Statements and Resolutions
|ILRS Meets in Budapest
Overview of the 2000 Congress
The International League of Religious Socialists (ILRS) held its triennial Congress from 13-15 October in Budapest, Hungary.
Meeting in a building that formerly housed the local headquarters of the communist Hungarian Socialist Workers Party, across the street from a park where activists in the 1956 uprising were hung, the theme of this first ever congress in a former Soviet bloc nation was What Is Our Idea of Democracy? Today, the building is occupied by the reformed organisation, the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSzP), now a member of the Socialist International, and our hosts for the congress. Heavy with meaning, and the knowledge of the history before us, the congress focused on the different scenarios and systems of democratic governance experienced by democratic socialists round the world.
Chosen with the idea of engaging the recent changes in central and eastern Europe clearly in mind, the theme allowed our comrades in that part of the world to report on their experiences, and the congress indeed gave testimony to the endurance of democracy against dictatorship of any kind.
Ideas of democracy
For the congress, each national delegation was asked to present a synopsis of the political system in their country, and share the distinctions of those systems in work groups designed to build a better understanding
Three reports informed these work groups, from Sweden, South Africa and Britain respectively.
The Swedish government has just completed an extensive and groundbreaking report on Sustainable Democracy, which was presented to the congress by Professor Erik Amna of the University of Uppsala. After noting a decline throughout all industrialised nations in the degree of participation in the political process, the Social Democratic party government began surveying Swedish voters about their opinion of democracy and their own democratic process, to try and find out why the decline was happening. Five areas were identified as important in maintaining the publics interest in civic responsibility, which are mentioned here very briefly:
1. The need to improve democratic awareness, that is the sense that one has control over ones sphere of life.
2. A need to develop participation between elections, so that this sense of control over ones own affairs has real meaning beyond the period of elections. Citizens need to feel involved, and that their involvement has a more immediate effect on their lives.
3. In order to make that involvement real, an expansion in the amount of local self-government and legal review is required, with the ability to take the input from local forums to the national and international policy level.
4. An increase in the accountability of institutions and elected officials is essential if the previous three points are to have any meaning and impact upon peoples desire to participate in the democratic process. By that is meant that people need to have access to information about social policy as well as access to methods of recall and review.
5. Finally, all of the four points above have to be regularly evaluated to ensure that they are functioning properly. Only when people trust the processes in which they are invested will they continue to use them.
Where the Swedish report provided an idea of how to move toward a better realisation of democracy, our report from South Africa analysed some of the things that can go wrong after a dramatic democratic transformation of an unjust society.
The report, from the Commission for Religious Affairs of the African National Congress, mentioned how coming to power has produced unexpected distractions and diversions which have somewhat disrupted the plans of the ANC government. Delegates discussed how the revolutionary energy that went into the struggle against apartheid quickly transformed itself into the more mundane tasks of government once the people took power. The same skilled activists who led a dynamic movement for a new political system became members of parliament, government ministers, and local officials. As a result, the ANC government has been bogged down with the tasks of ensuring that the new political structures work properly, and that the nation maintains a sufficient level of socio-economic 'stability' to keep investment flowing into the country.
The task that faces South Africas civil society is one of reinvigourating its grassroots methods for achieving change in more specific areas of social policy, without those methods being seen as a threat to the very stability of the state. Its a lesson that both those in and outside of the ANC are trying to learn as that nation builds its democracy.
The ILRS and its activities
Carrying on from the theme of democracy, the ILRS has announced the creation of a Campaign Against Religious and Political Extremism to be developed in the coming year. The origin of the concept comes from earlier proposals from the 1997 ILRS Congress in Helsinki, and the campaign in part addresses what has always been a raison detre for the League the confrontation of the right/fundamentalist current in religious life.
Recent political victories by the Right in Europe, an increase in anti-Jewish and anti-immigrant hate crimes, and a disturbing climate of religiously motivated intolerance in some Islamic countries have prompted the ILRS to work towards ways of building understanding between people of different faiths, by focusing upon common social values which are universal to all faiths as well as to a democratic socialist agenda. While plans are in development for specific actions and forums around the Campaign, the League is also working with its contacts in the Middle East on the idea of holding a Conference on Peace and Understanding in either Jerusalem or Amman, Jordan.
The Campaign Against Religious and Political Extremism hopes to provide a space where religious socialists can turn their ideas into actions, in order to make a larger impact on our respective parties political agenda.
At this congress, three new member organisations (Hungary, Italy and Latvia) were admitted to the ILRS. Of these, the largest is the Italian organisation Christiano Sociali, which boasts 11,000 members. The Bulgarian organisation Religious Social Democrats were accepted as observer members (observer members have no vote).
A new executive was elected, including the organisations first woman Vice-President (Iréne Häberle). Evert Svensson continues as our President, Harry Watson continues as Vice-President, and Johan van Workum continues as Treasurer. Andrew Hammer was elected as the new Secretary General. Our executive committee is as follows: Bev Thomas (Britain), Dr. Tapio Lampinen (Finland), Ona Kupriene (Lithuania), and Alois Reisenbichler (Austria). Substitute members are: Judy Deutsch (USA), Gyula Hegyi MP (Hungary), and Stefano Ceccanti (Italy)
Andrew Hammer, Secretary General
|Address by Dr. Magda Kosa-Kovács MP (MSzP), Chair of Human Rights Commission in the Hungarian Parliament|
|Ladies and Gentlemen,
First of all, I am very glad, you have chosen Budapest for this conference. You have come to a region and to a country where links between religion, churches and politics are dominated by the pressure of history. You have come to a country, where perception towards religion and churches still represents a dividing line in the society with influencing believers, non-believers as well as historical and new religious communities. These dividing lines are also shaped by politics, diminishing tension with its tolerance and deepening conflicts when getting involved with peoples matter of conscience. Now in a specifically transitional situation, at a historic moment I would like to describe how religion and politics are linked in Hungary and how the legislation reflects changing political aims.
|Sustainable Democracy: Policy for Government by the People
in the 21st Century
Report presented to Congress by Prof. Erik Amna
|Development is not uncontrollable. It is in the nature of democracy that it is not determined by fate. Nor does it lie in someone elses hands. Therefore, it is not only individual measures but also the overall political will that has importance for how society will develop.
Democracy is not immutable. The institutions of democracy are fragile in the sense that they take a long time to build up but can collapse significantly more quickly, not least through violence. However, de-democratisation can also creep forward, by small but conscious adjustments of important details of the structures. Without anyone really wanting it to happen, the institutions of democracy can thus lose their efficacy and their norms. This can take place by critical development being neglected or by political representatives consciously or recklessly misusing the confidence of citizens.
We lay down certain fundamental objectives for the future development of democracy and furthermore propose a democracy policy for the long-term enhancement of government by the people in Sweden. Numerous proposals are given in our various documents. Some of them are presented in this report. Refer to our documents for more comprehensive discussion and statistical information. However, it was not part of our terms of reference to examine in detail the proposals, though we expect that this will be conducted through a separate procedure....
|A South African Experience of Politics, Religion and Civil Society
Report from Cedric Mayson, ANC Commission for Religious Affairs
|1. Our African Roots
A German executive of a major NGO working in South Africa said to me recently: Ive been astonished at the number of our staff that go to church. It isnt like that in Germany at all! No one would deny that South Africa has some of the best agnostics and atheists in the world, but most of our 35 million population do have religious roots. Millions are grounded in African Traditional Religion which was thoroughly misunderstood by colonising missionaries, but is now recognised to contain profound spiritual truths of inestimable value to the community. Most of the population are Christian, all the main denominations of Christianity being firmly established as South African institutions, plus versions of every sect and pentecostal group that the US ever produced . Two groups of Christians have developed on distinct lines: the Dutch Reformed churches identify strongly with the Afrikaner people; and the African Independent Churches, of which there are thousands of varieties and millions of followers, consist of Africans who wished to be Christians but not part of western culture and control. A million and a half of us are Muslims, a similar number are Hindus, and small groups are Jews, Bahais or Buddhists.
For this reason political and economic activity has always been given a strong religious motivation. The British Empire sought to justify its domination by appealing to the Victorian ideology expressed by David Livingstone to spread Christianity and Commerce (both with a capital C); apartheid originated in the teaching of the Reformed Church in order to defend Christianity against first the Brits, then the blacks and finally the reds; and the struggle has been fed all through by a spirit of independence, hope and spiritual integrity that comes from the roots of African human experience.
Economic and social roots
Africa is best known in the west as a producer of gold, diamonds, coal and other mineral resources, but a more fundamental factor is the crucial role of land itself in the economic, ecological and theological survival of human communities. That relationship has survived the development of industry and cities which separated millions from the soil, the plains and mountains, the waters and the skies, and both blacks and whites know it. Walking barefoot in the veld, feeling the sun hot on the top of your head, spring time and harvest, the popularity of some basic foods and drinks, speaks of a deep belonging to the land which has nothing to do with historical conquests or title deeds, but prompts many attitudes to both community and theology. Capitalism is an alien imposition upon the soul of Africa: the western form of socialism which grew out of the western class struggle is a rather remote cousin. Socialism in Africa is an attitude of mind, said Dr Julius Nyerere. It inheres in the very nature of African society, part and parcel of the concept and experience of ubuntu.
2. The Apartheid Era
The National Party came to power in 1948 on the apartheid policy, although the main thrust of white politics was still an English versus Afrikaner continuation of the SA War. During the fifties the focus changed as the apartheid legislation began to oppress blacks and outrage a handful of whites. Some within the mainline churches resisted the take over of church schools in 1955, and the church clause of 1957, but apart from a few individuals there was no church involvement in the Freedom Charter of 1955, or the Treason Trials of 1958. The Sharpeville Massacre of 1960 marked a crucial change. A WCC delegation met a delegation of South African Churches at Cottesloe, Johannesburg in 1961, and acted as a catalyst to persuade some whites to become more vocal.
The Christian Institute under Dr. C.F. Beyers Naude became a focus for white and black Christian individuals who were willing to resist the regime, and the SA Council of Churches became the focus for Christian institutional opposition. A Message to the People of South Africa (1968) published jointly by the CI and the SACC denounced apartheid as a false gospel, and was followed by a series of publications and protests including support for the Black Consciousness Movement under Biko, Pityana, Ramphele and others, until the Soweto students brought the whole country out in protest in June 1976. The CI had been involved in countless campaigns, including its support for the liberation Movements, and in 1997, on the eve of a campaign to examine Liberation, Capitalism, and Socialism, the CI and its staff were banned. (Me too).
Cedric Mayson is a retired Methodist Minister who works for the Commission for Religious Affairs of the African National Congress. In earlier years he worked with the Christian Institute, the Institute of Contextual Theology, the SA Council of Churches, and the SA Chapter of the World Conference on Religion and Peace.
|Summary of National Reports on Democracy|
|General observations: There were many points of similarity between the submissions from the different countries. There appears to be diminishing participation by the general public in the political process, growing distrust of politicians and a feeling that people have very little access to power.
Voting - frequency of elections, level of participation, registration qualifications, types of electoral systems, voting rights:
Most countries responding held elections for the national Government every four or five years, some had a fixed term and others a more flexible system. Only Australia has compulsory voting, those who do not vote and who have not registered conscientious objections can be fined.
Participation levels vary greatly from about 25% in USA to over 85% in Australia, in most countries the numbers of those bothering to vote in elections is decreasing. In some countries citizens are automatically registered as voters at 18. Other countries demand individual registration, most countries where registration is necessary are trying to make this easier for those who are native born but countries vary greatly in how easy they make it for immigrants to be granted the right to vote.
There are a wide variety of voting systems, the majority of countries use a form of proportional representation with varying degrees of proportionality. The USA has a first past the post system; P.R. seems to encourage a greater spread of parties than FPTP.
All countries have a secret ballot (the notes from Australia indicate that they were the first country to adopt a secret ballot).
Constituencies vary greatly in size from country to country but this variation in size does not seem to alter people's perceptions of the politicians who represent them. Most countries have personal voting with a wide provision for voting by post. All citizens, apart from convicted criminals in most countries have the right to vote but in some countries there is a residential qualification for registration which militates against the poor and those whose work - often low paid - requires them to move around the country a great deal.
All the responses came from representative democracies but several have provision for referenda at local or national level although referenda are not called very often and the results may only be advisory.
Government. Tiers of government and their powers, centralisation, how representative of the broad spectrum of the population, coalition or single party government, outside influences on government.
Most countries have three tiers of government - national/federal, regional and local. In most countries each of these layers is autonomous and the only way decisions can be changed is by legal action, not by another tier of government. In some countries the national government has some fiscal control over the actions of other tiers.
Most countries wanted to see less centralisation except for the general feeling in Austria which seemed to be that more centralisation would be more cost effective. The areas of decision making which were devolved to lower tiers of government varied greatly.
In most countries white middle class men were well represented at all levels of government. Apart from Sweden women are underrepresented at all levels, as are most ethnic and religious minorities. Several countries are attempting to redress the balance to make all levels of government more representative of the whole population. In most countries the parties of the left have led the way in this.
Everywhere the poor are underrepresented at all levels.
In most countries with a PR system there is a coalition government and in those with First past the Post a more adversarial arrangement.
Only 2 countries - USA and Australia commented on the influence of multi-nationals on government, both thought their effect was detrimental to individuals. In many countries Trade unions had links with the Social Democratic parties but this was not always evident from the influence which they had with those parties when the parties were in government.
Some special interest groups have developed strong lobbying powers; often those with strong financial backing have strong influence with the parties of the right.
Political Parties and Civil Society
The number of political parties represented, the state of political parties, representation within parties, party democracy, membership growth, policy influence, the necessity for political parties:
Most countries have few political parties represented in Government , 2-4, in Sweden they seem to be proliferating with 7. In general most political parties are losing members. Most political parties in most countries are open to all although there are certain "invisible barriers" in some to those of certain ethnic backgrounds. Most parties claim to be democratically controlled by their members but in fact most have structures, which can only be scaled through patronage, influence or cultivation of "power broker". The Trades Unions in many countries are growing slightly after a decline; Non Governmental Organisations are growing more. Most individuals in most countries think that they have little influence on either Government or Party policy. Some of our groups consider they have some influence on their party policy, which can lead to government policy. Most groups who expressed an opinion consider that political parties are essential in a democracy.
Religion. civil society and Politics.
Main religions in the countries, national churches, numbers of people in membership, growth of religious groups, religious institutions in state structures, exclusion/inclusion of ministers in political activities, religious leaders in government, the role of religion in politics, the authority attributed to the pronouncements of religious leaders, the influence of religious groups on government:.
Most of the countries answering the survey were predominantly Christian and many had state church but all had a plurality of religions within the country. The level of religious affiliation varies but in many countries it is high although in most countries the religious groups are loosing adherents. Most countries allow religious leaders full political activity but some churches restrict this. Although we have had no submission from the UK I know that a previous Co ordinator of the Christian Socialist Movement is being threatened by an arcane law with not being able to take his seat in the U.K parliament after the next election. This is because he was an ordained priest in the Roman Catholic Church, even though he has since resigned, Australia allows no ordained ministers to be politicians. In most countries attention is paid to religious leaders when they speak on social issues. Most responders thought that religious socialists had a duty to be involved in politics in the interests of justice. Most respondents also hoped that their groups had influence in the policies of their party and the country.
Chris Herries. ILRS 14.9.00
|Campaign Against Religious and Political Extremism|
Throughout the world today, in every region of the globe, civil society is in some way threatened by forces of intolerance. Whether by the the rise of right-wing neo-Nazi groups in Europe or the violence of Islamic fundamentalists against Christians in India; whether by the anti-women and anti-gay attitudes of Christian fundamentalists in the United States, or the ultra-conservative social positions of the Catholic Church in Latin America, democracy is under attack by those who seek to force their world view on minorities and majorities alike.
The second project will be a conference in the Middle East, which will again address the issue of common political ground deriving from the three faiths which dominate that cradle of Western belief (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam). If we can, in a small way, bring people together in an official, but more informal setting where the outcome of the meeting is not tied to immediate diplomatic or strategic goals, we hope that we might gain some ground in a human sense which might inform the future of the peace process.
|RESOLUTION ON FULL CITIZENSHIP/EXTREMISM
The Congress of the International League of Religious Socialists, meeting in Budapest, 13-15 October 2000, is concerned about policy which exploits ethnic or racial tensions.
We religious socialists believe in the Kingdom of God for this earth. This Kingdom of God is an abundance of life for everyone. Our political commitment in the view of the Kingdom of God means first of all the option for the poor and oppressed. The Kingdom of God is an open, common meal. It is a vision of a society where everyone has his/her place and no one is excluded.
The ILRS Congress is concerned about election results which have shown in several European countries (Austria, Belgium, Switzerland) and elsewhere, that some politicians have gained success by 'playing the ethnic card'.
The ILRS Congress declares that discrimination on the basis of race or ethnicity conflicts with the deepest essence of democracy in general, and especially with religious socialism, because all human beings are equal before God.
The ILRS Congress strongly condemns those politicians who exploit ethnic or racial tensions to gain votes.
The ILRS Congress calls upon all politicians to stop and prevent any political exploitation of racial or ethnic differences and tensions.
The ILRS Congress calls upon all governments to develop policies to realise citizenship of full value for all residents in their country.
The ILRS Congress calls upon governments and parliaments to put into law the idea that discrimination on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity, gender or sexuality is unacceptable and has to be punished.
The ILRS Congress calls upon churches and religious groups and their members to resist actively against xenophobia and ethnic discrimination, and to work on processes of reconciliation.
In this spirit, the ILRS will launch a campaign against religious and political extremism, to fight against the forces of rigid fundamentalism in religion and against social exclusion.
For as religious socialists we are called by our vision of God to heal the world and thus to do our part to realise the Kingdom of God.
|Resolution on the Middle East|
|We who have gathered in Budapest in Hungary for the Congress of the International League of Religious Socialists (ILRS) express our deep concern for the present status of the peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
The ILRS Congress stresses the necessity of implementation of UN Resolutions (242, 338) as a basis to achieve a just and lasting peace.
As religious believers of different faith we deplore the role religious conviction is playing in the conflict by aggravating tensions and fuelling hatred between people. For us, in the Middle East as well as in Europe and in other parts of the world, tolerance, respect and peace-making lie in the core of any religion.
We would like to see Jerusalem as an example of co-existence and cooperation between religious institutions and religious followers with a common concern and responsibility for the holy city. The city should serve as capital for both states Israel and Palestine.
The efforts for a peaceful solution must be intensified. The principle of exchanging land for peace must be reiterated. No party will gain security at the expense of the other, it can only be achieved as a joint enterprise.
ILRS recognises the danger of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in the whole area and the need to destroy them. The security of the region cannot rest on an arms race, but on fair negotiations and agreements for disarmament.
We affirm our deep concern for the respect of human rights, be they political, social or cultural.
We ask for international support to improve the economic and social situation in Palestine. There can be no real peace without justice.
We also ask for a fair solution on the use of local resources, especially water.
The world community must take its full responsibility for the peace process. We have to achieve results which will not be jeopardised so that all parties will be committed to negotiating a comprehensive, just and peaceful solution. No single party should be allowed to unilaterally block the road to peace. We also ask for action by labour movements, religious organisations and NGOs to support the peace movements of all sides.
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