From the Worldwide Faith News archives

End of Cold War made us all subjects of capitalism, laments

Date 01 Feb 2001 07:48:45for <,>; Thu, 1 Feb 2001 08:01:36 -0800 (PST)

Note #6366 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:


End of Cold War made us all subjects of capitalism, laments churchman

by Stephen Brown
Ecumenical News International

POTSDAM, Germany -- The 20th-century ideologies of fascism and communism
have been replaced by a "new ideology" -- the "worship of the golden calf
and the power of money," according to Paul Oestreicher, a prominent European
churchman with a special interest in East-West relations.

Speaking yesterday to the central committee of the World Council of Churches
meeting here yesterday, Canon Oestreicher, an Anglican priest and former
east/west secretary of the British Council of Churches, said that the task
facing Christians was to "take away the power of the golden calf" and
replace it with a system based on justice. Canon Oestreicher made his
remarks during a discussion of "reconciliation, truth and justice" in
Europe. Participants, including the former German government official
responsible for supervising the archives of the East German secret police,
the Stasi, touched on many aspects of the role played by the churches in a
divided Europe and the contemporary challenges facing Christians.

Canon Oestreicher questioned whether the end of the Cold War, marked by the
fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, was "really a gift of God" -- a suggestion
that has been made by a number of speakers at this gathering, the first
major WCC meeting in Germany since the nation was united in 1990. The end of
the Cold War, Canon Oestreicher said, marked the end of the "demonic"
ideologies of fascism and communism that demanded the allegiance of millions
of people, only to be replaced by the "power of money as a new ideology that
we should obey."

Speaking to ENI after the discussion, Oestreicher stressed that developments
in Europe could be felt far beyond the continent's boundaries. The Cold War
between capitalism and communism had affected the life of the whole of the
world, Oestreicher said. The triumph of the western system at the end of the
Cold War meant that "what we previously called capitalism and we now call
globalization has become the new ideology that everyone is forced to obey."

Oestreicher's own life has been intimately bound up with the history of
Europe. He was born in Germany in 1931, but with his family fled to New
Zealand in 1938 to escape Nazi persecution. In the 1950s, he returned
briefly to Germany to study political science, and then moved to Britain
where he trained as an Anglican priest. After ordination, a major part of
his efforts were devoted to promoting reconciliation between Christians East
and West, and particularly to contacts with churches in the former East
Germany. He is a vice-president of a British group, the Campaign for Nuclear
Disarmament, and from 1975 to 1979 was chair of the British section of
Amnesty International.

Asked about one of the most sensitive issues raised during the debate -
whether the ecumenical movement, including the World Council of Churches,
had done too little to help Christians and dissidents persecuted in eastern
Europe during the Cold War -- Canon Oestreicher said that with hindsight he
accepted that sometimes his concern to promote reconciliation between
churches in east and west "overshadowed" the need to publicly support those
who were victims of the system. This was a failure that he shared with the
wider ecumenical movement, he said, which "for the sake of harmony sometimes
appeared to be abandoning the persecuted."

"With hindsight, I believe that ought to be acknowledged a little more than
it has been," he told ENI, but stressed that he did not go along with the
"more radical view that the ecumenical movement sold the dissidents down the

Following the collapse of communism in East Germany, the archives of the
Stasi have been placed under the control of a special commission to which
the victims of the secret police, as well as researchers and journalists,
can have access under certain conditions. According to Joachim Gauck, who
stepped down in October 2000 after 10 years as the German federal
commissioner in charge of the archives, more than 90,000 of the GDR's 16
million people had collaborated with the Stasi.

Gauck, an East German Lutheran pastor who helped found the opposition
movement to the communist regime in East Germany, told the central committee
that previously he "had the naive belief that a Protestant pastor could not
be the agent of an intelligence agency." However, the opening of the Stasi
files had shown that church officials, bishops and pastors had been prepared
to have secret meetings with the Stasi -- a "breach of confidence," Gauck

No governing body of the church had given its approval to church officials
to meet the Stasi, Gauck said. Yet at all levels of the church -- from
governing bodies down to parishes -- people had met Stasi officers, often
reporting to the secret police details of internal debates at church synods.

In recent years a number of prominent German politicians have called for the
Stasi files to be closed, arguing that it was time to close this chapter of
history. But Gauck strenuously defended the policy of keeping them open.
What happened after the Second World War, when Germany quickly abandoned the
task of dealing with guilt and responsibility for the Nazi crimes, had
demonstrated that "repressing the issue of guilt from the political
discourse is very damaging for a nation," Gauck said. The opposition
movements that helped to sweep away the communist regime in East Germany in
1989 had been determined that there be "no more looking away and keeping

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