Speech of President Constantinescu at 7th Hight Level Meeting
INTERFAITH DIALOGUE, Rome, January 2016
The topic of our panel is Conflict and Peace within Religion: What should political leaders learn from History that is relevant to today’s issues?
Allow me to make an incursion from a future that becomes present already towards a distant or a nearest past in order to return into a contemporary society that is very similar to a geological structure affected by deep faults rifts that bring to surface rocks of different ages.
A few months ago I took part in a conference devoted to the development of a “new paradigm of the XXI century” organized by the World Academy of Art and Science, founded at the end of the World War II by Albert Einstein, Robert Oppenheimer, Alexander Fleming, John Bernal, Yehudi Menuhin, Henry Moore, great scholars and artists that had proposed to work together for a peaceful future of mankind.
The conference was hosted by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), a body founded in 1954 with the puropose of discovering the fundamental particles of matter and the laws of the universe. Today, on a vast territory, where the border between Switzerland and France has been erased, over 10.000 researchers from all the world work here together.
In 2012, the Higgs boson's was discovered, called the „God particle” and the particle accelerator recreating the conditions from the birth universe. Hervig Schopper, CERN General Director, at the moment of the launch of the project, a distinguished physicist with religious beliefes, told me that „God particle” is a name given by the journalists. „God cannot be localized in a single particle, but He is in the whole universe”, said him.
At the end of the conference, we went to the old city center. We passed by the headquarters of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Red Cross, the International Labour Organization, all of these selecting in the last century Geneva as an ideal place for promoting their programs.
On the meadows of Lake Leman many people were enjoying the autumn sun. Perhaps because the old Genevan Protestans had retired to their homes after the religious service, most of them were Arab or African muslims.
I stopped by the cathedral where Jean Calvin preached the Protestant Reformation. Through the son of a Protestant pastor in Amsterdam, Max Weber, the neo-protestant religion would inspire the capitalist ideology in America, the country of freedom that would disseminate across the world the free market economy.
How many of the people now enjoying the peace and harmony of Geneva remember how was the town during Calvin’s time? However hard it may seem to imagine, Geneva was, five centuries ago, a theocratic state in which the the lives of the citizens had to be solely dedicated to labour, and prayers in the churches from which the all paintings had been removed. Amusements were not allowed and ornaments were forbidden. Those who did not follow the strict rules set by the religious Council were arrested, tortured and sentenced to death, being publicy executed in the town square by beheading or burning.
Things were no different than what it is currently happening in Syria and Iraq. We are only talking about a five centuries difference. This was Europe’s world back then. Few years behind, in Paris, the reform’s supporters in France, called Huguenots, had been assassinated by Catholics in the night of Saint Saint Barthélemy and not many years later the Catholic Counter-Reformation in Spain and in other countries would use the Inquisition in order to arrest, torture, judge and sentence to death the Protestant and others heretics.
The history of Europe is full of religious wars and crimes and not only in Europe. During the First World War, 20 million Christians (Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox) military and civilian were murdered and in World War II around 70 million people lost their lives. The atheist Soviet Union recalled the Russian church abolished by Lenin and delcared a holy war in order to defend the homeland but after 20 million Russians had been killed for the guilt of believing in God by other Russians, also Orthodox that became communists.
In 1943, in the midst of the World War II, the most terrible military confrontation in history, the German writer Hermann Hesse publishes a book that describes a peaceful world in which armed confrontations are a sole memory. “The Glass Bead Game”, for which, at the end of the war in 1946, Hermann Hesse received the Nobel Prize in Literature, proposes the model of a society founded on culture and not on violence and glorifies the valences of cultural dialogue. Unlike the Utopias by Thomas Morus or Campanella, Hesse’s novel does not suggest an isolation – but on the contrary, an involvement in the life of the world beyond the peaceful borders of Castalia, a kind of Geneva of present days.
Concerning this cuurent Geneva, we could say that Hesse was right, and not Hitler or Stalin. But although in the past 70 years we did not have any world wars, the regional wars were equally terrible. In the '90s, in Bosnia Herzegovina and Kosovo, people of same Slavic blood and Slavic language, but of different religions, killed each other. Soldiers killed civilians, bombed their places of worship and cultural symbols, hundreds of thousands of refugees left their towns and homes in which they were born, horrible crimes and ethnic rapes took place.
At the beginning of the 21st century, the Arab Spring revived hopes, but not before long, the Middle East and North Africa became a theater of other cruel confrontations. Since the end of World War II have passed 70 years, since the collapse of the communist regimes in Eastern Europe 26, since the peace in former Yugoslavia 16. Could Syria possibly become in the coming years, a Switzerland of the Middle East and North Africa a Union of countries peacefully dedicated to economic and social development?
Those of us who are present here, are not able to promise military victories, financial aid, political and humanitarian asylum or economic development programs. But as first democractic presidents of our countries, after half a century of criminal communist dictatorship, we can talk about our experience in converting a “pedagogy of suffering” into a “pedagogy of reconciliation”.
This conference challenged us to answer the question „What it is that we learn from history?”. History shows that mankind has stayed, for millenia, under the battle for gold, for raw materials, under the conquest of territories and subjection of other people. The Abrahamic religions have used in these power struggles, though acknowledging the same God and their faithfuls greet each other with Shalom, Salam aleikum or „go in peace”.
We might ask ourselves why after the spectacular development of intercultural dialogue during the last decades, humankind is presently facing so many challenges, freezing adversities and a spiral of violence?
In my opinion, the culture of peace is something more than intercultural dialogue and its construction requires more time and more perseverance. It is about a lifelong learning process – from early childhood until old age. We cannot neglect the fact that a “culture of peace” cannot be separated from a new “culture of democracy” and even a new “culture of market economy”.
For a long while already, international organizations like the United Nations, UNESCO or the civil society try to create a political culture of security through negotiation and cooperation. In order to promote peace and understanding throughout the world, we are looking for the lowest common denominator on which everybody can agree.
My opinion is that we should plan for more. If we want to make a real peace and understanding between people, we must focus to identify not the lowest common denominator, but we should relate ourselves to the highest common denominator - faith.
20th century modern and post-modern society brought along many rights and freedoms – racial, ethnic, women’s rights, respecting those who want to be different; but it also divided society, even risking its atomization. Finding a perennial common ideal to overpass conjectural solidarization against something is a difficult task. Such an ideal might be Peace. But not a forced peace, imposed under the pressure of fear, but one arousing from the depth of the human being, crushing over millennia by the fight between tendency of using power to oppress the others and the aspiration of loving the close one.
Twenty six years ago, in Eastern Europe millions of people of the countries we here represent, were ready to fight barehanded and even to die for freedom and democracy, and led to the fall of the biggest criminal machine in the history of humankind: the dictatorship of the communist camp.
In a new millennium, we can rediscover faith. Not in order to use it, like it happened during the long history of humanity, against each other, but to understand our reason on earth. Peace is the name of God, either we are Christians, Muslims, Jewish, or believers of Asian religions. Only man’s arrogance made him forget the message of God, no matter how we call his name in our language or faith.
My generation knew World War II, the communist dictatorship repression, the difficulties of the post-communist transition, the corruption of capitalist society and also the populist slideslips of democracy.
Our message for the younger generation is that we need a new culture of democracy, a new culture of market economy, but to be able to build them we first need a new culture of peace based on understanding the other, in order for us to discover what puts us together and to eliminate what it tears us apart.