The 2001 WCER Congress (12th – 13th August 2001)
Report by Martin Gircys-Shetty
On August 12-13 the 4th Conference of the WCER took place in Vilnius, Lithuania. Representatives from Lithuania, Latvia, Russia, Poland, France, India, United Kingdom and the USA attended this conference. In the duration of two days the representatives discussed the progress made and the problems faced by the ethnic religions in their countries. It is now possible to analyze these problems and search for solutions.
In contrast to the last two conferences, we had notable delegations from Russia and India. Maksim Vasilyev, Anton Platov and Marina Grashina represented the Kolyada Vyatichey, one of the largest pagan organizations in Russia. It is an honor to finally have this great and important part of the European continent represented in the WCER. This strengthens our network in the Balto-Slavic region. For the first time we had important delegates from India, representing the Vishwa Hindu Parishad – a massive organization which has succeeded in reconverting thousands of Hindus back from Christianity and Islam.
The conference was initially planned to take place in Kurtuvenai, the administrational center of a national park in Western Lithuania. However, because of a catastrophe, a burnt-down homestead, the conference could not take place there. The substitute location turned out to be no compromise at all. The guests convened at the residence house of the German embassy in Lithuania, close to the Lithuanian president’s villa, in a prestigious area of Vilnius. Everyone expressed their gratitude to the German ambassador for letting the conference take place at this location.
The conference covered several major themes pertinent to the WCER. In general – the guidelines of the agenda for the new millennium were followed, but the devised conference schedule was overrun and many themes remained undiscussed. One reason for this is that the conference had to take place bilingually. A number of guests from Baltic and Slavic countries knew only Russian and no English. All statements were translated between Russian and English for everyone’s convenience. This may become a standard mode for running conferences in the future.
Another problem, already recognized two years ago, is the unconstructive improvisation of status reports. In general, the reports answered the questions outlined in the program of the conference, however it is evident from the example of the Indian delegation that a report written beforehand is executed more efficiently. It is likely that in the future we will only have oral status reports from new organizations attending a WCER congress for the first time, and from old members only if there are major changes or events to report. It will also be requested that a written version of the report be prepared before the conference. This will allow us to schedule more time for other discussions. Another planned change for the 5th congress is to extend the event for at least 3 days or more, so that all issues may be discussed thoroughly.
Problems concerning the publication of “the Oaks” and the mastering of the website were discussed. It was requested that members contribute articles and information. This can include articles on current events, history, philosophy, news of cultural events or conferences which the other members of the WCER could attend. It was requested that articles be translated into English and submitted electronically in simple text files, without any formatting or tabs. This makes it easier for the designers and webmasters to format the texts.
It was requested that all members submit their status reports in writing after the conference, so these could be published in the “Oaks” as well as on the Internet. Similar requests will be made to new WCER members. In the course of the oral reports that were made, a number of common problems and parallels could be seen in the situations of ethnic religions in the various countries. Problems particular to each continent (Europe and Asia) were also noted. The reports and their analyses are to be published in the next issue of the Oaks.
In a revisitation of a topic already discussed at the 2nd WCER conference, the congress unanimously agreed that the WCER should seek Non-Governmental Organization recognition in the United Nations. It has been decided that the paperwork is worth the benefits. The Hindu delegates also mentioned possible aid from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad in this process.
Membership in the United Nations would also open up a door for seeking new contacts around the world. For now it is seen that the best route to seeking new members is establishing contact with neighbors. It was noted that Kolyada Vyatichey of Russia might establish contact with Siberian heathens, while the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of India may help us get in touch with South Africa. The head office of the WCER has already received membership requests from organizations in Germany and Italy. The WCER could steadily expand with just a little more effort. For this purpose, an information booklet about the WCER was edited right after the conference. It contains the most basic information about the WCER, its declarations, excerpts from the statute, membership regulations, a summary of the current agenda and modes of operation, contact information. An informative brochure will be printed based on the prepared text.
It is recognized that there are some pagan organizations, which will not be able to pay their membership fee. Thus, the dues have unofficially been made “flexible.” The recommended rates are still 25 USD per individual and 100 USD per group, but in some cases the group membership fee is cut in half. It is still expected that most European organizations pay up full dues. The mentioned flexibility has already been put into effect in the last few years, and it maybe used to ease the entry of new members into the WCER. Our goal is not to amass a lot of money from every corner of the world, but at least to have as many groups represented in our congress as possible. Still, a fund is definitely needed for the publishing and mailing of “the Oaks.” Money may later be needed for sending delegates to other international forums. Therefore, those with the capacity to pay full dues will not be allowed to take advantage of this flexibility.
The possibility of co-organizing conferences and cultural events was discussed. The representatives of Group Druidique des Gaules mentioned that a conference will be held this fall in France, in the name of the WCER, to consolidate the various heathen groups of France. The French delegates also proposed that a Celtic music group could come to the annual Romuva camp next summer. The Russian delegates proposed similar cultural exchange for a festival they will organize in Moscow. It seems that, through certain contacts, it is also possible to arrange for cultural exchange with India and South Africa. Such commonly organized activities would not be intended for cultural synthesis, but rather for strengthening international ties and encouraging each other through public display of diversity and solidarity.
At the end of the first day, at a fire ritual the representatives familiarized themselves with each other’s traditions and found a lot of common ground in their world-views. It was followed up with the idea that some common philosophical points can be drafted for a possible 3rd declaration. This declaration might relate our outlooks on divinity in nature as well as ecology. It may be a starting point for cooperating with ecologically oriented NGOs (some of our organizations have already done this locally). It was noted, however, that the drafting of such a declaration should not be rushed, since we cannot speak for the beliefs of those ethnic religions, which may yet be joining us in the future.
The question of building infrastructure was not thoroughly discussed, although it is an important one. In the short discussion, the delegates considered that it should be ok for persons belonging to the member groups of the WCER to enter the WCER as fully functional members without an individual membership fee. This does not refer to every individual, but to those who are interested in the WCER and would like to participate in conferences, discussions or contribute to the operation of the Congress on a volunteer basis. To facilitate this, it is requested that member groups of the WCER should redistribute “the Oaks” and other WCER news, which they receive to the members of their local organizations. In the case that a certain individual takes deeper interest in the WCER, they should be referred to the Administration and recommended by their WCER representative to be admitted as individual members.
After the second day, all the guests were treated to a big feast at a quality restaurant. Some stayed to celebrate a successful conference late into the night. Overall, the conference raised everyone’s enthusiasm for the future growth of the WCER and the future of global cooperation between ethnic religions. The importance of having Russian and Indian representatives cannot be overestimated. They shared with us their ideas and experience on how to further expand the diplomatic potential of the WCER. We are now ardently on the path of establishing union between the continents of Europe and Asia. Perhaps we will soon have representatives from the American and Australian continents as well.