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.

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