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.