Volume 2 Number 9
East Meets West in Caux
01 October 1989

In one Swiss village, Caux, above Montreux, the conferences are a little different.

Switzerland is the only country which is not a member of the United Nations General Assembly, yet it hosts hundreds of international conferences each year.

In one Swiss village, Caux, above Montreux, the conferences are a little different. In this informal setting perched high above Lac Leman, people meet who would find it difficult to meet elsewhere: Turkish and Greek Cypriots, Christians and Muslims from Lebanon, Burmese students and their counterparts in other countries.

`It is not enough to recast society's structures,' reads the invitation to this year's Moral Re-Armament conference at Caux, `if we leave human nature un-reconstructed.' It is at this level - the `unfinished revolution' in people's motives and living - that the conferences aim to make their particular contribution.

President George Bush sent a message to the American delegation attending the conference. The message was read by Jim Mullen, Mayor of Pennsburg, Pennsylvania - the birthplace of Frank Buchman, initiator of Moral Re-Armament. The President sent `warm greetings and congratulations' to Moral Re-Armament in the United States, on the 50th anniversary of its launching there in 1939. MRA had `consistently sought to uplift and transform the world by practising and promoting the virtues of honesty, purity, selflessness and love', President Bush continued. `Your organization here in the United States has touched the lives of many Americans, making our nation a better place in which to live. I applaud your efforts and encourage you to keep up this most important work.'

A bust of Frank Buchman was also presented in honour of the anniversary.

Mediterranean Dialogue
Thirty-five Lebanese were among those attending the third in a series of Mediterranean Dialogues, initiated in partnership with Giovanni Bersani, the newly retired `father' of the European Parliament. The Lebanese, who came from all major communities and both sides of Beirut, had not been able to meet since the current round of fighting began.

Some had to travel via Syria and Bulgaria to reach Switzerland. Others from the Christian enclave of Beirut had to leave by boat for Cyprus. One hour before the boat was due to leave, the shelling paused, giving them a clear passage. It seemed to them a sign from God that they were meant to go. A few weeks later the conference heard from Larnaka that the same thing had happened on their return to Beirut.

Also present were 25 Greeks, Turks and Cypriots. Some of the Cypriots had been neighbours before the war of 1974 on the island, and now met again for the first time since.

Ramez Salame, a lawyer from Beirut, summarized four conditions for dialogue: `To consider the other as an absolute equal; to open up the deepest things in my life to him; to want the best for the other; and to accept or even invite criticism of my views, opinions and beliefs.'

To dialogue, he said, `is to grow together in knowledge of the truth and in love for the other'.

Speaking at the end of the dialogue Bersani referred to the Mediterranean as the birthplace of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

`The Mediterranean is the cradle of the values that the world needs,' Bersani said. `Technology alone cannot answer the problems of men.'

Struggle for democracy
Poles, Burmese, Africans and Central Americans at Caux shared a common struggle for democracy. The Burmese students had taken part in the demonstrations earlier in the year which had led to hundreds of their colleagues being executed and many more being forced to flee to China and Thailand.

`We students yearn for human rights and democracy, we yearn to be able to continue our studies, we yearn for assistance in obtaining an education,' one said. `But if the military regime goes back to the barracks tomorrow and gives us democracy we don't know how to handle it. That is why I am here, to put this before the international community.'

Fidel Chavez Mena, who succeeded Napoleon Duarte as leader of the Christian Democratic Party in El Salvador, spoke about his determination to create a viable and constructive opposition in his country. `In El Salvador, the main problem is a moral one,' he said, explaining that because of high inflation and enormous social inequalities, many people had lost hope of a better future.

`Politics is really a pledge,' he went on. `As Pope Pius XII said, politics is the greatest expression of our Christianity, of our love for each other.'

Jim Lester, a Member of Parliament from Britain, gave a seminar on the `ABC of democracy'.

Using examples from Namibia, the Philippines, Panama, Czechoslovakia, Sudan and the USSR, he outlined some essentials: the question of who is entitled to vote, choice of candidates, and the importance of directly involving the people in the formation of policies.

Beyond this, further refinements were necessary to prevent democracy being undermined by corruption. Law-enforcers should be independent from the lawmakers, so that nobody was above the law. He also advocated an independent government bureaucracy of people `who don't owe their allegiance and their jobs to politicians, and who are paid sufficiently so that they don't have to take bribes in order to do their jobs'.

Steps to freedom
Forty-two Poles came to Caux representing varying strands of Polish society: students, workers, farmers, philosophers, priests, filmmakers and musicians. Their Wieslaw Kecik, co-founder of Rural Solidarity at Caux presence, and that of several Russians - 13 from the Soviet Union - was a tangible sign of the new era of East-West contact.

Grzegorz Palka, chairman of Solidarity in Lodz, was one of many active in the newlylegalized trade union. He spoke of recent changes in his country as a victory-not only for Poles but also for all Solidarity's friends in the West who supported the movement during the time of martial law.

`The value of this success is even greater because we achieved it without violence. We consistently demanded respect for basic human rights. We chose this method of struggle - non-violence - because we base ourselves on Christian values.'

A Russian philosopher talked about his discovery of inner freedom. `It happened in three stages. Firstly a freedom from the yoke of the state, which stops you from thinking your own thoughts. Then there was the discovery of God, of an inner freedom, of a world full of the unexpected, the miraculous, of divine love for each individual. Finally, I've learnt here something for my life: that inner freedom can't just be our private property. We must share it, and refuse the privilege of being free on our own alongside others who are not yet free.

`It also means knowing how to share not just the qualities but also the sins. I want to ask forgiveness of all those who have suffered at the hands of my country: Eastern Europe, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Germany. For the evil, but also the fear, the suffering, the lies.'

The following day a Polish worker responded, apologizing publicly for his hatred of the Russians. `Until now, I couldn't think of a Russian as a human being,' he said.

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