Eastern and Western Europe are moving away from each other again – almost 30 years after the fall of the Iron Curtain. To turn this trend around succeeded the policy so far not. Now the Catholic bishops are trying.
"It's like first love, everything goes very smoothly," says Bamberg's Catholic Archbishop Ludwig Schick. The first love, that was the time after 1989, the Iron Curtain had fallen, the future between East and West seemed rosy.
"The chairman of the Commission for the Universal Church of the German Bishops' Conference calls it the "euphoria phase. In the meantime, the relationship between Western Europeans and Central and Eastern Europeans has become more like a long marriage, with all the difficulties of everyday life. And a connection that must be cultivated especially in times of crisis.
Listening and understanding
At least that's what the bishops have set out to do. They could do pioneering work for the entire EU. At the study day of the spring plenary assembly on Wednesday in Ingolstadt, the first thing to do is to understand the partner. This means listening, not to other bishops, but to experts who know not only the churches but also the societies of the respective countries. Specifically, Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic.
Tomas Halik is a theologian, philosopher and sociologist. The Czech not only explains the logic of the populists, who for him are not a purely Central and Eastern European phenomenon. He points to Donald Trump, the Brexit and the AfD. He also clears up the idea of a former Christian Europe, which populists are always trying to put forward. This, he analyzes, "was never a reality, it was a dream of 19th century romanticism. Century".
Honest exchange called for
It is therefore essential to counter this nostalgia with a thorough cultural debate about one's own identity, advises Halik. For this is often lacking for people who are unsettled by globalization. What is needed are not "phrases," but an honest exchange. Theologians must get involved, he demands of his own profession, even if Christians are not only a minority in the Czech Republic, "but we should be a creative minority".
But Western Europeans must also understand the sensitivities of their dialogue partners. This is what the Hungarian religious scholar Andras Mate-Toth emphatically demands. For him, a central key: the 40 years of communism in his country that have not yet been dealt with. He finds this quite understandable and points out how long it took Germany to come to terms with the twelve years of Nazi rule.
"No license for simple labeling"
From the communist era came strong fears in Hungary, especially when many foreign people came knocking: the fear of losing one's autonomy, but also that of losing one's job. For Mate-Toth, all this does not justify populist politics or even the spreading of hate and fear slogans. "This is also very unsavory in Hungary."But there is also no license for Western commentators to simply label things, for example with regard to Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who is repeatedly branded as a nationalist, populist or corrupt oligarch.
"We need to understand sensitivities for a successful dialogue," Mate-Toth explains. The Bishops' Conference study day certainly contributed to this. But there are still differences, not only on theological ies such as marriage, family and sexuality, but also tangible political differences. This includes, for example, the creeping abolition of the separation of powers in Poland.
"Dialogue has no expiration date"
Such tendencies must be discussed "very clearly," says Schick. This does not only concern the state level, for example in the form of the European Union, but also the church. Nevertheless, for the archbishop, such difficulties should not be an obstacle to exchange. "Dialogue has no expiration date," emphasizes the chairman of the Commission for the Universal Church.
The exchange is now to take place at all levels up to parishes – also with the help of the Eastern European aid organization Renovabis. An initiative from the very top shows how seriously the bishops take this concern: At the end of August, Cardinal Reinhard Marx will travel to Gdansk, Poland, as president of the bishops' conference, in order to advance the Polish-German dialogue.