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Unity and reconciliation in the border region

Danish and German churches spoke about peaceful coexistence and cooperation at World Council of Churches' Assembly in Karlsruhe

World Council of Churches’ 11th Assembly in Karlsruhe has concluded. Among the visitors were bishops Marianne Christiansen (diocese of Haderslev/Hadersleben and the Danish minority church in Southern Schleswig), bishop Elof Westergaard (diocese Ribe/Ripen) both representing the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark and bishop Gothart Magaard (for the regions of Schleswig und Holstein and the German minority church of the Lutheran church in Northern Germany and Northern Schleswig – Northern Church).

Within the framework of a discussion meeting their common goal was to inform delegates from all over the globe about the commonly made experiences in the Danish-German border region. Generally, this region, which has been historically characterised by minorities, is regarded a model area for a successful communal life across state borders. National Evangelical Lutheran churches are in majority in Denmark and Germany respectively, but a Danish minority church has had a presence in Germany for many years - and vice versa.

According to bishop Magaard “today the German-Danish border has become a symbol for peaceful and amicable coexistence and cooperation. Simultaneously, those different national identities are crucial for a sense of belonging. We need this experience and insight that borders are actually connecting people instead of separating them. Nowadays, when we strive to live together as good and benevolent neighbours, we require sensitivity and need to indicate our interest in learning about other’s perspectives and ought to enjoy variety and bilingualism”.   

The assembly’s talking point was „Unity“, which created the optimal platform for the topics minorities, identities and national belonging. Apart from Danish and German speakers also foreign assembly participants shared their experiences. A female visitor reported about her community in the North-Eastern Indian federal state of Nagaland that borders Myanmar. Another participant reminded the Assembly of the 1994 Rwandan genocide referring  particularly to the gory armed conflicts fought between majority and minority citizens of equal nationality.

In this context it is important to understand how different ethnic groups can preserve their identities and simultaneously overcome their hostility. Jan Diedrichsen, a board member of the society of endangered peoples and a German minority member in Denmark himself, represents the parliament of Schleswig Holstein with the European Commission in Brussels. Mr. Diedrichsen spoke about present and history in the border region, about tensions, conflicts and war. However, he also stressed how today new and increased levels of communication and solidarity have been developing and how that would have been unimaginable only thirty years ago.

All three bishops emphasised the massive impact of the interlink between identity and tolerance. Reconciliation requires commemorance, since only when history is openly processed all signs of alienation, nationalism, xenophobia and populism can be effectively debunked and overcome. It was impressive to observe how these three clerics saw and identified themselves rather as border region bishops than introducing themselves as representatives of their respective minority populations. Due to this introduction, the Northern between-the-seas-region promoted and also contributed greatly to the Assembly’s overall agenda.