World Council of Churches

A worldwide fellowship of churches seeking unity, a common witness and Christian service

You are here: Home / Resources / Documents / WCC commissions and working groups / Commission of the Churches on International Affairs / Regional concerns / Europe / Yugoslavia [Former] - Church leaders consultation on the churches and the crisis in the Balkans

Yugoslavia [Former] - Church leaders consultation on the churches and the crisis in the Balkans

26 May 1999

Report of the consultation convened by the WCC and CEC in collaboration with the LWF, WARC and the Ecumenical Council of Hungary, Budapest, Hungary, 26-27 May 1999.

Over 40 church leaders and representatives from Eastern and Western Europe as well as from North America met in Budapest, Hungary, from 26 to 27 May to discuss the churches' response to the crisis in the Balkans region. Representatives of the churches in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Lutheran, Methodist, Reformed and Serbian Orthodox churches) participated in the meeting.

The consultation was jointly organized by the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Conference of European Churches (CEC) in cooperation with the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC), and was hosted by the Ecumenical Council of Churches in Hungary. The consultation benefited from the presence of a representative of the Council of European Bishops' Conferences (CCEE). The international ecumenical organizations have taken several initiatives in response to the crisis, including the sending of delegations to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, to Albania and to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

The main purposes of the consultation were:

  • To exchange information on the churches' actions and statements in response to the crisis in the Balkans;
  • To engage in a dialogue aimed at a better understanding of the different perceptions and positions of the churches;
  • To discuss the churches' role and witness in response to the crisis and in promoting peace.
  • The consultation shared in the widespread international concern about the escalation of the conflict and the reports of massive human rights violations in Kosovo, the devastating impact of the NATO air strikes and the tragic effects on the civilian population, and the plight of almost a million refugees from Kosovo.

The consultation recognized the complex historical roots of the crisis, and the different perceptions of the nature of the conflict and of the immediate causes of the massive exodus of Kosovar Albanians.

In a context of renewed division and hostilities in Europe, the church representatives expressed their commitment to staying together in prayer and in solidarity. In this situation the churches should seek common Christian witness and action by affirming the following principles:

To recognize the fundamental and urgent priority of negotiations as the only basis for a durable solution to the crisis, and to urge the parties to use all possible opportunities to end hostilities.
To support initiatives which foster a peaceful and lasting resolution of the conflict, and which recognize the equal rights of all nationalities and ethnic groups to co-exist within the same territory.

  • To promote the guaranteed right of return and security of all those displaced by the conflict.
  • To recognize and promote the central role of the United Nations and the OSCE in any negotiated solution to the crisis.
  • To contribute to the process of reconciliation and rehabilitation of communities.
  • To support efforts to render justice to all victims of the conflict.
  • To continue the response to the humanitarian needs of all those affected by the crisis, through WCC/LWF ACT-Action By Churches Together and local churches and partners.

The consultation recognized the need for further dialogue and discussion of the following issues:

  • The concept of just war and the means of peaceful resolution of conflict.
  • The competing claims of national sovereignty and of humanitarian intervention.
  • The relationship between religion, identity, territory and nation.
  • The role which national contexts, minority/majority status and history play in the formation of perceptions.
  • The identification and nature of reliable sources of information and its accurate dissemination.

Follow-up and possible future actions:

The consultation recognized that the crisis affects the entire region of South-Eastern Europe. A lasting solution will be furthered decisively if the national, ethnic, cultural and historical features can be brought into the process of European integration. In particular, the Orthodox tradition must be acknowledged as an integral part of the European heritage.

A special expectation for follow-up focuses on the Conference of European Churches. In particular, cooperation with the CCEE and other appropriate Roman Catholic partners can be strengthened in response to the regional challenges. The framework of cooperation with the churches and ecumenical organizations in North America should also be reinforced, drawing on the experience of the churches' human rights programme.

The creation of new instruments for a Christian response at the South-Eastern Europe level should be seriously considered in order to generate and nurture a future-oriented approach, emphasizing preventive action, education, interreligious dialogue and building on existing and new networks within civil society.