Bratislava, Slovakia—The fourth meeting of the Central European Initiative was a Round table held in Bratislava, Slovakia, on July 25, 2017. Attended by political and religious leaders and by NGO representatives, it followed on previous Round table discussions in Vienna, Budapest and Prague.
Some 26 participants from six European nations gathered to address issues of family, religious freedom and the European cultural legacy. Among participants were three members of parliament and two members of the European Parliament.
The Round table was convened by Hon. Nina Nováková, Member of the Czech Parliament, and by Mr. Jacques Marion, Secretary General of UPF Europe.
The first panel on the theme of State and Parental Responsibility over Children’s Education was opened by Hon. Nina Nováková.
If society is considered an ecosystem, she said, the family is its basic unit for survival. The school depends on partnership between parents, teachers and pupils. As an MP, she proposed the creation of self-governing school councils. The World Health Organization (WHO)-promoted standard of sexual education and gender ideology is not officially applied in the Czech Republic, she continued, but gender ideology has become a mainstream subject in social sciences in Czech universities. However, the WHO approach deals mostly with the physical dimension of human beings. We need to take into account the question of purpose and values. Parents should be partners for schools, not clients, and their role should be upgraded in society, she concluded.
Hon. Marek Krajčí, a member of the Slovak Parliament, spoke about the need to build a family-friendly nation. With the help of statistics, he described changing trends in people’s lifestyles: birthrate decline, late pregnancies due to the priority given by women to career over family, divorce, etc. We have moved to a more individualistic and hedonistic lifestyle, he concluded, but this trend can be changed by an emphasis on good and prosperous families.
Hon. Anna Záborská, a Slovak member of the European Parliament, spoke about the family as an institution recognized by religion and customs. Religion and ideology influence the formulation of laws, but survival itself is based on natural laws, she said. A nuclear family is constituted by two persons of opposite sex, while same sex relationship cannot reproduce. Parents are responsible for the development of children, and the state is only supposed to intervene if children are in danger and parents cannot protect them. Referring to the debate on the “Istanbul Protocol”, she argued that it would not foster the protection of women, and that gender independence will not guarantee girls’ protection from violence.
Ms. Renáta Ocilková, coordinator for human rights of the Catholic Bishops Conference, spoke about critical issues in the Slovak legislation concerning sexual education in schools. In kindergarten, there is no sexual education but books about gender are available. In elementary school, the child is perceived as a sexual being. Gender is separated from sex. At universities there are many fields of study about gender. The trend is to uproot traditional stereotypes about the family, and there is a push for the “deconstruction ideology”. The Slovak constitution states that the family is constituted by a father, a mother and a child. Yet we should be aware of trends concerning the family and react if anything goes in the wrong direction, she concluded.
Mr. Grzegorz Strzemecki, from Poland, spoke about religious responsibility. Parents are responsible for their children’s education, he said, but are often misguided or misinformed. The current philosophy of human rights lacks a moral dimension, and this lack of morality needs to be countered with pro family narratives to regain the lost ground, he concluded.
Mr. Stanislav Trnovec from the Large Families Club, said that Europe is weak in dealing with the refugee crisis, partly because it suffers from a low birth-rate and the fear or unwillingness to have children – the fear of reducing its current level of well-being. Since large families have become a minority, he concluded, we should treat them with care. Losing one’s identity means losing one’s history and memory and becoming a slave, whether economically, politically, philosophically, or religiously.
Ms. Maria Neuberger Schmidt, from Austria, founder of the Parents Workshop organization, introduced her activities. Children need parents’ protection and guidance. If parents are weak, who will protect children, she asked? Thus, parents need training. She described various educational courses for parents.
The second panel focused on Religious Freedom: A Fundamental Freedom in a Changing World.
Mr. Peter Zoehrer, from Austria, Co-Founder and Secretary General of FOREF Europe, reminded participants of article 18 of the UNDHR that guarantees religious freedom. Religious freedom is the mother of all freedoms and human rights, he said. Anyone who attacks the family attacks religion. But not all religions behave as they should… The State has the responsibility to protect minorities, he concluded.
Hon. Eduard Heger, Member of the Slovak Parliament, spoke about various cultural, historical and traditional dimensions of life. He reflected on historical wounds in the Middle East, on the relativity of democratic practice around the world, and suggested that we need a clearer definition of religion.
Dr. Martin Dilong, from Slovakia, the president of the Work, Family and Education Institute, spoke about legal aspects of religious freedom. Churches should be masters of their own destiny, the State should not interfere, he said. Religion is immanent to human beings; we need to deepen our own belief, emulating great people such as John Paul II, Martin Luther King or the Dalai Lama. Instead of a clash of civilizations, we should speak about dialogue, cooperation, personal prayer and personal friendship. Our three strong enemies are: ignorance, indifference, and fear, he concluded.
Ms. Alexandra Tompson from ADF International, based in Vienna, spoke about the freedom of thought and conscience. Referring to recent cases in Europe, she demonstrated how human rights are being violated when the freedom of conscience is denied.
Prof. Harald Scheu, from the Faculty of Law of Charles University in Prague, spoke about two levels of religious freedom: it can be identified either as a human right, or as a broader concept underlying human rights. For example, a priest quoting the Bible about homosexuality may be accused of hate speech. There is also a religious concept of human rights that can conflict with an Islamic perspective. Human rights should be a part of the natural order, he said. Rights, responsibility and duty are not separable. Minority protection should be considered a human right, but a minority cannot take a dominant position, he insisted. The law does not recognize the term “sexual minority”, and there is no convention to protect it.
The last panel dealt with the topic: European Cultural Legacy: What Does It Mean in Europe Today?
Dr. Juraj Lajda, Secretary General of the Czech chapter of UPF, presented an overview of two traditions that shaped European culture: Hebraism and Hellenism, both of which influenced the thinking and lifestyle of modern Europe. Hebraism developed from the Old Testament age, continued with the birth of Christianity, the Reformation, the Great Awakening in the 18th century, and finally resulted in the emergence of democracy.
On the other hand, the Hellenistic tradition started with the Minoan civilization in Crete, the Mycenaean civilization, and the ancient Greek civilization. It was revived by the Renaissance, then the Enlightenment in the 18th century, and resulted in the rise of communism. The Hebraic tradition stressed a more internal culture based on religion, faith, duty and piety; whereas Hellenism developed a more external culture based on science, reason, human rights and humanism. Today, unfortunately, these two traditions degenerated into materialism and selfish individualism. The need to find a new paradigm able to embrace both traditions has become more than necessary.
Mr. Jacques Marion, Secretary General of UPF Europe, quoted A. Solzhenitsyn’s 1978 Harvard speech about the de-spiritualization of the West. He suggested that the response would come from the family considered as a school of love. Ethical law and natural law are in correspondence, he said: in parallel with the natural process of growth from a child, a sibling, a spouse to a parent, our character learns to become more altruistic. Parents focus more on duties or responsibilities than rights. Christianity teaches that God has a parental heart and all people are brothers and sisters, and that altruism is the highest standard of life. Communism resulted from the failure of Christian society to practice this ideal and is based on resentment. Today’s trend to deconstruct the family is similarly based on resentment for the failure of practicing family love and equality. Family studies and the protection of the family are essential, he concluded. Religious leaders and scholars on ethics should be involved; interreligious dialogue is needed; religious leaders should raise the topic of life after death to unveil the full meaning of life’s purpose. We need to cooperate philosophically, he concluded, to challenge the deconstruction ideology.
The final speaker was Hon. Nina Nováková, member of the Czech Parliament. We cannot leave everything to politicians, she said. Strategies are made by civil society, scientists and academics. However, today science does not develop in a context of freedom of thought. A kind of “absolutistic liberalism” attempts to replace religion. Egoism and individualism become a new kind of religion, leading to a new kind of totalitarianism. She proposed to establish an international civil society structure that would address ordinary people, families and individuals. We should stand up for what we think is good and right, and give Europe its spirit again, she concluded.