FCH editors statement
We are pleased to be able to publish in our paper the joint ecumenical letter by women and men from different churches in Greece, among them prominent professors, a faculty dean, a poet, a scholar of Islam, a priest and members of the World Council of Churches. It is aimed at the Evangelischer Kirchentag which took place in Stuttgart from 3rd to 6th of June with more than a hundred thousand visitors. May this letter open doors and spark new discussions.
„The law shall stream like water and justice like an inexhaustible stream.“ (Prophet Amos 5, 24)
– written by theologians from Thessaloniki/Greece
Thessaloniki May 2015. We aim this letter at everyone taking part in the Evangelischer Kirchentag 2015 and all those concerned about the economic crisis and its devastating effects on huge parts of the population in Greece. We seek a dialogue to counter both the propaganda and the insults directed against the people in our country and the newly elected government, and to promote forms of coverage about Greece and policies orientated towards justice and the common good.
“Den andechoume allo! ….We cannot cope anymore!” …. On 25th of January 2015 a majority of the Greek population voted out of great despair for a determined NO! Against the policies of the governing parties and the measures imposed on Greece by the IMF, the banks and the organs of the EU. The now governing coalition currently still enjoys unusually high levels of support amongst the population.
“Can you really trust this new, inexperienced and left wing government?” is a question we are being asked time and again. “What happened in Greece that led to this humanitarian crisis?” To these questions we wish to provide a few pointers.
Our assumption is that this crisis is the result of a brutal, world wide capitalism whose greatest principles are the greed for profits and the exploitation of humans and creation. Human rights and common good, preservation of creation and peace do not belong to this concept. Capitalism is a blasphemous form of economy at the cost of humanity, nature, society and state, and also a system increasingly engendering violence.
1: The situation of the churches Since the foundation of our nation state in 1830 our history has been a tumultuous one. The influence of the major powers always played a big role in this. The population was influenced by an overwhelmingly mono-cultural, national-orthodox spirit. “To be Greek” has meant until recently “to be orthodox”. Since the 1990s our society has opened up and developed in a more pluralistic direction; migration and wider information played a part in this.
Government and the orthodox archbishop Hieronymus are acting with mutual trust in the face of the challenges posed by the economic crisis. Efforts are being undertaken to define the relationship between state and church anew and according to democratic criteria and to grant equal rights to minorities. The archbishop has pledged his support to help using church property for the purpose of debt reduction. With a high level of volunteering and donations, orthodox churches have, among many institutions of civil society, become important providers of food banks. “We cannot bear another pensions cut!” says Metropolit Varnavas. In his parishes in a social suburb of Thessaloniki more than 7000 people are provided with food every day. Minority churches cannot finance their priest’s pensions and running costs any more. They also organise food banks and refugee projects. Together with people of theology and Christian engagement we urgently call on all churches to “fall into the spokes of the wheel” (Bonhoeffer). Apart from their charity mission of “tending the victims under the wheel” they have to rediscover their prophetic task of fiercely criticising the unjust practices of the powerful in favour of the few today, just like the prophets of the old testament did. Christian people belong on the side of the exploited and suffering!
2: Nazi-occupation of Greece The troubled history of our country also includes the three and a half years of ongoing brutal occupation, plunder and destruction of our country by the Nazis. The wounds inflicted by this have up to now not really been treated and healed. Above all they have been played down and ignored for decades. People in Germany have been insufficiently informed about the countless atrocities committed by the Wehrmacht and SS-units everywhere across the whole country. [See page 8; – annotation by the FCH editors] And with diplomatic tricks and excluding the smaller partner Greece their governments have to this day successfully avoided a solution of the “reparation debt and war credits” issue. That Prof. Hagen Fleischer, a German historian, publicly called these German governments tactics “wholly indecent” has been greeted with relief by many people here. The Jewish community of Thessaloniki is fighting together with the “train of remembrance” (http://www.zug-der-erinnerung.eu) for the Deutsche Bahn AG, the legal successor of the Reichsbahn, to repay the costs for the train journey to the extermination camps which the 46.000 Jews had to pay for themselves. We fully support these demands.
We experience initiatives from Germany which passionately and energetically strive for reconciliation and healing of these old wounds. But we denounce the German government for continuing to deliberately prevaricate and avoid a moral and legal clarification. We criticise that Bundespräsident Joachim Gauck talks about compensation with the chancellor vaguely joining in, only to be scaled back to a non-committal level by the government spokesman. This approach hurts, especially those who have suffered these horrors themselves and in their families. This prevention of a solution poisons the climate between the people of our countries. The new government is the first to pursue the questions of the war debts in open discourse, including through a parliamentary committee, wishing to contribute to finally getting the historical facts onto the table. We also advocate mutual agreements between our countries and a clean legal solution. We especially appeal to the church leaderships in Germany to support these demands.
3: Greek debt We consider the communiques from politicians and the media pointing with their finger at the high debt of our country to be arrogant and inappropriate. The German population must not be any longer given the impression that the Greek people alone are responsible for the Greek debt by living beyond their means. Yes, many have lived here with loans, with stock exchange winnings and subsidies. Many have been subject to consumer stress. But for one this does mostly not apply for ordinary people and the largest part of the population. On the other hand and especially the desire to have possessions is part of the ruling economic order and its mad desire to grow. It has been our experience that the austerity policies carried out everywhere with its Euro based common currency create an export surplus in a few rich countries and debt in the poor countries of the south. Through this ever greater inequality between individual countries and people is being created. Through these policies people in Greece are driven into extreme poverty (2014: 11%), below the poverty line (34%) and into unemployment (27%), school children (700.000) suffer from malnourishment and 60 per cent of the youth hang around without opportunities and without a job. More than 6000 men and women have committed suicide because of high debt. Doctors in state hospitals take to the streets because they cannot sustain care for the sick any more. There is lack of staff everywhere, a lack of the simplest things like dressing material, hygienic material and bedding. In these days the last state reserves for emergency care, pensions- and communal savings are being scraped together, not to bring relief to these emergencies but to fulfil the obligations towards the IMF and the banks!
Liberate the people in Germany from the widespread fear that their taxes have to pay for the debts of the Greeks! Explain that Germany up to now has profited immensely from the debts of others and its own export surplus! How many debt payments has Germany already received from numerous indebted countries? Whenever Germans had to pay for something up to now it was for these packages worth billions carried willingly by their politicians to the banks who had lost money through speculation.
We support the audit of the state debt as currently carried out by the truth commission of the Greek parliament (www.GreekDebtTruthCommission.org). We call for an international debt conference for Greece, similar to the London debt conference 1953 at which the largest part of German debt was cancelled. Greece signed this treaty back then, thus playing its part in cancelling Germany’s debt. By doing so all signatories enabled Germany, then razed to the ground, to start anew.
4: Right wing extremist and fascist danger A policy of inequality prepares the ground for nationalism and fascism. In Germany, we hear about the great demonstrations against Islam, foreigners and refugees. At home we are very concerned about the growth of the fascist party, the third largest in the Greek parliament, which also has sympathisers in the police, the military and also in the orthodox church. Since the 2nd world war these forces, who collaborated with the Nazis, have systematically developed their structures and cemented them during the 1967-74 dictatorship by state means, always also in a network with fascist forces in Germany. [See page 4; – FCH editors] We have to expose all undemocratic machinations until today in an attentive and determined manner and also to demand repeatedly a democratic culture and respect for the human dignity of all. Currently, a trial of the fascist party is being conducted which is accused of forming a criminal association. We are warning that these forces could, after a perceived breakdown of our state, use the anger of the population to incite violence and riots. These would not be controllable and could put democracy in the whole of Europe in danger. The point that Greece is in a very sensitive geographic position was made justifiably time and again. We call for a pluralistic and peaceful society!
5: “Left government” and democracy Only with the active participation and support of civil society and through continuous feedback can this new government successfully advance the construction of a just society based on solidarity in Greece. The main measures undertaken by this new government during the first weeks of its existence served to secure social livelihoods and the easement of the greatest suffering. A government sworn to Christian principles like the spirit of charity would hardly have acted differently. We see however how the money lenders – EU and IMF – steadily increase the immense pressure on government and society in order to carry on with the failed Troika policies of new pensions cuts, new VAT increases and reinforced privatisation measures. This way efforts for social justice are being destroyed at the same time and the fragile flower of hope for a democratic awakening is being trampled upon.
In our country a left wing government is not suspicious from the start. Time and again there have been connections between left wingers, communists and socialists on the one side and Christians on the other. During the Nazi-occupation priests fought on the side of the resistance. Priests, theologians and Christian people have been openly committed to a communism and socialism with a humane face. Although orthodox church representatives often allied themselves with the right wing establishment, there are democratic and socialist minded people within and around it. In January 2013 the Theological Faculty of the University of Thessaloniki organised a big conference titled “the church and the left”. Almost half of the members of the holy synod of the orthodox church participated.
Christian initiatives meet with many in civil society in the spirit of “capitalist policies kill”
To promote these initiatives and to connect them beyond our borders is our aim. This is why we send you this letter. We cordially ask you to take up and think over our evidence and our pleas in your communities, synods, committees and academies! We look forward to your visits to Greece! Let us work together for a solidary and people friendly Europe!
Prof. Miltadis Konstantinou, Prof. Dimitra Koukoura, Prof. Christos Tsironis, Prof. Stylianos Tsompanidis, Dorothee Vakalis-Fölster Pfrin I.R., Sotiris Mpoukis M.Th., Prof. Nikolaos Maghioros, Prof. Niki Papageorgiou, Prof. Angeliki Ziaka, Anastasia Gkitski M.Th., Dr. Fotios Diamantidis, Pater Prof. Ioannis Skiadaressis, Prof. Panagiotis Yfantis
 See the documents of the World Council of Churches in Geneva like “Wirtschaft(en) im Dienst des Lebens” und “Pilgerweg der Gerechtigkeit und des Friedens”, as well as the apostolic letter “Evangelii Gaudium” by Papst Franziskus and the impressive but barely noted report about Greece by UN-expert Cephas Lumina, the independent UN-expert for the effect of state owned foreign debt on the full enjoyment of human rights.