of European Justice and Peace Commissions
Gift of Freedom: A History of Transitions and Challenges
International Workshop and General
Assembly, Vilnius, 17-21 September 2010
The international workshop and
general assembly of the Conference of European Justice and Peace
Commissions, representing 31 national commissions from throughout
Europe, took place in Vilnius, Lithuania between the 17th and 21st
September, hosted by Archbishop Sigitas Tamkevicius of Kaunas and the
Lithuanian Justice and Peace Commission.
The theme chosen for the
international workshop was 'The Gift of Freedom: A History of
Transitions and Challenges', in recognition of the fact that 2010 is a
very special anniversary for Lithuania, marking twenty years since the
re-establishment of independence after the end of Soviet rule. During
this workshop we met with people of all ages and from many different
backgrounds who presented a range of experiences and perspectives,
giving us an insight into the difficulties Lithuania has overcome in
its struggle for independence and the challenges that remain as a
result of its painful past.
This is a nation whose strong faith
and cultural identity enabled it to survive multiple occupations during
the twentieth century, culminating in nearly five decades of soviet
rule. Between 1940 and 1990 the country lost approximately one third of
its citizens. The social fabric of the nation was severely damaged
during this time and yet the spirit of its people remained unbroken.
We learned of the many ways in which
people demonstrated their opposition and resistance to Nazi and Soviet
rule, and the centrality of their Christian faith and the support of
the Catholic Church to many of these endeavors. We heard inspiring
first-hand accounts of personal sacrifice and the values that motivated
people to risk their lives for the defense of freedom and human rights.
Lithuanians have much to be proud of in their history, which is a
lesson in faith and courage for all of Europe. A central element of our
workshop was a commemorative ceremony at the Parliament building in the
centre of Vilnius, remembering those who risked and sacrificed their
lives for freedom.
Understandably, scars from the past
can still be seen in Lithuanian society today. We were encouraged by
what we saw of the efforts to address past injustices through
restitution processes, which provide tangible evidence of a willingness
to give recognition to the victims of injustice. The difficulties
inherent in ensuring that such processes truly benefit those who have
suffered most should not be under-estimated. We welcome recent
initiatives aimed at addressing outstanding issues, such as the
restitution of property, and hope that this important work will
continue. It must also be acknowledged that, in a time of limited
resources and global economic crisis, there are often difficult choices
to be made between paying for the wrongs of the past and investing in
Not all injustices can be addressed
through material and financial compensation. The experience of other
European nations has shown that the question of acknowledgement and
responsibility is fundamental to the process of building a new future.
The experiences in our workshop underlined the contrast between the
unequivocal condemnation of the crimes of Nazism and the efforts made
to hold the perpetrators accountable for their actions, and the
international silence surrounding the crimes against humanity
perpetrated by the USSR. Truth and justice continue to be denied to
many and processes of renewal and re-building relationships in society
are hindered where the perpetrators of violence and injustice remain in
Closely linked to questions of truth
and justice is historical memory. At the Paneriai memorial to the
victims of the Nazi occupation (1941-1944) we saw efforts to
accommodate a plurality of different memories and identities in a
single location. This is already a sign of hope. We must be courageous
in facing up to the difficult questions arising from our past, such as
collaboration. Memories, presented as an invitation to dialogue, can
help create spaces where people from different perspectives can share
experiences and work towards healing.
Our experiences here have led us to
reflect on the meaning of freedom and the responsibilities that
accompany it. True freedom is not achieved in a moment, but is a
continual process. Threats to freedom take many forms: they can be
military, political, social, economic or moral. All of us, throughout
Europe, need to be vigilant to new forms of threats to freedom.
We also need to reflect on the
meaning of justice, in particular, through our experiences here we saw
clearly that justice and peace do not necessarily go hand in hand.
Addressing the injustices of the past can lead to the opening of old
wounds. As Christians we wish to emphasize the importance of
forgiveness in the reconciliation process. Although forgiveness is a
personal and spiritual experience and not something we can legislate
for, there is much that society in general, and the Church in
particular, can do to create the conditions that could allow
forgiveness to take place. Forgiveness can truly set us free from the
wounds of the past. We are confident that Church and society in
Lithuania will do all that is possible to achieve this.
A further issue we dealt with during
the course of our workshop is migration. Long a feature of Lithuania's
history, the current phase of economic migration presents both
opportunities and challenges for this society. Increased freedom of
movement throughout Europe is a positive development, but it is equally
important that the right social, political and economic conditions are
created to enable those who wish to stay in Lithuania to remain here.
Our sincere thanks to all those who
made this experience possible. First and foremost, we wish to thank our
hosts, Cardinal Audrys Backis, Archbishop Sigitas Tamkevicius, Bishop
Gintaras Grusas and the Lithuanian Justice and Peace Commission. We
thank all those who gave their time to address the members of our
group, without them this experience would not have been possible.
Lithuanian history is part of our
European history and knowledge of this past is important for all of us.
We take away with us from this enriching experience the challenge to
communicate what we have learned here in our own nations as a
contribution to building a better future for the whole of Europe.
Vilnius, 21 September 2010.
of European Justice
and Peace Commissions (Justice and
Peace Europe or CEJPC) is a European network that today regroups 31
national Justice and Peace commissions. Each one is established or
recognized by its Catholic bishops' conference. The secretariat of
CEJPC is currently situated in Paris (France).
Conference of European Justice and
Commission luxembourgeoise "Justice et