Dr. Jörg Lüer, Head of the “Justice and Peace” Commission, Germany

2022-10-14 16:45

Thank you very much for the friendly invitation to this conference. To be honest I am very much impressed by the fact that you are holding this conference despite all the odds Ukraine is facing today, despite the Russian aggression against Ukraine.

For me this is an impressive sign of a vivid European society which does not give itself in to the daily challenge of violence, murder and suffering but continuously reflects in a practical perspective the fundaments and principles of living. Thank you very much for this living witness. It is meaningful not only for Ukraine.

Immanuel Kant pointed in his reflections on peace out, that even in times of war it is necessary to keep an attitude of peace allowing us to enter into the process of building peace, when time has come, beause peace has to be prepared already in war time, so that we will not get stuck in the self referential dynamics of violence.

I understand this conference in this perspective and I feel privileged having the opportunity to give my humble contribution to it.

„Wandering Identity. Considering, Meanings and Values“ is a title marking a wide field of reflection. A classical temptation to answer to this theme would be to organize a proud parade of European values, invoking the European project and providing a festive affirmative atmosphere. We get that on many occasions, not just in Brussels or Strasbourg. But thymore often I am exposed tho this sort of speaches thymore I doubt that this will bring us together and enable us to cooperate sufficiently in order to make the European project become a sustainable reality.

We can easily agree on values like freedom, justice, truth, reconciliation or solidarity but all these terms taste differently in the different contexts we come from. Liberté, Liberty, Freiheit, Wolnosc or Svoboda are a part of an universal desire and in the same moment we find in their different connotations the different historical circumstances they are answering to. 2004 the European Justice and Peace Commission organized a conference on social justice in Geneva. Piotr Cywinski, that time in his capacity as the president of the Warswaw Club of Catholic Intellectuals, began his speach saying: „You in the West have to understand that the communists killed millions of people in the name of social justice. You will understand that this term is not that innocent to me as it seems to be to you.“ Of course there is nothing wrong with the idea of social justice but the use and misuse of values has to be part of our reflections because these experiences are shapening our identities. The famous distinction of the spirits elaborated by Ignatius of Loyola can be of help in this process by the way. If we like to come together we have to understand our different but in the same moment on many levels deeply connected histories. Covering these differences by big and beautiful words would rather provide a fragile illusion of unity then help us to understand our connectedness.

Talking about identities can be an ambigious endevour, since it provides quite often the strong temptation of at the end of the day authoritarian identity policies. Today this is an understandble but nevertheless misleading reaction on the confusion provided by the current challenges and the overall framework of globalisation. Therefore let us shortly reflect on what we are speaking about when we speak about identity.

Identity lives between and by two poles. The first pole can be described by the question „where do we I/we come from, historically, socially, politically, culturally and religiously. It´s the wide field of our personal, social as well as inherited experiences, which in on way or the other are part of our identities.

The second pole is driven by the question. „Who do we like to be?“. It´s our perfect self imagination.

Obviously there is a strong tension between these two poles and there has to be a strong tension because dealing with this tension and the questions arising from the two poles we find out who we are. We are not just defined by our experiences but by the way we answer practically to them. The strong temptation to define identity just by „history“ or just by the positive self-imagination is cutting people short of their potentials and capacities. It is rather to be understood as an attempt to avoid the human reality that identities have to be fluid and open to new experiences, insights and developments. Especially in times of deep change this can be frustrating and irritating since it can provide a feeling of deep insecurity. On the other hand the unavoidable, sometimes frightening tension between the two poles can be a personal and social power engine. It is a matter of political culture as well as personal and spirutual attitude to deal with these questions and the connected uncertainty in a discoursive, self-critical and constructive way. It is interesting and encouraging to see, that open societies are much more successfull dealing with these questions then authoritarian regimes or dictatorships. Paradoxically it seems on the first look that in the open societies everthing is questioned and nothing seems to be stable but in the long run they are more successful in reastablishing the hurt social frameworks, in healing wounds and in transforming the society to stand the challenges in a sustainable way.

One of the preconditions in this process is to include in it the „others“. Theoretically this sounds easy but in real life, in practice it provides a lot of challenges, because the „others“ might have different experiences or might come to different conclusions or what is very often the case might painfully question our self-perception, which often is percieved as an attac. Anyway, if it is true what Martin Buber and Emanuel Levinas pointed out so clearly, that we cannot define our identity just by ourselves but always also in connection to others, then we have to include – or at least to take into account - the perspectives of the others in our reflections. This experience reflects a deep anthropological insight that our personality is individual and social in the same moment.

One of the power engines of the European project is exactly this unity in diversity based on the respect for the experiences, desires and hopes of the others. In the culture of encounter arising from the described attitude we still have to stand the temptation to use the „others“, may them be the „West“, „Europe“ or the „Germans“ just as a field for the generalizing projection of our frustration, or self-perception or the counter-image of it. The best way to deal with this temptation is to get into real dialogues listening first of all to the complexities and challenges of the others. Listening is unfortunately not the first charism of Western societies, which have been far too long convinced about their superiority and saw themself therefore rather in the role of teachers. But times are changing. The European project is and needs a culture of dialog, which starts with listening and the readiness to self-critical reflection. It is a continuous dialogue constituting a community by the experience of sharing and practical cooperation to deal the with the threats, challenges and potentials of today. The discussion we are having today is part of this dialogue.