Prague, Czech Republic—The Czech chapter of UPF, in collaboration with UPF of Central Europe, organized a "Peace Talks" webinar on "European Values at the Time of the COVID-19 Pandemic."
Dr. Juraj Lajda, president of the Czech chapter of UPF, served as the moderator for the June 15, 2020, webinar. He introduced the program, saying that the main objectives were to discuss:
- the roots of European values and culture
- religious freedom as a fundamental democratic freedom
- family values in contemporary Europe.
The first speaker, H.E. Mirek Topolánek, a former prime minister of the Czech Republic, discussed the importance of our descendants. He spoke about the failure of the systems in our societies, describing the violent demonstrations in the United States which have spread to other parts of the world.
H.E. Topolánek said the world order is in decline. Democracy is becoming a shell and a mere enforced majority vote. Capitalism is being trampled in the name of modern European socialism. The COVID pandemic has deepened these tendencies and effectively legitimized them for many people, leading to a willingness to accept the loss of freedoms and blunt collectivism. It is important to review and rethink what is currently happening in the Western world, asking ourselves whether we understand the current situation. Is this an inevitable process? How can we deal with these postmodern ideologies, such as gender ideology, which are affecting our family and adoption laws?
Hon. Nina Nováková, a member of the Czech Parliament (2013-2017) and the chair of the NGO Central European Inspiration, said we often believe that European values and human rights are identical, but how we are using and implementing human rights today is sometimes in contradiction to European values. Issues such as abortion, addressed in the newly created human rights, are against the right to life. Freedoms such as freedom of expression are limited to concepts of absolute relativism, while freedom of religion exists only in theory but not in practice in Europe. The post-modern European culture instead offers solutions including violence, aggressiveness and mocking the sacred.
Christianity and the Ten Commandments brought forth social sensitivity, concern for the weak, the chance for rectification, the ability to forgive and peaceful conflict resolution. The coronavirus has proved that families are reliable partners for state authorities, and we ought to say confidently that the society is an ecosystem and the family is its basic structure, which is necessary for our survival, both biological and cultural.
Hon. Ján Figel (Slovakia), special envoy for promotion of freedom of religion outside the European Union (2016-2019) said that religious freedom is a fundamental right, and we need to understand what we are talking about and fighting for. Justice, or at least modern justice, is respectful of all fundamental human rights, not just for privileged people, but for everyone. The majority of the world’s people, about 80 percent, have very limited freedom of religion or belief, and this ranges from intolerance to genocide. The situation is negative and the trends are worrisome.
We failed to adhere to what our democracies signed for in 1948 and thereafter, which was an anti-genocide convention, based on three important principles for peace: to prevent, to protect and to punish. Genocide has been directed against Christians, Yazidis, Shia Muslims, and many minorities in the Middle East, as well as the Rohingyas in Myanmar, Uyghurs in China, and Christians in Sri Lanka. Similar situations also exist in Burkina Faso and Nigeria. The European Union established the position of special envoy for the promotion of freedom of religion in response to what was happening in the Middle East, which is our neighborhood. Many individual European countries are establishing similar positions.
Peter Zoehrer (Austria), executive director, Forum for Religious Freedom, addressed the media perspective on COVID-19 and European values. We tend to see a pandemic of misinformation from harmful sources that many journalists have subscribed to. However, most top-ranking countries are European countries that perform well in regard to press freedom. At the same time, Hungary, Serbia, China, and North Korea have incredible restrictions on freedoms amid the pandemic. It is important for governments to support mass media without necessarily having influence on them. Media values need to follow universal principles.
Edit Frivaldszky (Hungary), director, Human Dignity Centre, addressed the topic of “Family Values in Contemporary Europe,” questioning whether the current pandemic will shift Europe in a pro-family direction. The coronavirus has revealed how important the family is in times of crisis as a safe haven and a fundamental group unit in society that deserves protection by society and the state—as stated in Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Human Rights Council Resolution on the Protection of the Family.
Following upon the impact of the pandemic from border closures and economic crises, families have visibly become engines of the society, reminding us of the importance of caring for one another, including the elderly, and teaching our children the core activities of everyday life. However, this protection of the family by society and the state exists perhaps on paper, but not so much in practice. If we look at European Union values from a family perspective, we need to see how the EU defines the family: whether parents are free to educate children according to their beliefs, and whether the EU supports the complementary roles of men and women. The EU defines marriage in the context of mobility between member states and therefore should take each member state’s position into account, but in reality it tends not to do this and supports a definition outside the procreative role of the family.
Dr. Dieter Schmidt (Germany), president of UPF for Central Europe said that the family is an important structure in society, and regarded as the school or foundation of love. Relationships in the family serve as a model for relationships with other people in society. As seen from a religious perspective, the family is the only institution founded directly by God.
The love of God can be experienced there in different forms, such as a child’s love for his or her parents, siblings’ love for each other, and marital love. When we talk about love, however, we cannot forget the love of parents, including the three generations of grandparents, parents and children. The experience of love, and especially parental love, can help us to understand that God created humankind as the partner of His love and that He dwells in families.
A question-and-answer session followed, moderated by Chantal Komagata, the Central Europe coordinator for UPF and secretary general of UPF-Switzerland.
To the questions “What do you think would be young people’s dream for values?” and “What was the response of the EU in relation to values?” Mrs. Frivaldszky answered, “Human dignity and tolerance,” and H.E. Topolánek answered, “Tolerance is not weakness.”
At the end, Dr. Lajda thanked the panelists and all the participants for the productive webinar that went beyond his expectations.