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)