Wednesday, December 30, 2009

New Year's Prayer

First of all I would like to wish you a blessed 2010! I pray that God will give you a year full of love, wisdom protection and health; a fruitful year full of personal, professional but especially spiritual growth in order to love God and the others and to be able to use your gifts and talents even more than this year!

Also I would like to thank you for your interest, prayers and encouragements for my mission and work in East Europe. I hope that the stories I wrote on this blog reflect a bit the situation and challenges of some of the countries where I was active for the ECPM. With Gods Help I hope to continue this also in the new year!

Last but not least, I would like to leave you a prayer for the New Year. It is a combination of two prayers that which inspired me, together with a personal thought. I hope that we can pray this together as a joined prayer for 2010:

Our God and Father,

GIVE us the kindness to hear with compassion,to offer support,loving comfort, and care.

GIVE us the courage to do what is needed,the wisdom to choose what is right and fair.

GIVE us the vision to see what is possible. GIVE us the faith in Your love and Wisdom that will help pave the way...for a present that is hopeful, a future that is peaceful—

GIVE us a heart to bring joy to each day

In the Name of the Child from Bethlehem,

Whose Name is Jesus, the Annointed.

Knowing, when Love came to the stable, He came for us.

So that Love could be with us, and we could know You!

By His sacrificing Love,

He brought (to everyone who believes in Him)

salvation, eternal perspective

and.... inner peace.

In His Name we pray

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Belarus: the battle for recognition, a battle for freedom (part 3, final)

In the afternoon, a number of interesting questions were discussed and voted on. First there was the question of whether the party should participate in the local elections in 2010. These elections would most probably not be held honestly. Would it not be better just to boycott the elections? Finally people voted for the option to participate in the elections. There should be a signal given to the people that an opposition and therefore alternatives exist. Also the campaigns could be used to spread the messages of the party and to make the party better known in Belarus.

Another question was concerning the presidential elections planned for 2011. In these elections, all the opposition parties together form a coalition and name one presidential candidate. This joint candidate is chosen based on the support that this candidate has. Finally people voted that the co-chairman Vital Rymasheuski be nominated as presidential candidate for the BCD in the race for presidential elections for the joint coalition. If he is not chosen, then the joint candidate of the coalition will be supported by the BCD, because a possible change of the political situation is more important than simply the particular interests of the party. Also the BCD will join the demonstrations on the square after the presidential elections if these elections are not executed honestly.

The convention was ended in prayer, followed by praying together “The Lord’s Prayer”. For the young people the congress was followed by a concert of contemporary Christian music.

A new step has been taken. In total 643 participants were registered for this congress: 311 delegates and 332 guests. Considering all the problems with the preparations, this was a good number, even more than in February. It is again a new beginning and we will see what the Belarusian authorities will do.

The next day I took part in the annual procession for the victims of the communist regime. The whole opposition was there with their flags, banners and the forbidden red and white flags. A whole group of young and old people walked from the city to the mass grave on the outskirts. The whole escort drew the attention of KGB in plain clothes who took pictures of everyone joining the procession and who filmed it all. A woman told me that she was glad that I participated in the procession. This is probably why the police was so quiet and did not interfere in this year’s procession.

Slowly people were walking through the outskirts of the city to the forest where hundreds of thousands people were killed and buried and which is situated now directly next to the new ring road. People walked slowly and quietly, with an occasional loud cry of “Long Live Belarus.” Slowly walking, thinking about the victims: praying and hoping for a change in society and a freedom that does not seem to come and for an end to a life of fear which has lasted 70 years under a repressive regime.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Belarus: the battle for recognition, a battle for freedom (part 2)

It was very busy in the hall of the conference centre as people were being registered. The organizers worked very hard throughout the night to finish everything in time and the conference room was decorated well for the congress. At 10:30 a.m. the congress was officially opened with the announcement that despite the fact that people were stopped on their way by the police (here called “militia”), and the presence of police and army at the square, the congress could take place, now 18 years after the independence of Belarus. This was followed with a loud “Long live Belarus”. This slogan was repeated throughout the congress

After the opening prayer and practical and statutory matters, important persons gave their greetings. The first greeting, given by Stanislau Shushkievich, was remarkable. He was the one who signed, together with Boris Yeltsin and Leanid Crauchuk, the document for the dismantling of the Soviet Union in 1991. He was also the first prime minister of the independent Belarus. He was impressed by the BCD, especially because the party is comprised of honest Christian people, mostly young, who are inspired to put Christian values into practice. Also members of other opposition parties gave their support to the BCD in their striving for freedom and democracy.

The official greetings were followed by the leaders of the party who explained their vision and development of the party. It was clear that the party based their Christian values on the Word of God. George Dmitruk, vice chairman of the BCD, explained that “we must not forget to witness about the love of Jesus also in politics and that we should follow His example in this. We have to honor Him in all the work we are doing and we should be united by God’s love and power and to raise Gods flag in everything we do.” Also he mentioned that one of the strong points of the BCD was that they did not want only to improve living standards, but also that they want to focus on the implementation of Christian values in society.

Regarding the growth of the BCD, Dmitruk used the strategy of Jesus. He trained 12 disciples and sent them into the world: the party also needs to prepare people and to send them to reach more people. Everyone should prepare their twelve people.

Aleksei Shein, also co-chairman of the BCD, focused his speech more on the sorrows in Belarusian society. The country is in the top 10 of the number of abortions, divorces and suicides. The BCD should do everything to be in the frontline and to make people aware of these problems and to change these situations. Although they do not have the illusion that elections will be honest, it is important to spread these messages during the election campaigns and to make people aware of the problems in society.

Pavel Seviarynets, chairman of the party, talked about the growth of the BCD. At the moment, the BCD has 1,800 members from 108 different cities and villages. Despite repression and intimidation, every month new people become members. Now the party has its own newspaper, website, CDs with Christian music and also a club for Christian writers. In addition to this they organize special training for young activists who want to become members of the party. He stated that this was thanks to God for everything that had been accomplished, because nothing could be done outside His Blessings. He also talked about human dignity; protection of the deprived by faith or religion and the protection of life as important points for the party.

When the speeches of various guests, such as representatives of different churches, were finished, I was invited to share some brief thoughts. I started with the question ‘How it is possible to organize a second ‘founding congress’? Theoretically this sounds very strange: the normal way should be a single founding congress: the party was founded or not. The conclusion was that the party was founded, but not registered. The better name should therefore be: “the second registration congress.” I also spoke about the importance of Christian values in politics. “I do not believe that faith is simply an individual matter, but that the Christian faith is fundamental for the development of society and for the formation of the character of the European continent we live in”. I also tried to show that they were not alone in their battle for freedom, but that we are with them and that this was not only a matter for Belarus, but also for Europe and for the future of the European Union which we hope Belarus will one day be part of.

After lunch, practical and statutory matters that were required for the legal registration of the party were taken care of, followed by enthusiastic reports of representatives of different regions in Belarus about their work in difficult circumstances.

(To be continued)

Monday, November 9, 2009

Belarus: the battle for recognition, a battle for freedom (part 1)

Minsk is a big, clean city, well lit and beautiful, with impressive buildings: a pleasant city to live in. On the other hand you see posters with militaristic, communist symbols on these big buildings. In front of the “parliament” building there is a big statue of Lenin. If you travel further, you will pass a big yellow building: the headquarters of the Belarusian secret service, still called the KGB here.Further, crossing the river you will see a kind of barn. This is the place where Lenin held his first communist congress in 1898. When you walk further, you will arrive at the Victory Square where a monument with an eternal flame to remember the victims of the Second World War when also many people were killed and 80% of the houses were destroyed.If you go further and leave the city, you will find one of the mass graves where hundreds of thousands of people were killed by this same communist regime. Every year, on the second Sunday in November, a procession is held to remember the victims of this regime. The communist regime still keeps the country in its iron fist through the ruling president Alexander Lukashenka.

In 2004 the president tried to destroy the area to create a new ring road around Minsk but protesters opposed these plans. Belarus is called the last dictatorship in Europe, where people can be persecuted if they organize religious activities outside the official religious institutions and churches, and where priests and pastors were expelled from the country and churches forced to sell their buildings for ridiculously cheap prices. But it is also the country of beautiful buildings and castles, clean cities, friendly people and where Western fast foods and companies are opening up. Minsk is a city with a turbulent past, a difficult present, but (as we hope and pray) with a better future.

That is why the Belarusian Christian Democracy (BCD) wanted to organize a second founding congress. Through careful collaboration between the European Union and Belarus, there seemed to be an opening for the BCD to organize a founding congress and to register their party. Therefore on 28 February, a founding congress was held as a first step. But although this congress was organized without big incidents, because of intimidation and the refusal of the Belarusian ministry of “Justice”, the party was prevented from registering. Now they decided to try to organize it for the second time.

However, the authorities refused the permission needed to hire any location in the city which would have made it almost impossible for the party to organize the congress. But when the leadership of the BCD declared that they would organize the congress on the big Kastrychnitskaya square in Minsk if they did not receive permission, they were finally allowed to sign a contract one day before the planned congress on 30 October. The congress could be held at the same location as the first founding congress: in the conference room of the Minsk Tractor Factory.

However, when representatives of the party in the morning of the 31st went to the square to invite the people who did not know that the congress would take place in the Tractor Factory, they found police cars, military and police on motorcycles circling the square, trying to stop the people. It was therefore good that the congress did not take place on the square, especially since the Ministry of Internal Affairs announced via the website Interfax that people would be arrested if the congress took place on the square.

(to be continued)

Thursday, October 1, 2009

European Directive on "Equal Treatment"

Dear friends,

At the end of November the "Equal Treatment" directive will be discussed in the European Council of Ministers. This directive can have serious consequences for the freedom of expression and many other issues. More information you will find on the website from the "Christian Concern for Our Nation":

Let us pray and act that this Directive in its current form not will be accepted and for wisdom for our ministers.

Greetings and blessings
Leo van Doesburg

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Follow the mini-blogs during the International Summer School

During the whole week of the International Summer School "(South East) Europe between Identity and Integration" you can follow the developments by reading the mini-blogs on the ECPYN blogspot. Jonathan van Tongeren, secretary general of ECPYN will post there regularly.

You can find the ECPYN blogspot at

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Walls that divide, Walls that unite: personal lessons from the trip to Poland

(Picture: message on the remains of the Berlin Wall, East Gallery)

On 20th April, Easter Monday, I left Romania again for an exciting new trip. Last time I wrote my impressions about Armenia and Georgia. This is my last destination from that trip: Warsaw!

In the early morning, together with our friends from the Christian Democratic Movement of Georgia (CDM), I boarded the flight to Warsaw where I was to take part in the meeting organized by the "East European Bureau for Christian Democratic parties" from the former Soviet countries. This is an agreement between the Christian Democratic parties of Armenia, Belarus, Estonia, Latvia, Georgia, Moldovia and Ukraine. The founders of the Christian Democratic party of Russia were observers. This meeting was organized within the conference of the European People's Party.

At the airport in Vienna where we had to change planes, I saw Gevorg who just arrived from Yerevan. Unfortunately he had to wait for another plane while our Georgian friends and I already boarded.

When I arrived at the hotel, I was so tired that I slept almost immediately. I had a wonderful time in Armenia and Georgia, but the great number of events and impressions had tired me. When Gevorg arrived we discussed the East European meeting and in the evening he met our Ukrainian friends and helped them with building up their stand.

The dividing walls
It was already early evening and I decided to walk a bit through the city. I was always impressed by the Jewish uprising in the ghetto in the Second World war and in a small guidebook I saw an address where a part of the old wall of the ghetto was left. It was starting to get dark. At the address I found a kind of inner court but it was locked. However there was no sign of a memorial or something that would commemorate this important event. A man living in that block came out of the inner court and I asked him about the memorial; he just pointed to the place in an offhand manner. Then I saw it: a part of the wall with an inscription next to a small office, the memorial center.Next day I went back to the center and asked, surprised, why there is no sign with a small bell outside so that people know about this important place. The Jewish guy from the memorial said sadly that the Polish people don't want to be confronted with the past and he did not get approval to put a sign there. Now both the wall and the center are hidden between blocks in an innercourt. How many things do we actually want to hide from others, I am wondering?

Another thing that was impressive was the Polish uprising in the Second World War. The people tried to liberate themselves from the German occupation and to defend themselves. However, the Russians did nothing to help them and the consequence was that 90% of the city was destroyed. Later the country suffered under a communist regime until it was the first country to initiate democratic reforms which led to the fall of another wall: the Berlin wall that divided East and West and was a symbol of repression.

The Message at the congress
The meeting with the Christian Democratic parties of the former Soviet Union was great: new collaborative projects were begun, doors opened and walls of distrust fell down. Communism fell because of the Christian faith and values, said the Polish delegation during the EPP congress: this was the most important message, much more important than all the speeches given by a whole range of Prime Ministers and presidents of the European Commission or the European Parliament.

The basis of Christian Democracy took away the walls between the Western European countries which resulted in the present European Union. The Christian faith broke down the walls of the communist regimes in Eastern Europe! Also all these important leaders of Europe agreed that "European values" should be respected. It is only sad that no-one actually mentioned what these values are! And in the three hours of speeches I discovered the word 'Christian' only three times. The Gospel is breaking down the walls that divide people: there is no difference for God, everyone can live in heaven ....without walls that divide people and without ghettos to separate different ethnicities. As it is written: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28)

People create walls that divide people from their families and limit their freedom in order to control people and rule over them. Nehemiah created a wall but this was based on faith and God’s protection and everyone was working on that wall! This is not the wall that divides people, but the wall that unites people. This is the wall based on the foundation of Jesus, which gives vision, hope, strength and unity. Therefore also the heavenly Jerusalem will have walls as written in Revelation 21:1-21 “The angel who talked with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city, its gates and its walls.” We read that they are beautiful walls and further on we read: “On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life.” This is the wall that unites people of all nations! But it is also a protection against anything impure! It is written that this wall has 12 gates and will never be shut! God’s wall is not a closed wall, but there is access into heaven through Jesus who is the gate.

Walls that protect, no walls that divides
This is how society should be created, how Europe should be built: not with a wall between people, but a wall around us based on our faith that protects us from evil. This should be the message of all the leaders of Europe. Poland suffered a lot to get this message. Let's hope that we are learning these lessons..

Psalm 107:15,16: Let them give thanks to the LORD for His unfailing love and His wonderful deeds for men, for He breaks down gates of bronze and cuts through bars of iron."

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Georgia: The Rose of the Caucasus (part 2)

Last time I shared my first impressions of the visit to Georgia and the beauty of the country. Here is the second part of my impressions of my trip to Georgia.

In addition to everything I saw and learned about Georgia, it was impressive to visit one of the regional offices of the CDM in Telavi. The leader of the office demonstrated how they try to involve the local people in the activities of the CDM. They have a lot of people involved already and have organized special actions, like a walk to a local church that was difficult to reach. This created not only a good team feeling for the leadership team of the regional branch of the party but also much goodwill for the people in the area that is difficult to reach, because although the cities are well-developed, the rural areas are still quite poor and in need of development.

Toast your heritage

In the evening, a special surprise was prepared: for my birthday they organized a special dinner in a very traditional place in Telavi. Many toasts were offered, which is a special habit in Georgia. First they toast the guests; “We honor guests, because the guests come from God” is a special Georgian saying. This hospitality became very clear to me during the visit. Also it actually reminds me of the Biblical phrase where the apostle Paul asks us: “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it” (Hebr. 13:2). This was followed by toasts for the ancestors, family, grandparents, parents, brothers and sisters, children and so on (the last ones I cannot remember very well). And if you don’t have children yourself, for example, you toast the children of the world…..

It is a very nice habit to honor all the people and to think about them and also to think about your own roots, your communities where you grew up, which you are part of and formed you. Your community creates your environment, so it is good to have a special evening of joy to think about this and to pay respect to all the people who have had a positive influence on you.

The collaboration protocol

The official signing of the collaboration between the CDM and the ECPM took place the following morning. This was organized in the press room of the CDM with the party leadership present, as well as a lot of representatives of the Georgian media (including many television stations). The protocol was very well prepared and in front of many cameras, George Targamadze and I signed the collaboration protocol. After this official meeting, I met different representatives and the party’s Members of Parliament and we discussed pragmatically many areas of collaboration. I learned a lot about the way they were thinking, how they mediate their events and about their excellent combination of enthusiasm and pragmatism. At the end of the meeting I was given a special present: a small gilt model of an ancient statue of a lion, a symbol of Georgia and by coincidence also fitting with my name. I also received a special gift, a box containing two bottles of wine with a painting on it of the famous Georgian painter Pirosmani whose paintings I saw in the museum in Signagi.

The visit finished with a visit to the old monastery of Svetitskhoveli (with a view of the monastery Jvari built on the mountain) and the Sameba (“Holy Trinity”) church in Tiblisi consecrated in 2004. This latter church is not only the largest religious building in Georgia but also listed among the largest Orthodox Churches in the world. It is the symbol of the Georgian national and spiritual revival.

Georgia… the rose of the Caucasus

Georgia impressed me and I believe both in the future of the country and in the great potential of the CDM. I believe that the party will be of crucial importance and make a significant contribution in mediating the difficult situation in Georgia and in restoring democratic values on a healthy (I hope) Christian Democratic foundation, based on enthusiasm and vision but also pragmatism and realism.

Georgia is a country that strives for progress, the country of the Rose Revolution that strives for freedom and values. But it is necessary to prune the thorns that still make the country bleed (see my item posted before: “The Thorns of the Rose Revolution”). Also growth is hindered by the big thunder of the war, and the difficult relationship with Russia and its continuous interests and pressure. However I hope and pray that the international community will fertilize the ground and cherish this beautiful country of the Caucasus so that despite the difficult circumstances, it will flourish, grow and spread a good and pleasant aroma for the countries around it.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Georgia: The Rose of the Caucasus (part 1)

On 20th April, Easter Monday, I left Romania again for an exciting new trip, visiting Armenia, Georgia and Warsaw. In this third report I would like to tell about my trip to Georgia. The aim of that visit was to learn more about their situation, about the work of the Christian Democratic Movement and to discuss collaboration with the ECPM.

Although the city was blocked for some time because of the demonstrations against President Saakashvili, and the situation in Georgia was still tense, the CDM organized an impressive program to learn more about the beautiful country of Georgia, about the party and also about their local offices. In the first evening, I had dinner with the party leader of the CDM, George Targamadze, and with the Director of International Relations, George Rukhadze, (interesting: the Georges from Georgia) in a beautiful setting, overlooking the beautiful skyline of Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia.

When you see the skyline, you notice two things. First, that Tbilisi seems to be a very modern and Western-type city. Secondly, you notice also the beautiful illuminated churches. It was such an impressive balance between modernity and culture, about progress and faith.

The demonstrations

George Targamadze explained that the demonstrations had lasted for a long time already and that no end was in sight. As a consequence of fraud in the elections, proved by the OSCE (but their report was too late to be able to change anything), a part of the opposition did not accept their mandates. The dissatisfaction regarding the increasing power of the president, and the war with Russia in the summer of last year brought this part of the opposition on to the streets to require the dismissal of the president.

There were great worries about the situation. Beside the fact that the demonstrations cause great economic loss for the country, blocking the center for months causing traffic jams and general confusion is more and more irritating to the general public. The question now is how long this will last and whether the resistance against the demonstrations is growing: is there a danger for serious clashes? Also another cause for concern is whether Russia will try to influence the situation or interfere in a negative way by supporting the demonstrators or by trying to divide them.

The rapid growth of CDM

The CDM was officially founded at the beginning of 2008. As a consequence of the limiting of freedom of the Press, well-known journalists started a new party based on Christian Democratic values: within a few months this party grew and with the first elections they won 7 places in the parliament (there are 150 places).

I was impressed by how the party has grown so much in such a short time, but also that the party is characterized not only by great enthusiasm, but also by professionalism and realistic opinions about political values. They consider that it is not wise for the opposition not to accept their mandates, because of the people who voted for them. They also think that the solution does not lie in the dismissal of the president but in the constitutional reform that is needed first: to spread the power, to guarantee fair elections and so on.

Therefore one of the most important requests of the CDM to the ECPM was to help them in the formation of this Christian Democratic base. They do not agree, of course, with the politics of the president, nor those of the opposition. This means that they have an excellent intermediary position between the two extremes and that their view is also shared with the international community.

However, this middle way, though realistic, can have its negative consequences for support for the party itself if society is more and more divided into the two groups. The party is currently doing very well, with 15% in the opinion polls.

The beauty of the country

As said before, I was very impressed with the program they organized. During the morning of the first day, we visited the party office of the CDM which also showed the combination of “Western style, enthusiasm, professionalism and pragmatism”. After this we went into the country. First we visited the Bodbe convent in the beautiful walled city called Signagi.

The Bodbe monastery was built on the place where Georgia’s enlightener – Saint Nino – was laid to rest. That’s why it has enormous significance for the nation. The city Signagi is built on the southeast slopes of the Gombori mountain range, situated on a high mountain cape, looking at the Alazani Valley from above. It is linked with the name of King Erekle II (1726). After the visit to Bodbe we visited this beautiful, excellently restored city and also the Georgian national museum which contains works by internationally renowned Georgian painters like Niko Pirosmanashvili and where diverse ancient ethnographic materials are exhibited. Later we saw the beautiful Alaverdi monastery in the Telavi region. It was very impressive to see the beauty of this country, and its cultural and historical richness. Georgia is really the rose of the Caucasus.

( To be continued)

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Intermezzo: The Thorns of the Rose Revolution

On 20th April, Easter Monday, I left Romania again for an exciting new trip. Last time I wrote about the impressions of Armenia. This is the second report, as intermezzo before giving my impressions of the trip to Georgia.

My plane landed, after a short flight, in Tblisi. The difference between the international airports of Armenia and Georgia is interesting. The airport in Yerevan is small, has a real round shape, but the messages were not announced in English. I had to concentrate to hear if something about Tblisi was mentioned. The Tblisi airport seemed much grander and more according to international standards, with announcements also in English but with a very strict security! I had to wait a very long time for our luggage. Also there were billboards telling that if your luggage had a yellow sticker, then you should go directly to the customs and security!.

The thorns of the rose revolution in Georgia
It was clear for me that the situation in Georgia was still tense and difficult. Georgia Zviad Gamsakhurdia was toppled in 1991 as a result of the civil war, and Shevardnadze came in power. In 2003 Shevardanze was toppled by Saakashvili during the “Rose Revolution, who has been in power since then. Now six years later the people are not satisfied. The “roses of the revolution” have some sharp thorns that have caused serious bleeding in society. One of our friends from the Christian Democratic Movement of Georgia wrote that the President has repeatedly changed the constitution and equipped himself with ultimate power so that nowadays he controls the Prime Minister, Cabinet of Ministers, the Parliament, courts, the majority of TV, media etc. And that is without mentioning the war with Russia in which he played a big role. Saakashvili toppled Shevarnandze, and now a part of the opposition wants to topple Saakashvili and for more than a month have been demonstrating in the street and blocking access to the main roads. How long can this continue peacefully?

The "felvet dictators"
It seems actually to be a trend that many of these revolutions end with a kind of shift of power where new (although most of the time more charismatic) leaders also start to behave as a kind of “velvet dictators.” Based on their charisma, new leaders are pulling more and more power to themselves and controlling society more and more. It looks very democratic and transparent from the outside (and even the EU could be misled in this way), but the real “playing rules” are not visible at all and these invisible rules actually determine in most cases the democratic rules instead of the reverse as we are used to in more democratic societies. In this way societies can look very democratic but are very different from the inside. Therefore politics can be characterized with many different interests where the “survival of the fittest” is the main rule.

The consequence is that the general population, who understand these games better and better, will no longer have any interest in politics and the most dangerous thing that can happen is apathy, which means: people don’t care any more and participation in parliamentarian elections can decrease to around 25%-30%. Also one of the most important rules is: if you have power, you keep participation in elections low. So, organize it in the holiday period (like in Bulgaria) or in long weekends or on free holidays (like in Romania), motivate your own supporters to come to vote and you will have a long career in politics.

Other examples
You see it also for example in the Ukraine with President Victor Yushenko and in Romania with Traian Basescu. The Orange Revolution in Ukraine led to destabilizing conflicts between the President and the Prime Minister and fights in the Parliament which divide that country into two or even more parts (taking into account also the Russian-oriented part). The promise of “we will live better” also resulted in the Romanian President taking more and more power to himself, acting also as Prime Minister in receiving the IMF delegation for negotiations about loans at his palace with the Prime Minister (who belonged to the same party) but without the Ministers of Economic Affairs, and of Finance, without the President of the Romanian National Bank and without any Socialist coalition partner. Why the delegation first had to visit the Presidential Palace and what the role of the President is in this case (instead of the Prime Minister) is still a question for me. In any case, the popularity of Basescu has significantly decreased but there is no hope any more of alternatives. If nothing changes, probably participation in the presidential elections in the autumn will be the same as or less than last year’s parliamentary elections: lower than 35%.

"Unbelief and Revolution"
Some time ago, I received as a present from a friend of mine, the book “Unbelief and Revolution”by Guillaume Groen van Prinsterer. Groen wrote this book after the disappointments of the French Revolution. His thoughts were the basis of the thought of Abraham Kuyper and of the Dutch “Anti-Revolutionary Party” where the first Christian Democratic foundations were laid. It is impressive how these thoughts are such a reality in some of the Eastern European countries. Many of these countries faced a rapid change in society. After the liberalization of the Communist regime, questions were continuously raised about how democracy has to be built, and on what values society should be built: after years of atheistic regimes, Christianity conquered the atheistic thinking of the “Trinity” of Marx, Engels and Lenin. As stated at the Polish presentation during the last congress of the EPP, only faith and Christian values could break down the walls of the communist regime, so at the moment most of the countries are struggling with the heritage of communism where corruption, fraud and power battles ruled most of the time. This is because of the lack of a healthy societal base where checks and balances should go hand in hand and where civil society is seen as the main independent good for the society.

The Christian Democratic Movement of Georgia, a new party established in 2008 and already after only a few months with 6 seats (out of 150) in the Georgian Parliament, saw this clearly. The president of the party George Targamadze said that the only way Georgia can come out of the crisis is if society is developed based on Christian Democratic values.

"Via DoloRosa"
As we think about "the thorns of the rose revolution” I was also thinking about our King of Kings. He had a crown made of thorns and was humiliated by carrying his cross through the streets of Jerusalem dressed with a purple cloth. The King of Kings did not wear a golden crown, but a crown of thorns. He did not aim for earthly power and did not make society bleed: he was bleeding and gave His blood for us! That is real leadership: to serve others! I wish and pray that these country leaders will learn that!

The way of suffering is also called in the Latin language: Via Dolorosa. Is it a coincidence that in the word "suffering" is also the word "rosa" which is also Latin for "rose?" Is that maybe also the reason that Roman Catholics are praying with the "Rosary"? Shouldn't we look to the real "rose revolution" of Jesus via the Via Dolorasa that through suffering comes real freedom to those who believe in Him?

Back to the basics
I was waiting for my luggage. What was interesting was that my plane arrived around the same time as the plane from Amsterdam and by coincidence I had some hand luggage with some souvenirs from Armenia (with amongst others my gilt pomegranate) in a Dutch plastic bag. When my bags came earlier from the plane from Yerevan, I saw a group of Dutch young people looking hopefully at the baggage belt not knowing that I came from another plane…. I was wondering if they know what freedom is and what democratic values are? Do we know what the basis of Europe is? What the basis of our democracy is and what freedom means? Let's go back to the basics!

(to be continued)

Monday, May 18, 2009

Armenia: About pomegranates, fruitfulness and travelling on Noah’s height

On 20th April, Easter Monday, I left Romania again for an exciting new trip. This time I was to visit Armenia in preparation for the ECPM congress; Georgia to visit the Christian Democratic Movement and to learn more about the political situation and how the ECPM could play a role to promote the Christian democratic values in this country; and to visit the meeting of the Eastern European Bureau for Christian Democracy that would take place during the Annual Congress of the European Popular Party in Warsaw. This is the first report, with impressions of the trip to Armenia.

Monday evening I left Timisoara and went via Vienna to Yerevan. In the airplane I noticed that in Armenia it was three hours later in Vienna and so I arrived in the middle of the night in Yerevan but not at alltired. Accommodation was arranged by an old friend of mine, Levon Bardakjian, who offered to let me stay with his family. I arrived at his place, a nice house on a hill where I had a marvelous view of the city and in the distance, Mount Ararat, the mountain that we all know as the mountain where Noah’s ark rested after floating for a very long time on the water that covered the whole earth. The dove that came with a branch of the olive tree symbolized a new beginning of mankind to subdue the earth again. According to the people with whom I spoke in Armenia, the area around the mountain is still very fertile and also very good for vineyards. Does this not remind us about the other story of Noah? About being careful regarding all the blessings God gives us?

I noticed that Armenia is a country full of symbols to think about.
Besides the new beginning for mankind, the Armenians also see themselves as the first country in Europe to adopt Christianity as the state religion. The beautiful churches I saw reflect the faith of the people and the majesty of God. But they also said that the uprisings in Armenia were the basis of all the changes in the Soviet Union in the late 80s. Is Armenia the country of new beginnings?

The pomegranate: fruitful time in Armenia.
Another symbol of Armenia is the pomegranate. I received a small silver gilt pomegranate as a gift from one of the politicians I visited. He told me that a pomegranate bears around 365 seeds which symbolizes the fact that we should bear fruit every day of the year. I put the pomegranate in a prominent place in my apartment; it is as though it says: “How much fruit did you bear today?”

In any case the time in Armenia was very fruitful. I had discussions with many representatives from churches and from the political and civil society that gave me insight into the political situation and the role Christians could have. In addition I gave two courses to around 60 young people of the Evangelical Church of Yerevan. It was so encouraging to discuss with them about the vision of Nehemiah: “to discover your own part of the wall which is the closest to your house” which means: to discover your own gifts and your own contribution to society and to the Kingdom of God. This resulted in a practical exercise: after this training, everyone was asked to contribute their gifts to clean the church. Another course I gave was a discussion of what integrity means and how to resist corruption. .

Also fruitful were the meetings organized by our contact person in Armenia, Gevorg Babayan. We had discussions with the leader of the Christian Democratic Union of Armenia, Kostrov Harutyunyan. It was impressive that he mentioned that the reason why Armenia should be a member of the ECPM is because the ECPM is making a stand against the dechristianisation of Europe and that it goes to the roots of Europe: the Christian values. Also he gave me more insight into the difficult situation concerning the frozen conflict around Nakorno Karabah.

We also discussed the organization of the conference in cooperation with the East European Bureau for Christian Democratic parties (based on developing Christian Democracy in the former Soviet Union countries) which will be combined with a conference in Armenia about the theme: “Armenia from the Christian Democratic perspective: from values towards practice”. The chairman of the Eastern European Bureau, Mr. Volodymir Stretovich and the general secretary of the Bureau, Mr. Yuri Reshetnikov, both from the Ukraine, also participated in the meeting about the Eastern European conference.

Gevorg organized a meeting with the board of the "Christian People's Unity of Armenia", associate member of the ECPM. The board gave positive critical feedback about the organization of the conferences in September, and also stated that they will support and collaborate in the organization of the event. We were also given a summary of the projects they were involved in.

Another day together with Gevorg we were looking for a suitable location and saw the surroundings of Yerevan with beautiful white mountains.

Insight into the situation
Both Georg and Levon introduced me to many politicians and I got insight into the situation in Armenia. There is a big struggle in the transition to democratic values, freedom and identity. One thing that worried me was the latest proposal for a new code for religious affairs: this law forbids the “sharing of faith” which can result in imprisonment. The struggle for democracy was also seen when a gunman entered the parliament in 1999 and murdered eight politicians. You can find more information about that on .Still there is a big struggle for democracy.

We could also see the struggle on a local level, in the organization of the new Board of the Presidential Commission for Human Rights to which I was invited. After the candidates presented themselves and the votes were counted, there was a lot of discussion about the way the new candidate was chosen and the validity of the votes and the large number of "voters" that were registered at the last moment. However, it was interesting to see how Mr. Kosrov, one of the organizers, was looking for a way to propose new elections. Let us hope that this is also symbolic for the democratic progress of Armenia where despite a difficult struggle, progress will be made in developing democratic values in the Armenian society.

The Genocide
But what impressed me most was the remembrance of the Armenian genocide. On 24 April 1915, the murder of hundreds of Armenian leaders was the beginning of the murder of around 1.5 million Armenians by the Turks. The Armenians were raped, starved, murdered, and kidnapped by the ethnic cleansing of the villages or by the death marches in the Syrian desert. It was impressive to join the march on 24th April and to walk with hundreds of thousands of people to the monument to the genocide. While I was walking there, I was thinking about the evil that has happened but also about the terrible denial of the genocide by the Turks.

Just one week prior to the launching of the attack on Poland, it seems that Hitler made an address to his chief military commanders, at Obersalzberg, on 22 August 1939: “Unsere Stärke ist unsere Schnelligkeit und unsere Brutalität. Dschingis Khan hat Millionen Frauen und Kinder in den Tod gejagt, bewußt und fröhlichen Herzens. Die Geschichte sieht in ihm nur den großen Staatengründer. Was die schwache westeuropäische Zivilisation über mich behauptet, ist gleichgültig. Ich habe den Befehl gegeben — und ich lasse jeden füsilieren, der auch nur ein Wort der Kritik äußert — daß das Kriegsziel nicht im Erreichen von bestimmten Linien, sondern in der physischen Vernichtung des Gegners besteht. So habe ich, einstweilen nur im Osten, meine Totenkopfverbände bereitgestellt mit dem Befehl, unbarmherzig und mitleidslos Mann, Weib und Kind polnischer Abstammung und Sprache in den Tod zu schicken. Nur so gewinnen wir den Lebensraum, den wir brauchen. Wer redet heute noch von der Vernichtung der Armenier?”

During the walk to the monument, Gevorg showed me the tree which was planted by Leen van Dijke, then MP for the ChristenUnie from the Netherlands. Also I stopped at the museum and saw the pictures of the atrocities that took place during that time and finally put my own flowers beside the monument that was covered with a mountain of flowers. After we laid the flowers, we walked back to the buses from the hill with again the Ararat mountain greeting us in the front. It was as though God told me: „But whatever happened or happens, I keep my promises and I will do right by mankind, I will judge the people on the Judgement Day and save the people who believed in Me through the love of Jesus.” After terrible judgements, the mountain became for me a symbol of promises, of a new beginning.

This was especially when I was walking down from the monument that reminds everyone of the terrible genocide and indirectly also of all that happened in the two World Wars. However God will never forget us and will always send the rainbow as a sign of the recovery of love for mankind, finally seen in the love of Jesus. And although I noticed a general will to develop better relations with Turkey and to open the borders for more trade, the only real conciliation will come by the willingness to recognize and ask forgiveness for the mistakes and by the healing power of Jesus.

Flying on Noah's height
Armenia, the country of symbols of new beginning, of bearing fruit, of openings for the work of the ECPM, but also the struggle for democratic changes, the attacks on the freedom of religion and expression, of the struggle for democracy and economic development, the country of a complicated history characterized by a lot of suffering.
When the airplane was ascending, I prayed for the country and for the wonderful people I met.

Above the clouds, I saw small pieces of the mountains just below me, the mountains connected with the famous Ararat mountains and with a smile I was thinking to myself.... „I was flying on Noahs height”!

"... the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat... and on the first day of the tenth month the tops of the mountains became visible" (Gen. 8:4-5)

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Dear friends,

For a long time, people tried to convince me to make a blogspot where I could say a little bit about my travels, the things that are happening in Eastern Europe and my personal thoughts. However, I never have had time or opportunity to create one, but Jonathan van Tongeren and Auke Minnema - both involved in the activities of the European Christian Political Youth Network (ECPYN) – gave me a nice surprise and created this blog called: “Leo cel mare” (this is Romanian for “Leo the Great”).

They explained the title as follows: “This blogspot was presented to Leo by some friends, because he is a great guy, hence the title 'Leo the Great'.” Personally I think that they made a mistake in the interpretation. Besides „great”, the Romanian word „mare” can also mean „big” referring to size or volume. Maybe this meaning of „Leo cel Mare” could fit better for me!

But in any case whatever meaning is given to „Leo cel Mare”, I am very happy with the blogspot they created for me and will try to write and update it. Although I am not a great writer, a detailed analyst, or a poet, I hope that I can share a little bit about the events that are happening in Eastern Europe but also I am looking for your reactions and (especially) critical remarks.