Wednesday, March 30, 2011

"What is man?" (Psalm 8) Human Dignity as base for Christian Social Teaching and Christian Democracy

After years of economic growth and welfare, revolutionary changes in means of communication, we are confronted with the global financial crisis. While governments and the European Union are trying to their best to save the economies by transferring large sums of money to emergency funds, the production is decreasing, the unemployment is rising, the salaries and governmental subventions are decreasing and the poverty in Europe is increasing significantly. With this article, Leo van Doesburg is looking if human dignity as a base for Christian Social and Christian Democratic teachings could give an answer to the nowadays challenges and how the basic values of human dignity can be reintroduced as an answer on the nowadays challenges.

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Serbia, Kosovo Wrap Up First Round of Talks

The first round of Belgrade-Pristina talks, which the EU mediator called "friendly but also honest", ended in Brussels on Wednesday.

The head of the Serbian negotiating team, Borko Stefanovic, said that the talks showed that there was both the capacity and readiness to solve issues.

He also pointed out that the EU mediation of the dialogue was very positive and status-neutral.

EU mediator Robert Cooper, meanwhile, said the talks opened in a "good atmosphere". He said that the two sides discussed improving the legal certainty of people living in Kosovo, including through improving civil and cadastral registers, and improving economic cooperation in the region.

He explained that the dialogue touched on issues that will be discussed in greater detail later on, such as air traffic, telecommunications and customs stamps.

The first meeting within the first round of talks was held late on Tuesday, after several hours' of uncertainty as to whether or not the Kosovo team would arrive, following extended discussions in the parliament in Pristina over the acceptable content for the negotiations.

At the meeting on Tuesday, the teams learned about each other and worked on building a degree of trust, Stefanovic said on Wednesday, commending his team for arriving in Brussels "particularly well prepared", and voicing his satisfaction with the first day of talks.

According to Stefanovic, the negotiating team concentrated on concrete problems on the agenda, first of which were land registers.

He added that the Kosovo team "attempted to impose terminological and narrative differences", and "their own interpretation of recent history", to which his team responded by "not allowing any deviations in the talks, removing differences that the other side often tried to present, and focusing on the most important issues that will bring welfare to people in Kosovo".

The Kosovo team maintained that "Kosovo's independence must not be brought into question at any cost during the dialogue with Belgrade".

"We have a constructive approach to the dialogue. There are many practical issues on the agenda and if we are creative we can overcome differences and improve the lives of people but also European processes, both for the state of Kosovo and the state of Serbia," Edita Tahiri, who heads the Pristina delegation, was quoted as saying.

Belgrade-Pristina meetings are expected to take place several times a month, depending on progress achieved, EU officials said earlier. The future meetings will focus on three main topics: regional cooperation, freedom of movement and rule of law.


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Croatia's EU Scepticism Deepens

Croatians' scepticism of the European Union has been growing from month to month, with 41 per cent expressing themselves against membership in March.

Over the last year an additional 1.1 per cent more Croatians have come out against European Union membership, the latest CRO Demoscop survey shows. However, on balance public opinion remains in favour of joining with 48.9 per cent still supporting Croatia's entry.

Support was at its strongest last June (53.1 per cent), and then dropped below 50 per cent for the remainder of the year.

The strongest supporters of Croatia’s membershipare supporters of the conservative Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, (63.6 per cent), with members of the Croatian Labourers – Labour Party, the Croatian People’s Party – Liberal Democrats, HNS, the Social Democratic Party, SDP, the IDS the Croatian Party of Pensioners, HSU all marginally in favour of membership.

Older Croatians are more positive towards EU membership than the younger generations, while there are no differences amongst genders, the portal Dalje writes.


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Epilogue of the Balkan trip: World of Difference

From 25 to 27 February the Boris Trajkovski International Foundation held its 6th Youth Leadership Forum and the 7th Fellowship Prayer Dinner. The theme this year was “World of Differences – Identity and Peace”, something Macedonians have been confronted with for nearly 20 years. During this time, Macedonia has always tried to overcome conflicts, obstacles and trials, creating peace and stability in an often unstable world based on their identity.

Therefore during plenary sessions different aspects of identity were discussed, like the question ‘What is my personal identity?’, about forms of identity and the relationship between identity and peace. All these plenary discussions were based on the principles of Jesus. Wilfried Nausner, Superintendent (United Methodist Church) spoke about three core values that form your identity: family, education and memory (history). He illustrated with texts from the Bible. He was followed by Robert Liddell - Head of the Political Section in the EU Commission in Macedonia. He explained that identity gives you security and how to react in certain circumstances. Also identity is a base from where you strive for in the future and can also bring change. Like the fall of the German Wall in 1989 changed completely a system of communistic beliefs. David Beasley, former governor of South Carolina, mentioned the identity crisis you can have as a young politician. The question that appears as new young politician appears: “Do you know who you are, do you want to let others to determine who you are or do you let your identity define your message”? It is also important to be friends with others who do not agree with you.

Different small groups discussed their identity, the meaning of identity, acceptance and tolerance. Identity is whatever makes a person different or similar to others, possessing a set of qualities or characteristics that make the person similar but also distinguishable from others. In a more social context, identity is a term used to describe a person's conception and expression of his/her individuality or group affiliations (such as national and cultural identity).

The second session started with a presentation from Leo van Doesburg (ECPM) about: “European Union between identity and integration.” Coming from the Netherlands and living in Romania, country of origin is not the most important issue for him, but his identity as a follower of Jesus and to follow His values like social care, reconciliation and forgiveness: not to dominate but to serve and act out of justice. After this he discussed the different strategic projects of the European Union and the initial vision of the European collaboration: to create peace by solidarity and increasing welfare. Then he discussed the question whether a European identity exists. Do the people living in the European Union see themselves as Europeans? On one hand they do, seeing the traveling, the exchange programs in the universities etc. On the other, European identity is not seen as dominating above their national identity (like in the US where the national identity dominates above the regional identities) shown by the growth of nationalism, and the refusal of the majority of the population to use the European symbols. The active policy to promote “European citizenship” seems not to have so much effect.

The session was followed by a talk from Mounzer Fatfat, former US Ambassador in Iraq, originally coming from Lebanon. He told of the difficulties being accepted in the States because of his identity as a Muslim and then being accepted in Lebanon because he lived in the States for such a long time. He told about the principles of Jesus as a common ground for Muslims and Christians that developed his identity. He as a Muslim (also his name is called Moses) follows the principles of Jesus and called the people to look outside their comfort zones, respect them and love them as friends. “You need to give the people feel the power who you are” (quotation from Abraham Lincoln). This was also confirmed by Larry Ross, owner of a PR agency in the US, who also mainly focused on “Who is Jesus?’ and His principles as a base for his identity

In the evening we had a Fellowship Dinner with several leaders from different countries who came together to meet each other and to share ideas and thoughts about identity. The Fellowship Dinner is organized every year on the day that former President Boris Trajkovski died in order to remember the work he did and to develop his ideas further. David Beasly (former Governor of South Carolina) and Nikola Gruevski (Prime Minister of Macedonia) addressed the participants on the importance of President Boris Trajkovski in actively promoting and implementing the values of Jesus in Macedonia. After the poem “Who am I” from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, traditionally the dinner was closed by singing the song “Amazing Grace”.

In the morning of the second day, there was a forum about the relation between identity and peace. After an introduction, Auke Minnema (Secretary General of ECPYN) introduced the speakers and led the meeting. The speakers were Lars Rise, former Member of Parliament in Norway, and Hristina Runceva and Ermira Mehmeti, both Members of the Macedonian National Parliament.

This was followed by a presentation of the results of the small groups’ discussions and a sports competition. The event finished with each participant receiving an official certificate. Around 200 participants from Macedonia and neighbouring countries attended this forum.