THE 14th ANNUAL INTERRELIGIOUS DIALOGUE 10-11 November 2011, Estergom

10-11 November 2011, Estergom
Mutual understanding and cooperation between politicians and religious leaders

Quid leges sine moribus vanae proficiunt!
“In vain are the laws when there are no mores!”

Speech by Latchezar  Toshev, MP
Vice President of EPP/CD Group
Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe

Mr. Chairman,
Reverend Fathers,
Distinguished MEPs and MPs

As one of Vice-Presidents of EPP/CD Group in Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, let me start with tanking President of EPP Group in EP, Mr. Joseph Daul, for the invitation extended to me to once again participate in this traditional Dialogue between politicians and Religious leaders.
The Role of National Parliaments in the EU decision-making process is much greater now - after the adoption of Lisbon Treaty. That is why the cooperation of our Group and EPP Group in European parliament is of crucial importance for achievement of goals of EPP and to act jointly with greater efficiency.

I am grateful also for the opportunity to be here in Estergom, where from 1183 to 1186 have been laid the Holy relics of one of the most famous Bulgarian Orthodox Saints – St. John of Rila. He was the Founder of Rila Monastery in Bulgaria, which is known by most of you present here today.

 I would like to use the opportunity also to thank most cordially to our Hungarian hosts for their hospitality which we enjoy here. Last, but not for me, I would like to appreciate the fact that this Dialogue is dedicated to the role of the churches in Danube Region when I am born too. 

May native town – the God’s guarded town of Svishtov is located on the most south point of the Danube. It is a University town where most of the Bulgarian Foreign Ministers, diplomats and foreign affairs actors come from. For us the Danube River was not a dividing line but a bridge which united and unite us with the other European people.
Among the most active promoters of this Dialogue and the cooperation between the Politicians and Religious leaders is His All Holiness the Archbishop of Constantinople - New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I. These days, He is celebrating the 20th anniversary of His election to the Throne of Constantinople, a Throne which was established by the First called Apostle Andrew.
He was one who brought together politicians, religious leaders, men of science to discus the problems of today’s society. And he did this not only here in Europe, but also far to Greenland, tropical rainforest of Brazil etc. I would like to take this opportunity to express once again my admiration for His public and social activities.

The role of Religion in our society is crucial when it comes to foundational values. Despite the secularism of contemporary Europe, the public role of religions in promoting these values and especially to guarantee their legitimacy is of paramount importance.
In our United Europe, we should live together and interact with each other despite our cultural differences. This is, in fact, the European model. It stands for more than merely a collection of diverse identities. 

 It includes the National differences and specificities into a common will for shared future, collective actions, and  establishment of supranational joint entities with fair multinational representation. But nowadays in our society we are witnessing also negative trends, like widespread intolerance; growing discrimination (especially against Roma and immigrants); rising support for xenophobic and populist parties; parallel societies; Islamic extremism; loss of democratic freedoms; presence of a population without rights and the potential clash between "religious freedom" and freedom of expression.  

The insecurity arising from Europe’s financial crisis adds to the problem, as does the sense of relative decline; distorted perceptions of large-scale immigration; detrimental stereotypes of minorities in the media and public opinion; and a clear leadership deficit in shaping Europe's present and future.  

In the end of 2010 we have heard by Prime Minister of United Kingdom, President of France and Bundes - Chancellor of Germany with almost identical words that the multinational model of Europe has collapse. These statements caused a great concern in Europe and have been subject of large debates in our Assembly.  

We think that people who have lawfully come to live in a country should not be expected to leave elements of their identity (faith, language, culture, etc.) behind. However, they are expected to show willingness to integrate theirselves into their new country’s society, not only by learning its language, but also through gaining knowledge and understanding of the local culture.They must respect democracy, human rights, including the rights of women, and the rule of law. 

On the other hand, communities of origin should not ostracise those who choose to change their faith or culture.We should build cultural bridges by encouraging European citizens to familiarize them with and respect the culture, language, traditions and history of, immigrant groups.In this respect, the multicultural approach is not enough to achieve the desirable results. 

Here we are coming to the great issue of Responsibility and Education for Democratic citizenship base on the Rights and Responsibilities of the citizens. Here is one of the areas where we should join our forces to cooperate for achievement of greater social cohesion in our society.If the multicultural model faces difficulties and adopted laws and provided opportunities are not sufficient, then we should turn to Intercultural approach to address in more appropriate way the challenges of our times. This approach implies a more active interaction within our society.
This is all easy to say, but difficult to achieve.
How the Religions are addressing these challenges?

We must acknowledge and appreciate the steps taken by various religious leaders to promote peace, tolerance and mutual understanding and their efforts to eliminate hate among religiously and culturally different peoples.

-the Vlatadon Initiative of the Ecumenical Patriarch, which brought together High representatives of different religions from the Balkan region in 2001 in order to achieve tolerance between them;

-the World Day of Prayer for Peace in Assisi (an initiative taken by the Catholic Church during the pontificate of the late Pope John Paul II) involving representatives of different religions;

-the Open Letter signed by 138 eminent representatives of Islam to the Christians of 2007;

- the Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox and Catholic Church and the adoption of the Joint Document of Ravenna.

These are only a few examples which could show that the religions are playing their role in respect to promote the Pan-European values. The Religions have played an important role during Europe’s history, and became a significant part of our identity.
Religion is a dimension of culture, which is valued by many, influencing their approach to the realities of the Word.

For some people today, their religion is just a tradition.
The Humanist movement, for example, is fighting to create a society where the role of the Religions is insignificant or even entirely eliminated.
 But for others, religion is the essence of life and their integrity, faith, justice, love, mercy and peace.
 52% of the EU’s citizens declared firmly that they believe in God against only18 % who are non-believers. In some countries as Malta the percentage of believers is as high as 95%,. It is 90% in Romania and Cyprus, 81% in Greece, 80% in Poland and Portugal, etc.
As the Ecumenical Patriarch fairly pointed up, in the states where Christianity and religions as a whole were prohibited or subject to repressions during the Communist dictatorships, Religion now looks as a giant who is growing weak.
Several years ago during one of the previous Dialogues, I said that People’s attempt in these states to rediscover their religion must be done in the right way.
In this respect the Education about religions and Religious education as well is of vital importance. It would help to avoid possible deviation of religious practice or establishment of religious fundamentalism, which is far from original Christianity and other traditional monotheistic religions.
In this respect I would like to underline that there is not a single European arrangement for relations between the state and religious communities.
In the member states of the Council of Europe, these models include a clear separation between state and churches, a state church model is also known, a “concordat” system between church and state, and a “predominant church” model, all of which are compatible with article 9 of the Convention ECHR There are also cases in member-states with no special arrangement for these relations.
     That is why when we comes to the issue of education about religions or religious education we could see that also there is not a single European educational system concerning teaching on religion in the schools.

     There are cases of confessional and non-confessional obligatory education. There are also cases of obligatory education, with or without alternative. In some of the member-states there is a practice of non-obligatory education about religions.
    In this education is needed because, through it the pupils receive cognition about faith and background of the religions. It is not giving faith and can not be expected to play such a role in secular public schools. But its role is important for the knowledge which I gained in this way.
    The Religious Education in the majority of members-states is practiced in Sunday classes or Church schools under the control of the particular religion. They are not a part of the school curricula.     It is important that during this education positive examples be given and made widely known in order to show that the religions trough establishment of values system could play a role to unite people and not to cause conflicts.
     An exemplary event is the rescue of the entire Bulgarian Jewish community during the Holocaust, which was achieved with active participation of High Representatives of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church in 1943 – which was not a risk-free action back then.
To explain this remarkable event, where the values speak louder than ethnic and religious differences, I would like to refer to the slogan of Bulgarian church struggles in the middle of 19th Century which was “Freedom in Order - Unity in Diversity”. Even today it sounds contemporary!
I would also like to stress the need for a strong common position in EPP on the problems relates to Bioethics, where we could cooperate strongly with the Churches.
These problems touch on the deepest layers of human relations and form the core of our values.

Here we comes to a phrase spoken by Horace about 2000 years ago, which is still valid.

Quid leges sine moribus vanae proficiunt!
“In vain are the laws when there are no mores!”

This is where I see the role of the religions in Europe and their Dialogue with the politicians to achieve this goal.
Let me finish my presentation saying that, even as a secular party EPP is defending and promoting the Christian values in our society. And we do this in a Dialogue with the High representatives of the main religions in Europe and its neighborhood.