The 2002 WCER Congress (12th – 13th August 2002)
Report by Martin Gircys-Shetty
This year we gathered in Lithuania once again, for the 5th conference of the World Congress of Ethnic Religions. It was decided that the theme of this conference should be the continuity of ethnic religions in the modern world.
Most of our guests arrived long before the start of the conference and attended the Romuva camp, where they mingled and contributed greatly to the cultural exchange. Multiple musical projects were prepared in collaboration between the Lithuanians and their Celtic cousins from France. The Polish representatives also joined us in our merrymaking at the Romuva village.
The 2002 conference took place on Monday and Tuesday, the 12th and 13th of August, at the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences Library. A conference room was kindly provided to us by the Council for the preservation of ethnic culture to the Lithuanian Parliament. The relatively recent legislation for the preservation of ethnic culture that empowers this council is considered to be unique in Europe. The willingness of this governmental body to facilitate the WCER conference is a sign of support from Lithuania to ethnic cultures around the world.
Proceedings of August 12th
The conference began at 10 AM. An introductory word was said by the Krivis of Romuva and president of the WCER, Jonas Trinkunas. He introduced his ideas for the next year’s conference, where he proposed that the WCER statute be modified, membership expanded, and a new, more active administrative council be elected. Following the introduction, Jonas Vaiskunas, the elder of Romuva in Moletai, took over and presided over the conference for the rest of the day. Translation of speeches between English and Lithuanian was carried out by Martin Gircys-Shetty. Minutes and protocol were taken down by Martin Gircys-Shetty and Marius Galinis.
The first speaker was the philosopher Romualdas Neimantas from Kaunas, Lithuania. He presented his topic “Coherence and Darna of the Ancient Balts.” The purpose of his presentation was to demonstrate, that the old religion of our ancestors had a coherent and comprehensive philosophy and principles meant to guide life and behavior. The continuity of this world view in ethnic culture was accented.
The second speaker was Povilas Kuprys, an active member of Romuva in Kaunas. He presented his topic of “Baltic values from the perspective of Latvian Dievturi.” He overviewed the values and principles widely accepted and professed by the Dievturi. Part of his presentation was addressed towards other members of Romuva, with the question of whether these values are common to Lithuanians as Balts, and how an exchange of philosophical ideas might be healthy. The revelation that these values are indeed similar, demonstrates that the same Baltic worldview has been maintained in the traditions of different peoples.
His presentation was followed by Inija Trinkuniene, leader of Vilnius Romuva. Her topic was “The Revival of the Baltic Prussians and the Baltic Prussian faith.” She spoke of recent events in Lithuania, Poland and the Kaliningrad region (ruled by Russia), the views of people who feel a connection to the ancient Baltic Prussian land and culture, and their activities aimed at reviving their memory, their culture and beliefs. Some explanation was due, to demonstrate that the Baltic Prussians are an ethnic group historically unrelated to German monarchy of the same name. The revival of Baltic Prussian culture is seen as integral to the rebuilding of the entire Baltic, and thus – the Indo-European continuum in general.
At noon, a coffee break was due, after which Rajinder Singh (England) spoke about cultural and religious ties between India and Europe. He expressed his hopes that the WCER continue to unite ethnic religions of the world and combat mistrust with tolerance and understanding.
Virginija Kondratiene, the director of the facility spoke of the Council’s work and welcomed the guests from around the world. She presented publications prepared by the Council for the preservation of ethnic culture to various guests. The participants expressed their gratitude.
Jonas Vaiskunas, leader of Romuva in Moletai presented his study about “The Traditions of Baltic Religion.” His daring thesis compared modern pagan movements to Early Christianity, which was a sincere grass-roots religion, lacking the dogma and doctrine it has today. This was seen as a word of caution to avoid dogmatization and stagnation in the further evolution of our movements.
The first day was concluded by Aija Svilane from Latvia, who spoke of the Latvian Dievturi religion and the activities of their congregations in Latvia today. Because of unforeseen changes in the program, scheduled discussions were moved to the next day.
Proceedings of August 13th
The conference began at 10 AM as scheduled. Martin Gircys-Shetty presided over the conference. On the second day of the conference, presentations tended to reflect more Central and Western European issues.
Cyril Serrano made a comprehensive presentation on the problems faced by pagan organizations in France. As the direct representative of Institut d’Etudes Superieures de Philosophie Celte, he also spoke on behalf of Groupe Druidique des Gaules and other organizations that have recently united in a national association at a regional WCER conference held in France in the autumn of 2001. He drew contrast between the tolerance and warm reception that he has witnessed in Lithuania, and the persecution and disrespect that various pagan groups endure in France. The hopes of many French communities rest on the prospect that national confederation and international ties through the WCER strengthen their positions and enable them to receive fair treatment from their government and society.
Staszko Potrzebowski, the representative of Rodzima Wiara in Poland, spoke of recent activities undertaken by their organization. He presented some publications as examples of Polish pagan literature. In addition to philosophy, there was poetry and creative writing. With the light of a candle before him, Staszko read this poetry aloud. The Slavic poetic spirit was appreciated by all, and taken as an example for style in religious and cultural expression.
After a coffee break, Jonas Trinkunas spoke of the continuity of the Baltic faith. He gave an account of the formation of the Romuva and its ties to the spiritual expression found in Lithuanian folk culture. As Romuva is now attempting to gain political ground, its image in the eyes of intellectuals as well as public in general is very important. Jonas gave an overview of the ways in which Romuva works towards gaining trust and good reputation in Lithuanian society. Recent public discourse in Lithuanian media, he said, has revealed a positive trend.
Surinder Paul Attri (USA) spoke of the challenges that the WCER and ethnic religions in general are facing and gradually overcoming. He expressed the need to combat fanaticism and religious intolerance.
Vaclovas Mikailionis, an active member of Vilnius Romuva, spoke of the interactions between religion and politics. Rather than analyzing the painful questions of political favoritism and legal inequality of religions, he reflected on the opportunities that Baltic religion has had in the past to positively influence political and social transformations. As an example, he linked the democratic freedom achieved through the Singing Revolution to the power of daina (the song), as an integral part of eternal Baltic culture and religious outlook. This demonstrates that our ancient faith still has an important say in our destinies, no matter how “modern” the world around us becomes.
Martin Gircys-Shetty presented a study entitled “Continuation of Ethnic Religion in Diaspora. Case study of Romuva in the USA.” Based on his own experience as a Romuva activist and leader of a Lithuanian folklore singing group in Washington, DC, he recounted the contemporary condition of Romuva in the United States. He drew attention to how different generations perceive “Lithuanian tradition”, and how it impacts the possibilities for the building of Romuva communities. Conclusions include: the need for renewed and/or renewable connection to ethnic tradition and homeland; the need for autonomous cultural activities; the need to clearly differentiate nationalism and ethnic culture, how attachment to the former can contribute to the neglect of the latter.
Following his presentation, Martin Gircys-Shetty urged everyone to conclude some administrative matters associated with the WCER as a public institution. To determine voting rights, all group members had to pay standard dues, 100 USD per organization, and receive one vote.
Jean-Lionel Manquat 1 vote, paid
- Groupe Druidique des Gaules
- Kredenn Geltiek Hoalvedell
Cyril Serrano 1 vote, paid
- Institut d’Etudes Superieures de Philosophie Celte
Jonas Trinkunas 1 vote, paid
Aija Svilane 1 vote, paid
Staszko Potrebowski 1 vote, paid
- Rodzima Wiara
As most of the payments were already made in Euros, a proposal was made to permanently switch the WCER budget to the Euro. As Lithuania now bases its currency on the Euro as opposed to the US Dollar, the WCER, whose funds happen to be situated in a Lithuanian bank, would benefit from grater security of its treasury and more convenience for its paying members, by switching its budget to the Euro. A vote was called for changing the money in the bank as well as making corrections to the membership regulations. The representatives voted unanimously in favor of this change. The decision was carried out by president Jonas Trinkunas a few days afterwards. The money in the bank has been converted to Euros.
Martin Gircys-Shetty concluded by reiterating statements made by Jonas Trinkunas at the beginning of the conference – the need to reorganize the WCER at the conference planned in 2003. The administrative council, as outlined in the WCER statute is to be elected once every 5 years. However, the current council, which was elected in 1999 in Telsiai, exhibits varying degrees of inactivity. In discussion, consensus confirmed, that a new council needs to be elected next year, making the term 4, rather than 5 years, or perhaps even shorter. The WCER statute defines the General Assembly (at the annual congress) as the highest governing body of the WCER public institution. The assembly can make a decision to change the statute, and vote in a new administrative council. In order to recruit more active members into the council, the WCER needs to be expanded. Therefore, the upcoming conference will aim at inviting new members from around the world. This would also provide for more varied presentations and more diverse points of view. A brochure has already been designed in the interim from the 4th congress. It will be published and mailed out to various organizations around the world, inviting them to participate at the next congress.
On this forward-looking note, the 5th conference was closed. The success of the conference was celebrated by the participants at a local restaurant. We look forward to the next conference as colleagues, brothers and friends.