Conclusions from the report of the joint delegation sent by the WCC, CEC and the LWF, 18-25 May 1999.

In April 1999, the World Council of Churches, the Conference of European Churches and the Lutheran World Federation sent a delegation to Yugoslavia to meet with the churches to discuss the causes and the consequences of the present conflict in the Balkans. As part of their continuing response to the war, WCC and CEC in cooperation with LWF, organized a second delegation to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Albania from 18-25 May. This delegation was asked:

to express solidarity with the churches and related organizations that are ministering to the needs of the Kosovar Albanian refugees;
to learn about the actual situation facing refugees in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Albania, including church ministry to uprooted people, the actions of non-governmental and inter-governmental organizations, and the response of refugees to their present situation;
in consultation with local partners and ACT members, to recommend specific actions to be taken by the churches to support humanitarian principles in the region.

Members of the Delegation

Wilhelm Nausner, United Methodist Church, Geneva area
Antonios Papantoniou, Church of Greece
Sylvia Raulo, Evangelical Church of Finland
Elizabeth Ferris, World Council of Churches
Alessandro Spanu, Federation of Italian Protestant Churches (Albania only)

Observations and general conclusions

1. The present conflict in the Balkans is not a religious war. While ethnic identities are deeply held, people of different ethnic and religious groups have lived together with respect and tolerance for centuries. Efforts to portray the war as a religious conflict are very dangerous. In this highly politicized context, neither the churches nor other religious communities should allow themselves to be used by governments or political groups for political purposes.

2. The present crisis in the Balkans is a long-term one. The effects of this war will last for many years - while the attention of the international community will most likely be short-lived. The refugees from Kosovo have many needs which demand both immediate and long-term attention. At the same time, we are deeply concerned about the impact of the conflict and the presence of refugees on the countries which host them. If a new global crisis develops or if humanitarian agencies are able to work inside Kosovo, it may be that attention will shift from the on-going needs of refugees in Albania and Macedonia to other areas. Given the volatile situation in both of these countries, this could have devastating consequences for those countries and for the region as a whole.

3. The war is creating a very dangerous situation for the neighboring countries and deserves more sustained attention from the international community. It is impossible for the countries of Macedonia and Albania to continue to host large numbers of refugees without the sustained support of the international community. We must also remember that in both countries the transition from communist rule to democratic institutions is a very difficult one.

4. People throughout the region are afraid of the de-stabilizing effects of the arrival of large numbers of people of different ethnicities and express concern that the conflict will "spill over" into their countries. Thus, the problems of the region are inter-related and a comprehensive plan needs to be developed in response to the region as a whole. A peace agreement, for example, would need to take into account not only the return of refugees to Kosovo from Macedonia and Albania, but also the impact of the war on Greece, Italy, Hungary, Bulgaria and other countries in the region.

5. Yugoslavia is the center of the Balkans. What happens in Yugoslavia has repercussions throughout the region in terms of trade and economic transactions, infrastructure, transportation, and political developments. Until there is democracy in Yugoslavia, the whole region will be at risk.

6. The challenge for the churches in the region is to build and sustain pluralistic societies where people of different ethnic and religious backgrounds can live together in peace and mutual respect. Although recent years have witnessed conflicts on a large scale, we must also remember that there have been periods of peace in which multi-cultural societies have functioned well. In this context, proposals to re-define national borders are very dangerous.