Cluj 2017 – Ownership of Development in Eastern Europe

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“Ownership of Development in Eastern Europe”.

Why have we chosen for this theme?

The citizens of countries in Central and Eastern Europe (CE) have suffered a lot under communist regimes before the fall of the ‘Iron Curtain’ in 1989. Churches and Christians in particular have suffered and were restricted in practicing their faith openly. Before 1989 Christian organisations and churches of Western Europe found often creative ways to support and encourage Christians in CE. Christians from the West were encouraged by the faith and perseverance of Christians in the East. Contacts made then could be openly used after the change of regimes and many organisations, churches and individuals and support could be provided without restrictions by regimes. Churches now could be provided with the bibles and other spiritual support needed and also material needs could be provided.

Many contacts between West and East were established over the years and maintained. The variety of individuals, organisations and churches of the West often had their own ideas of what people in the East need and this does not always match with the needs of the different communities in the East. People in the East may not always feel encouraged to take initiatives since the ideas from West may overrule them or may have affected them as drivers for change. After nearly 30 years of well-meant initiatives from the West to develop the East, we should reconsider what the best role is for people from the West and how can the responsibilities of any kind of development be in the hands of the people and the organisations in those regions themselves.

In other words, it is important that we reflect on the ownership of the developments in Eastern Europe. Who ‘owns’ what? How will the full responsibility be assumed by the people in the East, and what will be the responsibility of the West? The support from the past has sometimes tended to create a dependency on Western support. On the other hand, Central-Eastern European organisations, because of the situation under communist regimes, were sometimes reluctant to give openness about their financial situation when asking for financial support and there often was not a culture of accountability. The present situation asks for different types of relationships that need to be distinguished. In Central and Eastern-European countries, there is a need for civil society organizations run by the people there, for all kinds of social, cultural and work-related capacity building. So knowledge exchange by trainings and training materials become more important. Here the West can help but the Central and Eastern European people need to be in the driver seat.

So who is the owner of which development? And how do Christian organisations, churches and diaconal working groups shape this ownership? A primarily spiritual relation of mutual encouragement, and the importance of a proper form of collaboration between diaconal and developmental agencies and Central and Eastern European communities seems to be needed and will be central to the conference program in Cluj.