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Ján Figeľ's speech at the International Consultation on Christian Persecution in Budapest, Hungary

October 12, 2017

International Consultation on Christian Persecution - Finding the Appropriate Answers to a Long Neglected Crisis

 

Your Holiness, Beatitudes, Eminence, Excellencies, Minister, MPs,

Dear Friends, Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

Answers can be found successfully if we use our reason and if we seek COMMON GOOD! In the 21th Century either Common Good will prevail or IDEOLOGIES OF SUPERIORITY: superiority of a nation, a religion, a race, a social class... There are many important even tragic examples in the history of humankind. And as a consequence, either PEACE, JUSTICE, HUMANITY will prevail or hatred, violence and conflicts

 

Viktor Orbán, the Prime Minister of Hungary

 

True Christianity was always protagonist of common good, and became one of first victims of militant ideologies. We know this from our Czechoslovak or Hungarian or Soviet totalitarian past.

 

I am here as the first ever Special Envoy for promotion freedom of religion or belief outside the European Union. It is a fruit of martyrdom in the Middle East. Decision of President Juncker and Commission came out after the EP Resolution on mass atrocities on the territories of Iraq and Syria under ISIS dominance (February 2016). Daesh/ISIS is not a religion; it is brutal misuse of religion. As a terrorist organization it must be eliminated.

 

60-years old EU deals today more with FoRB, which is essential value. It represents freedom of conscience and human dignity for all and everywhere.

In recent years the EU started to build up agenda and tools around FoRB protection and promotion. In 2013 Council has adopted common Guidelines for foreign policy of 28 member states. After the last EP elections in 2014 the

EP Intergroup for FoRB and Religious Tolerance was established. I would like to commend work of Peter van Dalen, Dennis de Jong and other members.

Lars Adaktusson and Gyorgy Hölvenyi, very active members, are here with us today as well. As the EU Special Envoy I visited Iraq, Jordan, UAE, Sudan, and Morocco. These were meaningful and important missions. For example our engagement in Sudan has helped to the release of jailed Christians Petr Jašek, Revevend Taour, layman Abdumawla, prisoners of conscience, human rights defender Professor Mudawi and five other activists.

 

As a Special Envoy I established regular working relations with NGOs, Charities and faith-based organisations (FBOs). Likewise, we keep frequent dialogue with faith leaders from different religions and countries. I plan to visit Senegal, Egypt, Pakistan, Lebanon, hopefully also Myanmar, Iran... - to promote inter-faith dialogue and FoRB, religious literacy and education for pluralistic society, legislative reforms for religious and ethnic tolerance. We use more the main financial development instrument for this field - EIDHR (1.4 bn €), part of EU development aid. After 25 years of Lorenzo Natali Media Prize for development journalism there is a new segment – LN Prize for FoRB journalism, both professional and amateur.

I am glad that European Academy of Religion started to operate in historic Bologna, aimed at promotion of academic and scientific cooperation of many universities, faculties, institutes, chairs, journals from Europe, MENA countries and some other countries of the world.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Persecution of Christians today is unparalleled historically. There are many reports speaking on this. There are even books published with testimonies and stories.
John Allen in his book Global War against Christians estimates that up to 100 thousand Christians are being killed annually for their faith in recent years. Moving evidence can be read in the book of Ruppert Shortt Christianophobia - A faith under attack.

 

Pew Research Centre (USA) tells us that Christians have been harassed in more countries than any other religious group and have suffered harassment in many of the Muslim-majority countries of the Middle East and North Africa.

It also signals that is important to read this against huge size and broad geographic dispersion of Christians around the world. Christians were harassed by governments or social groups in a total of 128 countries in 2015, i.e. in more countries than any other religious group.

 

We all agree that there is today a particular focus on persecution of Christian minorities in the Middle East – and for good reasons. Since 2014 there were even GENOCIDAL attacks made by the ISIS militants. The number of Christians is drastically decreasing here.  This is a civilizational challenge.

 

But persecution rarely targets just one minority. As we see in Syria and Iraq, not only Christians, but also Yazidis, Shia-Muslims and other minorities are suffering from discrimination, harassment and persecution.  There are plenty of examples : In Pakistan, Ahmadis suffer as well as Shias. In Sudan, Sufis. In Iran, the Baha'is, In Myanmar Rohingias are persecuted by Buddhist nationalists. In China, it is the Falun-gong, in India several minorities suffer discrimination, in North Korea all people of faith suffer from cruel dictatorship.

 

If a society allows for the persecution of one minority, it lays the ground for persecution of other minorities.

 

But, there are 2.3 billion Christians globally; it is more members than any other religious group. Roughly two-thirds of the world’s countries, for example, have Christian majorities! So, why there is such negative situation of Christians in many countries? My answer is: Because we are many times indifferent, ignorant or scared to say something on behalf of the voiceless and defenceless people and to do something for real justice. Evil has allies in each population. The most potent are the three of them: INDIFFERENCE, IGNORANCE, and FEAR.
 

What to do with this situation? 

 

​1) We must work better and more for peace and justice. Let us learn from the history and, as a minimum, avoid repetition of the mistakes.

 

As a Chairman of Foreign Relations Committee of the Slovak Parliament I did not voted in favour of the US-led invasion to Iraq in 2003, supported then by the Slovak Government. Then I felt, today I know, I was right. When I visited Iraq - Baghdad, Najaf, Erbil - this year, somebody told me: Christians in this country survived Arab conquest, Mongolian conquest and Otoman conquest, but may be definitely depleted by Bush-Blair invasion. Invasion led by Christian leaders! Patriarch Younan spoke here clearly about the chaos created afterwards.

 

Lesson? Wise use of military force in international relations, in line with international law; promote justice for all and everywhere, effectively prevent conflicts and especially mass atrocities. We must acknowledge that international community in the last Century - but also today - repeatedly failed in three “P”s delivery. To PREVENT, PROTECT, PUNISH – to prevent mass atrocities and a genocide, to protect victims of such crimes against humanity, and to punish perpetrators of such crimes. And we fail again and again, while the promise was NEVER AGAIN!

 

Christians and religious minorities found themselves abandoned facing the cruelty of ISIS, as we heard from His Holiness Ignatius Afrem. It is crucial to stop war in Syria and look for political solution, and for stability, wiping out ISIS ideology and renewal in Iraq. Special responsibility is on the shoulders of the UN Security Council Permanent Members - US, Russia, China, UK, France. It is first of all the responsibility in protecting peace and security, more than honour to be a Permanent Member.

 

UN and democratic countries are invited to provide effective, timely, uncorrupted humanitarian aid, as this becomes matter of urgency and acute assistance on the conflict spots. And care much more for justice and rule of law, as peace is fruit of justice. Reconciliation without justice is not perceivable.

 

Unfortunately, UN SC is very slow in responding to justice in Iraq. While Iraqi Government requested support in investigation of ISIS crimes already in May 2016 request, approval of the resolution came only in September 2017!

Security and Reconstruction should follow the peace process, as pledging conferences on Iraq, Syrian London and Brussels respectively agreed on 6 bn US$ of financial support.

All refugees have right to return to their homes and property. But without security guaranteed IDPs will not return! Heavily destroyed cities of Mosul, Aleppo can be rebuild and renewed like Dresden or Stalingrad/Volgograd after WW2.

 

In reconciliation process special Role of Christians is envisaged. Remember that  EU came into being as a  fruit of reconciliation and due to specially Christian politicians active and founding leadership. Without Christian communities and societal contribution this region will not be what it historically was.

In the chaos which is today the Middle East, we cannot talk on persecutions targeting only Christians. What are going on is also an intra-Muslim conflicts between Sunnis and Shias and other ethnic and religious fractions.

 

There is a common threat today: the manipulation of religion. Ignorance fuels misperceptions and political mistakes. We have to build trust and defeat hatred and militant ideology of ISIS as well.

 

Bashar Matti Warda, the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Erbil, Iraq and Mgr Nicodemus Daoud Sharaf, the Syriac Orthodox Archbishop of Mosul

 

2) Work on equal citizenship and revisit the concept of minorities 

 

Together with Archbishop Warda from Erbil and Hungarian Government I would like to put stress on education, as it is the most efficient tool to change man and society! Christian's schools in many countries all over the world are considered top quality. In Pakistan for example the elite send their kids there. The same happens in Palestine.  These schools are open to all. They are a laboratory for interreligious, peaceful cohabitation.

 

Different communities need relevant education for living together in diversity. We need to learn how to live together, not only to exist together. Optimal answer is shared society, in which responsibility is based on PARTICIPATION.

 

Defining principle for reconciled and shared society is EQUAL CITIZENSHIP, not particular religion or ethnicity. Idea of equal citizenship[4]  is gathering consensus throughout religious and political affiliations. This is the recipe for Christians and for all communities in Iraq, Syria and in the Middle East.

 

In Kurdistan recently by law the term “minority” was replaced by "social component". “Minority” has somehow a confrontational flavour; you read it "versus majority". Syrian Christian leaders when we met advised to use term "communities".

 

A long-term strategic approach to protect Christian and other religious communities must focus on changing those majority cultures and state structures that enable and encourage discrimination, harassment and persecution. Therefore we welcomed Marrakesh Declaration on these issues in Muslim majority countries. But it needs to be brought into practice.

 

I was pleased when I met Shia Grand Ayatollah Al Najafi and later on Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako to hear the same language – future Iraq as civil state! Fair secular state is a blessing for society. It is public space opener for plurality of relegions and beliefs. Unfair or false secular state closes down public space, tries to replace religion with secularism or other ideologies.

 

His Grace Bishop Ermia, General Bishop and Head of the Coptic Orthodox Cultural Center

 

3) Better cooperation and partnership is needed between the EU and Member States, international organisations, NGOs, CSOs, FBOs and religious leaders. This will create more synergy in reaching positive impact.

 

Due to many reasons there is growing importance of more direct cooperation with local faith communities.

I would like to praise work of many organisations in the conflict areas, particularly the ACN, Open Doors, CSW, Brot für die Welt, Knights of Columbus, L'Oeuvre d'Orient, SOS Chretiens d'Orient, and others.

I support and recommend cooperation with credible religious leaders and FBOs - Charities. Many times religious leaders posses more credibility, authority or stability than political leaders. They really can significantly contribute to peace, return of refugees, reconciliation.


 

HUNGARY & V4

 

Hungary is to be commended for this initiative, for HUNGARY HELPS Program, for awareness raising, students’ scholarships, school construction, reconstruction and development aid, etc. I congratulate to parliamentary Resolution denouncing the ISIS genocide adopted by consensus.

I thank Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Minister Zoltan Balogh, State Under-Secretary Tamás Törok and wish success to his new successor. We need more of such fruitful support for saving depleted Christian and other communities.

V4 cooperation under Hungarian Presidency should multiply this initiative and build national partnerships between Government and Churches and Charities and provide joint support to targeted communities in the Middle East countries or globally, where effective aid and reconstruction is needed. V4 format could be easily enlarged into regional approach. I have even suitable , inviting name for this: MIDDLE EUROPE HELPS MIDLE EAST! Cooperation will assist communities in need in the places of conflict, and show real people-to-people solidarity. And it would bring positive image for Visegrad countries in time of migration and refugee crisis and in time of European political disputes.


 

CONSCLUSION

 

I refuse concept of Clash of Civilizations. But there is a threat, even visible impact of a potentially big clash: CLASH OF IGNORANCES. IGNORANCE, INDIFFERENCE and FEAR are allies of evil. Opposites of them are EDUCATION, ENGAGEMENT & COURAGE. All of them are present and promoted these days here at our Budapest meeting and activities.

 

Let us work against deficits of human responsibility and maturity. I wish these phenomena remain growing and becoming dominant in our societies and institutions of state power and bring positive fruits for Christians and other faith communities in the world.

 

Ján Figeľ, EU Special Envoy

Budapest, October 12, 2017

 

 

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