As we are bound by the Charter of the United Nations, we have to deal with human rights critically on a day to day basis.
The exercise of religious beliefs is a very important issue for us. The freedom to practice religion in peace must not be violated as long as religion has a major impact on peaceful coexistence. This is why churches are important and must be respected. A religion must be respected as long as it does not violate human and children's rights.
In Syria, Christians have sought refuge from Islamic militants in churches. Churches also provide shelter for refugees in other countries. An internalized respect for humanity is required to keep this respect alive.
This respect has been violated twice in recent times. Once, in an Orthodox church in Russia, and once again yesterday in the Cologne Cathedral in Germany. A church is not a place for protest, regardless of its intended target. We cannot simply move on in this case. We need to make a clear statement.
The Russian scandal took place in the Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow on February 21, 2012. The central church of the Russian Orthodox Church became the focus of world attention when the pop group, Pussy Riot, entered the cathedral into which private individuals are only admitted if they have been invited by a priest. In front of the altar, they proceeded to perform a so-called "punk prayer" as a protest against the alliance of Church and State. Among other things, they shouted "black robes, golden epaulettes" and "godliness crap!". This is unacceptable.
On December 25, 2013, the topless demonstrator Josephine Witt interrupted the Christmas Day mass in the Cologne Cathedral to protest against Putin, the sports mafia and the supposedly "sexist attitude" of Cardinal Meisner. In cases such as these, it must be pointed out that certain limits apply to the protest movement. We must clearly state our aversion to these sort of stunts.
Our judicial systems are, of course, different.
The Russian protesters were sentenced to two years in a labor camp. The Cologne activist will have to pay a fine or will receive a suspended sentence. Although the differences between a democracy and a totalitarian system are easy to see here, both acts of protest deserve our contempt because they desecrated places of worship. When a derisive movie about the Prophet Mohammed was released in 2012, we made it clear on Turkish television and in the press that we consider the movie to be an act of contempt against Islam and an insult to Muslims.
Protests by activists such as Ms. Josephine Witt might be considered amusing if they take place in secular locations, but not in a church! That is no way to bring about social harmony. We will use public media to point out the limits of what is and is not acceptable in society.
We are, of course, aware that we are not in a position to transport European democracy to Russia. However, we can influence the rule of law there. We write letters to President Putin that are delivered directly to him and responded to. The topics include the equality of all human beings, respect for human rights and the fight against corruption.
When the Chairman of INGO DMW – Diplomats International was teaching at the University of St. Petersburg in 1995, the "Russian mafia" was quick to ask for his cooperation. When he declined, somebody simply shot at the wheels of his car while it was moving. That was a clear warning. Other people who did not play along with the mafia that was very strong at that time paid with their lives.
At that time, Mr. Putin was the head of the Committee for External Relations and deputy mayor of St. Petersburg.
During the first St. Petersburg Dialog in 2001, the Chairman asked the new President Wladimir Wladimirowitsch Putin to ensure a proper judicial system be put in place. These were constructive talks. The former President Boris Nikolajewitsch Jelzin had left behind chaos and anarchy. Russia had to find its way back to a legal system. It was a humiliating situation for highly educated university professors who had to work and share their knowledge for little or nothing or take on a second job as a hotel porter. Under Putin, these people quickly regained their self-confidence. His wife, Ljudmila Schkrebnewa, was also a professor in St. Petersburg and lectured at the university. The Chairman was present when this major change came about. The "thirst for power" can, of course, change a person, which is something that we are currently seeing in Turkey. However, achievements must be acknowledged. It is once again safe to be on the street in Moscow and St. Petersburg at night without protection and without paying protection money.
We will, of course, remain critical, that is our duty! But not all countries can be governed in the same way. Tradition and mentality also have o be taken into account!
In Egypt, democracy will take yet another shape, but at the core are the people, their liberty, freedom of thought and actions without discrimination on grounds of sex, conviction and lifestyle, as long as this is not detrimental to society and does not violate the common good.
As a non-political democratic organization, we are strongly committed to human rights and conflict management on an international level. Our credo: negotiate and remain in a constant dialog! This is our mission, and our number of supporters is constantly increasing.
On behalf of the Board of Directors