom through the construction of a true democracy based on genuine values.

Those invited to the seminar were not only prominent politicians and outstanding professors, all very highly qualified, but also "ordinary" people, chiefly from Central and Eastern Europe, who are living and working in this field at the heart of the situation as it emerges. This proved to be a very fruitful mixture: there was a constant debate which was lively and was firmly anchored in reality, never merely theoretical or scientific.

Speakers and participants all made useful contributions which homed in on the point at issue. The basic starting-point was the situation in Central and Eastern Europe where the ideal of democracy is beginning to take hold today, after the collapse of communist totalitarianism. By means of ideological indoctrination and a complete suppression of civil and religious freedom, atheist Marxism-Leninism has left behind a spiritual void which has seriously damaged the social, cultural and religious fabric of the peoples of Central and Eastern Europe. Hence the crucial challenge of promoting responsible freedom, and of affirming a true democracy, rooted in the dignity of the human person and in the message of Christ.

In his opening address at the beginning of the first day, Cardinal Paul Poupard emphasized the urgent need for these peoples, who are reforming the structures of their societies, to provide an authentic and solid foundation for democracy by recognizing Christian values and religious freedom, understood as the right truly to live one's faith. His Eminence also pointed out the best route to follow: "The starting-point for every Christian and for every person must be to put forward the liberating message of Christ to remedy communism's forced obliteration of God from people's minds. This is a personal task, to be undertaken with critical awareness and Christian maturity. People in Central and Eastern Europe are called to be more conscientious and self-confident, and to acknowledge their responsibility, in order to live in authentic freedom rooted in human reason. An intimate knowledge of God leads to inner freedom, without which one can be lost in false values. Inner freedom alone can generate and feed that moral awareness which yields the sort of creativity which can revitalise the world with democratic values. This inner freedom, freedom of the spirit, leads to responsibility in political and social life. It is the freedom Christ brought, not simply freedom from something, but freedom to reach a goal".

After the opening address the group listened to the short, but forceful, message of the Holy Father, which they were glad to hear. His Holiness repeated what he had emphasized to the participants at the Eucharistic Congress at Wroc_aw on 1 June this year: the freedom which has been won anew "is not merely an acquired gift, but also a duty whose discharge requires all the energies of society. The Church, too, must do her part in this. For in this situation her calling is to remind people that religious freedom, which was restricted for a long time, is the prerequisite and guarantee of all forms of freedom which secure the common good of people and peoples".

There followed an analysis of the current situation and some personal reflections. Dr. Herbert Schambeck, ex-President of the Vienna Bundesrat, gave a presentation on the constitutions of various countries. He laid particular emphasis on those points within the constitutions which employ the concepts of democracy, culture and national identity. Then we heard from Rainer Prachtl, President of the Landtag of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, about the gruelling experience of moving towards democracy in the eastern part of Germany after its reunification. His presentation was reinforced by what he told us of his own life as a Christian politician. He quite rightly observed that "what we need is not only a functioning welfare state, but also a functioning society..., a society... in which people not only make demands of the state and the political system, but are also themselves politically involved, not only expressing their opinion and representing particular interests, but also, with an eye to the whole situation, thinking out together and being prepared somehow and somewhere to accept common responsibility". For this to become a reality, every Christian needs faith and personal commitment: "All efforts at filling the spiritual void and finding guidelines for life in Christian humanism deserve every encouragement from us all".

Joseph Duchac, the Konrad Adenauer Foundation's representative in Saint Petersburg, rounded off the first day with a description of the situation in Russia. His talk was complex and exhaustive, and was an effective call to consider the following: the dignity of the person, freedom of thought and religion, and the role of the family and of mass media.

The theme for the morning of the second day was basic values and cultural policy. Monsignor Rudolf Weiler of Vienna spoke of cultural values as universal, the foundation for cultural policy. As a culture of values, cultural policy is based on justice and freedom, which lead to the common good of all. He was followed by Professor Wolfgang Kluxen from Bonn, who gave a philosophical reflection on the term democracy, and on its ethical, social, existential and political content.

There was a little relaxation that afternoon, in the form of a trip to Como where Mass was celebrated in the cathedral; then there was a guided tour of the cathedral, and two hours free to visit the city. The day ended with dinner in Como, on the lakeside, facing the monument which is depicted on the Italian 10,000 lire note.

Professor Nikolaus Lobkowicz of Eichstätt opened the third day with a talk during which he stated that Christians are not meant to be directly involved in politics, but rather to make their contribution by being faithful disciples of the Lord and living their faith: "It appears to me that a Christian has no specific task other than that, perhaps, of being a faithful disciple and follower of Christ...; it is certainly not a Christian's duty to be engaged in politics or to take a particular interest in politics.... We must remain fundamentally loyal to the State, the nation and the political community... not as a particular responsibility of a Christian, but as a responsibility of citizens who recognize their obligations to Christ and his Church.... A Christian who acts as a citizen or a politician does so by his or her own responsibility..., although he or she is behaving as a faithful disciple of Christ, no appeal can be made to that, but to the fact that he or she is a citizen equipped with experience and reason".

After the presentation by Professor Ivan Stuhec of Maribor on the subject of schools and media in Slovenia, various participants spoke, and we later had a chance of looking at the situation in Bulgaria, Poland, Slovakia and Rumania.

The evening ended with a talk which was very different, but relevant and interesting: Dr. Günther Rüther, the Konrad Adenauer Foundation's education officer, spoke about the advantages and the dangers of something new which is emerging in the world of politics, the Internet, which fosters relativism and can easily get out of control, and thus become a bearer of manipulated ideologies: "The "new media" are creating a new political culture, and leaving their mark on democracy and politics. Information now takes centre stage. It is at one and the same time an instrument of domination and the basis of our social order. The decisive questions of the moment are: Who is using these new information opportunities? And how is abuse to be prevented? A theme to which we, particularly in Europe, as yet dedicate too little attention is that of democracy and politics in the Information Society of the future. With the rapid expansion of Internet it is assuming an importance which compels us to give some thought to what effect it will have on politics and political culture".

On the last day work began with a talk by Father Jacek Pawlik SVD on multiculturality, with an emphasis on the need to be committed to being open to all cultures and living alongside other nationalities. "It is inconceivable that the nation-state should be an ideal model, in Western Europe any more than in Central and Eastern Europe. The reality facing every state in Europe in future seems to be a multicultural society. The problem of the encounter with foreign cultures must be solved on a political level sooner or later. It is impossible to separate culture from religion when one meets a foreigner. The dialogue between religions takes place against the broader horizon of cultures".

Finally Professor Karl Golser from Brixen (Bressanone) put forward the example of what is being done in his diocese, and the documents of the second ecumenical meeting held in Graz earlier this year regarding cultural policy. He stressed that the redemption brought by Christ invites us all to become involved in the democratic process, in defence of the dignity of the human person, the inviolable sanctity of life, the primacy of the person over economic interests, the defence of minorities....

The seminar was brought to a close with a summing-up by the organizers. Father Werner Freistetter, formerly one of our officials and joint organizer of the seminar, hopes to publish the proceedings next year. The fact that everyone agreed that another seminar should be organized to continue discussions in this area was a sign that the seminar was a success, and that people are really interested in the theme. Practical suggestions were made immediately and so a seminar is planned for Cadenabbia in October next year, with the provisional theme "Cultural rights; culture and institutions". But this is yet to be finalized.

Without doubt, the seminar achieved what it set out to do: besides examining the current situation in Central and Eastern Europe and facing up to today's challenges, it indicated reference-points and orientations for the process of reforming the democratic fabric of Central and Eastern Europe, by re-founding a culture which safeguards true democracy. The seminar succeeded in giving a clearer definition to the role Christians have in building young democratic societies in Central and Eastern Europe, in order to permeate that part of the world with the true values of the Gospel.

Gergely Kovács
Pontifical Council for Culture

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Gergely Kovács présente le Congrès "Culture politique, démocratie et valeurs chrétiennes en Europe Centrale et Orientale", organisé conjointement par le Conseil pontifical de la Culture, l'Institut "Pour la religion et la paix" de Vienne et la Fondation Adenauer, qui s'est réuni à Cadenabbia du 9 au 13 novembre 1997. Hommes politiques, professeurs, directeurs et collaborateurs de Centres culturels catholiques, provenant tant de l'Europe occidentale que de l'Europe du Centre et de l'Europe Orientale, ont analysé la situation présente du continent pour en relever les défis et pour suggérer des points de référence et des orientations destinés à tisser un tissu démocratique par une culture qui sauvegarde la vraie démocratie fondée sur le respect de la Personne. Le rôle des chrétiens face à la construction de jeunes sociétés démocratiques en Europe Centrale et Orientale s'enracine dans les valeurs authentiques de l'Évangile. En octobre 1998, un second Colloque poursuivra le débat.

Gergely Kovács presenta el simposio sobre "Cultura política, democracia y valores cristianos en Europa centro-oriental" (9-13 de diciembre de 1997), organizado por el Consejo Pontificio de la Cultura en colaboración con el Instituto para la Religión y la Paz de Viena y la Fundación Konrad Adenauer. Han participado políticos, profesores universitarios y directores de centros culturales católicos de Europa occidental y centro-oriental. Se han afrontado de los desafíos actuales en Europa centro-oriental, dando orientaciones y puntos de referencia para la reconstrucción de su tejido democrático. Para ello se requiere restaurar una cultura que tutele una democracia auténtica fundada en el respeto a la persona, así como la colaboración de los cristianos para permear la sociedad con los valores del Evangelio. En octubre de 1998 tendrá lugar en Cadenabbia un segundo simposio para una profundización ulterior en el tema.

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The Vatican, 5 November 1997

Your Eminence,

On 9 November you will be going to lake Como to open a seminar on Cultural Policy, Democracy and Christian Values in Central and Eastern Europe. The Current Situation, Challenges and Orientations.

The Holy Father has learned of this high-level meeting and sends sincere good wishes and blessings to those speaking and to all taking part in it. The experience of his homeland means that, for him, the theme is not only one of historical interest, but a personal concern throughout his pontificate. As well as enabling countless numbers of people to see over the walls which once cut them off, the collapse of the Iron Curtain has opened the way to a freedom which has been won back; this freedom is not merely an acquired gift, but also a duty whose discharge requires all the energies of society. The Church, too, must do her part in this. For in this situation her calling is to remind people that religious freedom, which was restricted for a long time, is the prerequisite and guarantee of all forms of freedom which secure the common good of people and peoples.

In carrying out her mission, the Church respects people's freedom. The commitment of Christians in Central and Eastern European countries is in no way a restriction of people's freedom, but the promotion of their full self-realization. The Church offers Christ as the answer to men and women's deepest questions, but does not forcibly impose the Saviour on them, for she holds back before the sanctity of conscience. However the Church knows that she is bound by her founder's missionary command to take the Gospel "to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1, 8).

In this connection the Holy Father recalls those words he enjoined on those lay people who have positions of responsibility in political life: "for the Church it is a question not only of preaching the Gospel in ever-wider geographic areas or to ever greater numbers of people, but also of affecting and as it were challenging, through the power of the Gospel, mankind's criteria of judgment, determining values, points of interest, lines of thought and models of life" (Christifideles Laici, 44). The seminar which is taking place in these few days promises to provide a valuable contribution to the role Christians will have to play in the construction of young democratic societies in Central and Eastern European countries.

Pope John Paul II hopes the meeting will go well and, with heartfelt thanks to the organizers, speakers and all taking part in the congress on Lake Como, gladly imparts on them his Apostolic Blessing.

With my own best wishes,

Angelo Cardinal Sodano
Secretary of State to His Holiness