Lutherans Divided on Independence for Yugoslav Slovenia

On July 3, during Lutheran World Federation discussions in Chicago, an appeal from Yugoslavia arrived.  The letter demanded LWF support for the creation of an independent Slovene state; its author was Senior Ludvik Novak, chief representative of the Lutheran church in Slovenia.  Yet a delegate at the LWF proceedings in Chicago, Bishop Andrej Beredi from the Slovak Lutheran church in Yugoslavia, had stated previously that he did not share such sentiment.  Pointing out that the two million Slovenes never have possessed their own sovereign state, Beredi expressed clear preference for the retention of a multi-national Yugoslav government.


Both Beredi and Professor Julius Filo from the Slovak seminary in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia downplayed the force of nationalist and anti-Semitic sentiment in Eastern Europe.  Neither had noted an increase in anti-Semitism; both believe that ecumenical ties have been strengthened since the fall of European communism.  Filo was surprised to discover in the US press that the Catholic bishops of Slovakia had supposedly all spoken out in favor of Slovak independence from their Czech neighbors.  Filo notes that Protestants and Catholics are learning new forms of cooperation in Czechoslovakia through joint efforts within the young Christian-Democratic party.


Novak was aware that the LWF last winter had issued a statement supporting the independence of the three Baltic states (Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia) and was expecting a similar stance regarding Slovenia.  Yet Paul Wee, Assistant General-Secretary for International Affairs and Human Rights, insists that the LWF statement in favor of Baltic independence was the result of thorough dialogue with Soviet church and political officials, including even Gorbachev.  Due to a very different historical context in Yugoslavia, he believes the LWF cannot take an equally partisan position there.


Wee concedes that Lutherans find themselves on both sides of the divide regarding the creation of new East European states.  He consequently emphasizes that the transnational church should not allow itself to be used as the mouthpiece of the particular specific interests if any given people.  He describes the Slovene issue as one more example of the historical tension between any given place versus all other places: "My space versus all spaces". Yet, according to Wee, the universal God transcends all such people-made boundaries: The church must struggle against every ideology or sect which "assumes for itself greater virtue, power, and innocence than [it bestows on] others".


In many instances, Wee continues, the outcome of political struggles is of less importance to Lutherans than the means by which those conflicts are resolved.  Beredi and Filo also stressed that negotiation, mediation and the resolution of conflict through democratic means are of major importance, certainly more important than the retainment of a singular Yugoslav state.  Wee adds that the LWF lacks the political expertise to propose solutions to most of the world's conflicts, and, as a non-political entity, it needs to place primary emphasis on the means by which resolutions are achieved.  An LWF letter to the political leadership of Yugoslavia, which was written in response to the Slovene church's appeal, underlines this position: "We call upon you [. . .] to cease hostilities immediately and return to the negotiating table."


Bill Yoder

Evanston near Chicago, 9 July 1991


Written for “The Lutheran” in Chicago, 516 words


Both Slovenia and Croatia declared independence from Yugoslavia on 25 June 1991, the first parts of Yugoslavia to do so. The overt civil war did not being until early October. Czechoslovakia officially broke into two parts on 1 January 1993.