François Houtart
BIOGRAPHY | PORTRAYING THE PERSON AND THE WORK OF FRANCOIS HOUTART | INTERVIEW | INTERVIEW 18 april 2004 | La messe de François dans l’île de Fidel (02 Sept. 2006) | Socialism for the 21st century. Synthetic Framework for Reflection (François Houtart, 30 August 2006) | De armoede was vroeger beter verdeeld (15 Jan 2007) | Speech at the General Assembly of the United Nations (30 Oct 2008) |

Spanish Biography - Biographie en français


François Houtart est directeur du Centre Tricontinental (Cetri), dont l’objet est de « faire connaître le point de vue du Sud dans le contexte actuel de mondialisation, de diffuser les propositions d’alternatives, élaborées par le Sud, et de contribuer à une réflexion de fond en rapport avec les mouvements sociaux. »
Après une formation en philosophie et en théologie au Séminaire de Malines, il fut ordonné prêtre en 1949. Licencié en Sciences Politiques et Sociales de l’Université Catholique de Louvain et diplômé de l’Institut Supérieur International d’Urbanisme Appliqué de Bruxelles, François Houtart est l’auteur de nombreuses publications en matière de recherches socio-religieuses et a participé, comme expert, aux travaux du concile Vatican II (1962-1965).
François Houtart est membre du Comité International du Forum Social Mondial de Porto Alegre, Secrétaire exécutif du Forum Mondial des Alternatives et Président de la Ligue Internationale pour les Droits et la Libération des Peuples.
Personnalité incontournable des mouvements altermondialistes, il a participé à de  très nombreux ouvrages sur la mondialisation,  les luttes sociales et collabore régulièrement avec le Monde Diplomatique.



François Houtart es profesor emérito de la Universidad Católica de Lovaina. Nació en Bruselas en 1925, obtuvo el doctorado en Sociología en la Universidad Católica de Lovaina. Ha sido profesor visitante en diversas universidades del mundo y sus publicaciones incluyen un importante número de artículos y libros. Notre Dame University le otorgó el doctorado Honoris causa y actualmente es director del Centre Tricontinental en donde edita la prestigiosa revista Alternatives Sud.


François Houtart. Belgian Marxist Priest and sociologist, director of the CETRI ( Tricontinental Center ) and the review " Alternatives Sud".  Militant antiglobalist.  The canon François Houtart is a catholic priest and intellectual Marxist of international fame.  Grandson of the count Henry Carton de Wiart (1869-1951), who was one of the leaders of the Catholic Party and pioneer of the Christian democracy, François Houtart was born in Brussels in 1925.  After his training in philosophy and theology at the Seminar in Mechelen, he was ordered priest in 1949. Graduated in political and social sciences of the catholic University of Leuven and graduate of the International Higher Institute of Town planning of Brussels , he is a doctor of sociology of the UCL where he was a professor of 1958 to 1990.  Author or co-author of many publications regarding socio-religious research, he took part, as expert, in the council of the Vatican II (1962-1965). He participated in the Bertrand Russell War Crimes Tribunal on US Crimes in Vietnam in 1967. Today, he directs a ONG, the CETRI ( Tricontinental Center ) based in Louvain-la-Neuve as well as the review "Alternatives Sud".  Regarded as a prophet by the ones, like a dangerous activist by the others, François Houtart is one of the most active collaborators of the World Social Forum of Porto Allegre and one of the most convinced militants for "another globalisation". Houtart is Executive Secretary of the Alternative World Forum, President of the International League for rights and liberation of people, president of the BRussells Tribunal and senior adviser to the President of the United Nations General Assembly Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann.

See biography in Wikipedia:  http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fran%C3%A7ois_Houtart  (Dutch) - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fran%C3%A7ois_Houtart  (English)



François Houtart: De utopie als tegengif tegen de erfzonde

Directeur van het CETRI, Voorzitter van het Wereldforum voor Alternatieven en lid van het organiserend comité van het Mondiaal Sociaal Forum van Porto Alegre.

Priester-socioloog François Houtart heeft er straks een halve eeuw engagement opzitten. Het verwerpen van de utopie als motor voor maatschappelijke veranderingen ziet hij als een intellectuele knieval voor een oppermachtig economisch systeem. Toch weet hij dat een utopie maar nuttig is als ze niet gerealiseerd wordt.

De biografie van François Houtart leest als een catalogus van politieke dromen en grote maatschappelijke omwentelingen. Hij wou eigenlijk missionaris worden. De wereld intrekken, de armen dienen. Maar zijn vader wou dat hij dichter bij huis bleef en dus werd hij seminarist in Mechelen. Enkele jaren later brak de Tweede Wereldoorlog uit en geraakte hij betrokken bij het verzet. 'We deden bruggen springen in de omgeving van Brussel.' Maar zijn echte doop kreeg hij in de KAJ. In 1953 woonde hij een internationaal congres bij in Havana en kardinaal Cardijn vroeg hem om aalmoezenier te worden van de internationale KAJ. Zijn eigen kardinaal, Van Roey, weigerde. Als socioloog bestudeerde hij de vervreemding tussen kerk en arbeiders, die in Europa pijnlijk zichtbaar werd. Het was ook als socioloog dat hij meer en meer betrokken geraakte bij de sociale problemen van Latijns-Amerika. Op vraag van onder andere Dom Helder Câmara werd hij vier jaar lang raadgever van de Latijns-Amerikaanse bisschoppen op het Tweede Vaticaans Concilie. In het zog van het enthousiasme dat daar ontstond voor de rol van de leken in de kerk en voor de rol van de kerk in de samenleving bleef hij ondersteunend werk leveren voor de Latijns-Amerikaanse kerk. Het ontstaan en het opbloeien van bevrijdingstheologie en basisgemeenschappen: hij was erbij. De volksbewegingen en de revoluties in Midden-Amerika: hij volgde ze op de voet. Boerenbewegingen en indiaanse opstanden, syndicaten en catechisten: hij kent ze bij naam en toenaam.

Wie zoveel jaren gestreden heeft, zag meer idealen teloor gaan dan hij er oorspronkelijk had. Toch tref je bij Houtart geen diepe twijfel aan over de mens of over de utopie. 'Als socioloog wéét ik dat de kloof tussen de utopie en de menselijke realiteit zal bestaan zolang de mensheid menselijk is. Anderzijds ben ik er van overtuigd dat mensen de tegenstelling tussen droom en werkelijkheid altijd weer proberen te verkleinen. Als gelovige zie ik mislukkingen dan ook niet als uitingen van menselijk falen, maar als uitingen van menselijk pogen. De religieuze ervaring daagt een mens immers uit om méér te doen dan het haalbare, om méér te verwachten dan het gewone en vooral om menselijker te worden dan hij op eigen krachten kan.'

Toch weegt de mislukking van een zeer aardse utopie -die van het socialisme- zwaar op de motivatie van mensen om zich politiek te engageren.

Je moet een onderscheid maken tussen enerzijds de -juiste- vaststelling dat het marxisme als analyse-instrument en het socialisme als utopie niet meer de aantrekkingskracht hebben van vroeger en anderzijds de -vaak miskende- vaststelling dat de realiteit niet fundamenteel veranderd is. De klassenstructuur van de samenleving is niet verdwenen, integendeel, op veel plaatsen in de wereld is die de afgelopen jaren alleen maar scherper geworden. De werkelijkheid blijft bestaan, ook als het bewustzijn verdwijnt. Sterker nog: het is de realiteit met haar steeds verder schrijdende, economische individualisering en met haar toegenomen onzekerheid voor mensen die onderaan de sociale ladder staan, die verantwoordelijk is voor het verdwijnen van een meer sociaal bewustzijn. Mensen zien zich vandaag minder als een deel van een sociale groep dan als een individu of als een deel van een kleine familie. Het is niet meer zo duidelijk waartégen men moet vechten. En het is nog minder klaar waarvóór men zou vechten. Ik denk dat het verdwijnen van de utopie verklaard kan worden door het feit dat de utopieën van de jaren zestig of zeventig té utopisch waren.

Ze waren te mooi om waar te zijn?

Ze waren vooral te haastig. Men dacht dat de Grote Droom gerealiseerd kon worden op korte termijn, terwijl een echt fundamentele verandering van een maatschappij verschillende generaties duurt. In de jaren negentig heeft men dan het kind met het badwater weggegooid. Elke globale toekomstvisie werd verdacht gemaakt. 'De utopie is dood, leve het pragmatisme' werd de slogan. Ik ben het daarmee niet eens. Er is namelijk één grote, wereldomvattende beweging bezig haar ideaal op een succesvolle manier te verwezenlijken: het kapitalisme. Met alle nieuwe technologieën en communicatiemiddelen slaagt het kapitalisme erin om een mondiaal systeem te worden. Niet dat er daartegen geen verzet is: over de hele wereld zie je sociale strijd. Maar die strijd is volkomen gefragmenteerd. Dat komt het zich ontwikkelende wereldkapitalisme mooi uit, natuurlijk. Die verbrokkeling wordt bovendien filosofisch onderbouwd door het postmodernisme in de sociale wetenschappen. Dat postmodernisme stelt dat er geen globale systemen bestaan en dat het gevaarlijk is om een sociale utopie na te streven. Daarmee ontneemt men de mensen die lijden onder het reëel bestaande kapitalisme één van de belangrijkste instrumenten om zich te ontdoen van hun verdrukking.

Niet de utopieën zijn gevaarlijk, maar het verdwijnen ervan?

Een utopie kan wel degelijk gevaarlijk zijn. Zodra men denkt dat ze hier, op aarde gerealiseerd kan worden, gaat het fout. Dat geldt niet alleen voor de sociale utopieën van de laatste eeuwen, maar ook voor veel religieuze bewegingen sinds de dertiende eeuw. Telkens mensen het Nieuwe Jeruzalem op aarde wilden installeren, is dat in een catastrofe geëindigd. Wie gelooft het patent te hebben op een perfect maatschappelijk systeem, die zal altijd weer een inquisitie nodig hebben om halsstarrige zondaars, ketters of ongelovigen te berechten. Ik benader een utopie niet als een gestolde en voor eeuwig vastgelegde waarheid, maar als een dynamisch gegeven. Als het enige tegengif dat echt werkt tegen de erfzonde van onverschilligheid en onrechtvaardigheid. Een utopie is echter enkel geloofwaardig als ze opgebouwd wordt en dus ook bijgesteld kan worden. Als ze verstart tot een dogma, heeft ze geen betekenis meer. Er wordt momenteel een nieuwe, levende utopie opgebouwd door het uitbouwen van netwerken waarin basisbewegingen uit Noord en Zuid, uit Oost en West elkaar vinden en tot onderlinge uitwisseling kunnen komen.

Maken de culturele verschillen het niet onmogelijk om één, globale utopie uit werken?

De beweging die momenteel aandacht vraagt voor de culturele verschillen tussen mensen en volkeren brengt inderdaad een zeer terechte kritiek uit op het feit dat wij te uitsluitend westers geïnspireerde modellen voor ogen hadden. Verschillende volkeren hebben nu eenmaal verschillende visies op de manier waarop mensen met elkaar verbonden zijn en op hun relatie met natuur en bovennatuur. Die diversiteit moet een plaats krijgen bij het opbouwen van een wereldwijde utopie. Maar er zijn ook gevaren aan het benadrukken van de culturele verschillen. Op de eerste plaats mag men niet de fout maken om van cultuur een vastgelegd gegeven te maken. Een cultuur is altijd een dynamisch geheel van ontwikkelingen. Wie dat ontkent, voedt het fundamentalisme -dat is ook een utopie, maar dan een averechtse. Ten tweede mag de aandacht voor culturele diversiteit geen scherm zijn waarachter de economische én culturele overheersing door een globaliserend kapitalisme zich kan verschuilen. Ook de Haïtiaanse voodoocultuur bevindt zich in een wereld vol kapitalistische verhoudingen en producten. Daarmee onvoldoende rekening houden, ondermijnt juist de kansen van de Haïtianen om een eigen toekomstproject op te zetten.

Speelt religie een rol in de opbouw van een nieuwe utopie?

De Mexicaanse staatsuniversiteit -een zéér gelaïciseerd instituut- heeft daarover vorig jaar een seminarie georganiseerd. Het was een zeer interessante ontmoeting tussen gelovigen van allerlei afkomst. De gemeenschappelijke visie van de deelnemers was dat de godsdiensten een onvervangbare aanbreng zullen hebben in de volgende eeuw, op de eerste plaats op het vlak van de ethiek. Ook het herstellen van de symbolen leek ons een belangrijke taak voor de godsdiensten. Want het bestaan van authentieke, menselijke symbolen wordt vandaag bedreigd door het feit dat ze binnen een commerciële context geplaatst worden. Zo worden symbolen uitgehold, opgebruikt en weggeworpen. Religie zal in de toekomst zeer belangrijk zijn, tenminste als ze weerstaat aan de verleiding van de spirituele terugtrekkingsbeweging. De wereld wordt door heel veel mensen ervaren als een ontmenselijkende plek waaraan ze zelf niet kunnen ontsnappen en dus kiezen ze voor een godsdienst die daar helemaal buiten gaat staan. Maar op die manier verliest die zogenaamde 'pure religie' haar humaniserende kracht. De mooiste symbolen uit onze christelijke traditie verwijzen juist naar de mogelijkheid om de wereld mooier te maken. Een plek waar de leeuw en het lam samenliggen. Een plek waar de heersers van hun troon gestoten worden. Een plek waar mensen in staat zijn om zelfs hun vijanden lief te hebben. Zolang de religieuze ervaring en de symbolische weergave ervan niet gedogmatiseerd worden, blijven ze de krachtigste utopie. Een geloof dat doden tot leven kan wekken.


Interview de François Houtard, président du Brussells Tribunal.
by André Fraticelli et Yasmine Boudjema Sunday, Apr. 18, 2004 at 9:17 PM

A.F : Quel sens donnez-vous à la juridiction que vous présidez- certes comme vous avez vous-même défini au départ quelle nétait non pas illégale, mais non fondée sur un texte juridique- pouvez-vous nous préciser sa fonction ?

M.H.: Oui en effet, le tribunal na pas de possibilités de sanctions, même sil peut parfois sappuyer sur le droit international pour donner certains avis. Le but est dalerter lopinion publique sur un problème fondamental qui importe à lhumanité aujourdhui. Il sagit donc dune fonction politique et à la fois éthique.

Le problème de lIrak nous apparaît comme central car nous le vivons -le peuple irakien est en train de le vivre de façon quotidienne et ce problème sont évidemment plus large que lIrak puisque sont impliquée toutes une série de nations, de pays, de puissances. Et que les victimes sont essentiellement des victimes irakiennes !

La spécificité de ce tribunal- qui suite à la session du tribunal Russel de 1967 sur les crimes de guerre au Vietnam, ainsi qua dautres nombreuses sessions dont notamment celle du tribunal permanent des peuples a linitiative dEllio Basso (un sénateur italien qui était lui-même un des membres du tribunal Russel) qui a produit au moins une trentaine de sessions sur différents sujets concernant le Nicaragua, les Philippines ou encore la banque mondiale et le fond monétaire international- est de replacer le problème de lIrak dans tout un ensemble et de montrer que lIrak nest quun incident à lintérieur dune politique plus fondamental.

Aussi, ce qui est en jeu dans notre tribunal, cest danalyser le PNAC : le programme pour un nouveau siècle américain. Il sagit dun document qui a été élaboré en 1997 par des milieux néoconservateurs, à savoir, un petit groupe essentiellement formé dintellectuels très intégrés dans les grandes multinationales américaines qui a essayé de repenser toute la poltique américaine pour lui donner un certain impact sur lhistoire du monde daujourdhui.
Ors, il l se fait que même si ce groupe est relativement minoritaire aux Etats-Unis, il est arrivé au pouvoir avecle président Bush ! Le Pnac est vraiment , ce que lon pourrait appeler lorientation fondamentale de la politique du gouvernement Bush. Aussi, nous avons voulu montrer quelle en était la fonction , cette pensée que lon appelle aux Etats unis, « le think-thank », un groupe de pensée qui essaye dinfluencer lorientation politique et qui est à la base de toute une logique dont lIrak nest quun aboutissement.

Ce que nous constatons également cest que cela va plus loin que la logique que poursuit ce petit groupe arrivé au pouvoir avec le président Bush aujourdhui. Lorsque nous analysons les positions du candidat président Kerry et les politiques qui sont menées par les démocrates dans le passé, cela nous amène à dire que le problème ne résulte pas seulement dun petit groupe qui pense de façon fondamentaliste, mais quil sagit là dune logique politique qui reflète une longue tradition dans lhistoire des Etats- Unis. Et que cette dune logique politique est liée à une logique économique donc à une domination économique.Et que tout ce qui est produit comme justification morale ou idéologique a également un lien logique avec tout cet ensemble dintérêt économique et politique. Nous nous retrouvons donc véritablement devant un empire - nous ne sommes pas anti-américain, je lai dit à linauguration de ce tribunal.en aucune façon. La preuve cest quil y a beaucoup daméricain, ici présents, à ce tribunal, parmis les témoins, parmi les membres de la commission ou de la défense. Ce qui est donc est en jeu, ce nest pas le fait dêtre américain, cest le fait dêtre hégémonique, cest la fait dêtre un empire et aujourdhui au vingt et unième siècle, lempire est américain !

Cest cela que nous voulons dénoncer, avec toutes les conséquences que ca a peut avoir et ainsi pouvoir alerter une opinion publique qui bien sur est de plus en plus consciente de ce que cest lIrak et de plus en plus opposée à la continuation de la guerre en Irak mais qui nest as toujours consciente des tenants et aboutissants de ce quest et a été la guerre en Irak aujourdhui.

A.T : Aujourdhui, on est peut-être a la fois optimiste et un pessimiste face à limperium américain : Un pessismisme ressentit vis-à-vis de limperium américain et un optimisme face à une prise de conscience collective. jentends par-là que le monde sest réjoui par exemple à la destruction du mur de Berlin et on a ainsi détruit avec le bipolarisme des nations comme contexte international.aujourdhui on se retrouve face à une super puissance hégémonique. Faut-il penser que le temps - puisquil faut donner le temps au temps, selon un vieux proverbe portugais- nous permettra de voir lémanation démocratique de la conscience démocratique populaire?

Je crois quil faut être évidemment optimiste sinon on ne croit plus dans lhumanité. Mais ne pensons que le temps se fait tout seul. Par conséquent, il y a un engagement à avoir. Lhistoire navance pas comme un long fleuve tranquilleelle est toujours le résultat dun certain nombre de luttes sociales et cest dans la mesure où cest luttes sociales vont véritablement pouvoir sexprimer et créer tout doucement et le plus rapidement possible, bien sur, un autre pole de force par rapport au pole qui est aujourdhui dominé par le capital international et par le caractère hégémonique de la politique américaine. Cest dans cette mesure où nous pourrons construire cest autre pole, où nous pourrons alors véritablement croire dans nos espérances. Sans cela, elles resteront purement symboliques.

Tout ce que lon voit aujourdhui permet déveiller une espérance, de la garder vivante. Cest que lon a vu au forum social mondial auquel j'ai participé, qui était fort impressionnant par ailleurs. Il y a là une force nouvelle qui est en train de se construire, peut-être difficilement parce que très hétérogène, mais qui se construit comme une conscience collective mondiale face à un système qui reste éminemment puissant. Ce système a en main beaucoup de moyen pour essayer détruire ce mouvement, cette réaction populaire, mais je pense quil est néanmoins obligé den tenir compte aujourdhui et cest déjà quelque chose.

Je résumerai en disant simplement ceci : « lespoir nous ne devons jamais le perdre et nous devons construire un autre type de société ». Mais cela naura de résultat que dans la mesure où cette résistance peut sorganiser, peut avoir les instruments pour pouvoir être efficace.

Cette conscience collective peut-elle avoir une influence sur lestablishment actuelle et quelles en seraient les conséquences économiques, la vision que lon pourrait avoir ?

Je crois que vous poser là tout le problème des alternatifs. Est-quil y a des alternatives à la situation actuelle au marché capitaliste, à ce quon appelle la démocratie parlementaire qui est encore fort limité comme nous le savons.
Il y a t-il des alternatives ? Ce qui est très frappant de constater, notamment lors des grands forums sociaux, cest que ce ne sont pas les alternatives qui manquent. Les alternatives existent dans tous les domaines ; écologiques, économiques, politiques, culturels, il y a des alternatives à tous les niveaux. Depuis le niveau de lutopie, cest à dire, quelle type de société nous voulons, quelle type déducation, de santé, de communication, dagriculture, dentreprises, il y a des idées là dessus !

Il y a aussi des alternatives qui sont proposées sur un plan concret, cest à dire, à moyen terme: quest ce que nous pouvons faire ? A court terme : Est-ce que nous pouvons établir une taxe Tobin pour limiter limportance du capital financierbien sur cela ne va pas encore détruire le capitalisme mais cest malgré tout un pas en avant ? Est-ce que nous pouvons supprimer les paradis fiscaux? Est-ce que nous pouvons décider dabolir la dette du tiers-monde? Il y a là toute une série dalternatives qui existent mais ce qui manque cest la volonté politique de les appliquer.
Donc, ne disons et nacceptons pas quon nous dise quil ny a pas dalternatives.

Regardez on a essayé de faire quelque chose et regardez ce qui sest passé dans les pays socialistes avec le socialisme réel, est-cela une alternative? Bien sur, il y a eu un échec et nous devons étudier et analyser les causes de léchec pour nous rendre compte pourquoi il y a eu échec, pour des raisons internes et pour externes.

Le problème nest pas quil nait pas dalternatives, le problème cest quil ny a pas de volonté politique pour les appliquer. Doù la nécessité de créer une pression populaire qui puisse faire pression sur les décideurs politiques et voir ainsi voir se réaliser les alternatives et arriver réellement à construire. Cest un processus permanent ces utopies et les alternatives ne tombent pas du ciel Cela doit être construit et construit collectivement. Et par ailleurs ce nest pas non plus le royaume de dieu que nous construisons sur terre simplement parce que lon a fait une révolution ou parce quon a changé un système politique, cest un processus constant qui va de la vie quotidienne aux grandes décisions de macroéconomie ou de macropolitique.

La révolution permanente où il faut sans cesse se remettre en cause, nous sommes très loin des grands philosophes et grands utopistes de la révolution de 1989 ( chute du mur de Berlin) et celles qui ont suivi par le monde. Aujourdhui la vrai révolution ne serait pas que les citoyens-électeurs invitent ceux qui ont des mandates à rendre des comptes plus précis?

Bien sur, cest un des mécanismes fondamentaux et qui existe relativement peu dans nos sociétés démocratiques. Je suis frappe de voire, peut-être que lexemple risqué dêtre mal compris, travaillant beaucoup à Cuba, je me rends compte que cest un mécanisme qui fonctionne. Je ne dis pas que Cuba est une démocratie parfaite- pas beaucoup moins que les nôtres- il est un fait néanmoins que les délégués au parlement cubain doivent rendre compte tous les six mois devant des assemblées populaires. Cela fonctionne, c-à-d, qu on leur demande : pourquoi avez-vous fait telle chose ou pourquoi ne lavez pas vous pas fait. Ils sont constamment soumis à ce mécanisme. Je penses que lon pourrait sinspirer de cela dans nos démocraties pour pouvoir avoir un fonctionnement plus souple et beaucoup plus réel de la démocratie.

Ceci dit, cest évidemment la démocratie qui est le moyen , non seulement la fin , mais le moyen fondamental pour pouvoir transformer nos sociétés en démocratie réelles, fondamentales, qui ne se résumeraient pas simplement au fait délire des personnes tous les quatre ans.. Cela est le respect de la démocratie qui certes nous paraît incontournable aujourdhui, mais qui nest qune petite partie de ce qu est vraiment la démocratie.

Où se trouve la démocratie dans notre système économique par exemple? Où se trouvent aussi les possibilités dune démocratie plus participative, plus quotidienne? Nous avons certainement de grandes améliorations à apporter.

Y.B : . Et de quelle façon compter vous réagir face aux dernières propositions de ladministration Bush ? Après avoir tenté de légitimer ses actions sous le couvert des droits de lhomme, elle désire aujourdhui les faire valoir sous le drapeau du développement et de présenter au prochain G8 un document de travail intitulé Partenariat G8 et Moyen Orient »

La réponse est catégorique, cest non! Il nest pas question que l « on » puisse accepter une telle proposition comme semble lindiquer aujourdhui Kofi Annan ou peut-être même Louis Michel. Il nest pas question daccepter quelques solutions que ce soit tant que les américains seront là, et par conséquent, cest la condition fondamentale et tout compromis avec les américains dans ce domaine là me parait comme une manière de prolonger le problème et par conséquent de prolonger la situation de guerre , de violence et de terrorisme.

Il faut , je crois, être extrêmement clair et il faut comme cela sera encore souligné au Brussel Tribunal, il faut laisser la possibilité aux irakiens de prendre une initiative quitte à ce quelle soit appuyer par une communauté internationale mais dans des limites absolument légales et respectant la souveraineté de lirak.

Cest facile aujourdhui pour les américains de dire, oui, aujourdhui, on a cassé la baraque, il faut bien essayer de la reconstruire, et nous ne sommes peut-être pas les mieux placés pour le faire, venez nous aider. Cest cela quil faut absolument dénoncer et refuser parce que on va nous faire beaucoup de propagande et de publicité pour dire : voyez-vous, nous sommes gentils, nous voulons aider les irakiens à se reconstruire, mettons nous tous ensemble, ne pensons plus au passé, abandonnons les querelles de familles que nous avons eu précédemment et joignons nous tous ensemble pour reconstruire lIrak. cest dune hypocrisie absolument incroyable. Je crois que là, nous devons être radicaux et dire non, ce nest pas cela que nous voulons, nous avons des alternatives à proposer.

Y.B : Mais ne craignez-vous pas que les membres du G8 sur le terrain du développement et de léconomie accepteront la nouvelle proposition de Bush and corporated?

F.H : Cest bien la raison pour laquelle, nous devons aussi protester contre le G8. A Gênes, les grandes manifestations, cétaient contre le G8, il nous apparaît comme un instrument de lhégémonie dans le monde. Certains de ceux qui y sont présents sont obligés de faire des concessions pour garder un certain ordre dans ce quils peuvent contrôler mais rappelons que le G8 nest pas un organe démocratique, ni représentatif de lhumanité.

Y.B/Pensez-vous que le développement dune zone de libre échange au Moyen-Orient puisse représenter une alternative à lhégémonie américaine ?

F.H :Ces zones de libre-échange, cest la grande politique américaine. Je peux la résumer en quelques mots : « Ce sont les accords entre le requin et les sardines » car le libre commerce signifie la possibilité pour le plus fort dimposer sa loi. Cest ça finalement qui est en jeu.

Certainement quà lintérieur de certains pays, quelques-uns y verront un avantage parce que certains secteurs de léconomie locale peuvent avoir un avantage à pénétrer le marché nord américain, mais cet avantage nexiste que pour une toute petite partie des intérêts économiques des pays concernés. Cest donc un marché de dupe mais qui est souvent appuyé par les pouvoirs politiques qui existent dans ces pays là parce quils représentent ces secteurs dintérêt économique local et qui abondamment répandent une propagande, une idéologie qui se base sur la liberté et ainsi la liberté de commercer. Ils tirent ainsi avantage de ce pacte où tout le monde est gagnant, comme on dit au USA, une solution « win win ». Mais cest une illusion totale.

Y.B :Et sil sagit dune proposition régionale prise à linitiative des pays arabes pour un développement endogène ?

F.H :Cest autre chose, si les pays arabes désirent de leurs propres initiatives faire un marché d échanges comme le Mercosur ou lEurope, cest bien entendu un pas positif mais à condition quil y ait une autonomie de décision, que cela ne soit pas imposé de lextérieur, et que finalement cela ne soit pas simplement une autre manière de réaliser la globalisation du capitalisme. Puisque qu actuellement la globalisation fonctionne mal sur un plan totalement global, sa relance pourrait sappuyer sur des créations de noyaux régionaux capitalistes.

Je crois que nous devons être en faveur des regroupements régionaux sur un plan économique mais en veillant à ce que leurs finalités dépassent la logique capitaliste pour mieux répondre aux besoins des populations et des gens.

Propos receuillis par André Fraticelli et Yasmine Boudjema

http://www.indymedia.be/news/2004/04/83568.php


La messe de François dans l’île de Fidel

GIANNI MINÁ

 

Le rendez-vous à l’église de San Agustin est à sept heures et demie. Le vieux François allait dire la messe pour fêter monseigneur Carlos Manuel De Cespades, descendant du père de la patrie cubaine et curé de cette église, qui revient après une cure en Suisse pour lutter contre une maladie insidieuse. François Houtart, quatre vingt deux ans, prêtre du clergé séculier, enseignant de sociologie pendant des années à l’université de Louvain en Belgique, a été parmi les concepteurs et les fondateurs du Forum social de Porto Alegre. Il est à La Havane avec d’autres intellectuels pour la réunion du mouvement En défense de l’humanité, qui a eu son baptême à Caracas en décembre 2004, comme je l’ai dit dans un autre article; et qui tiendra une autre session à Rome, à la Fao, en octobre. Ce religieux qui, dans sa jeunesse, a  enseigné aussi la sociologie à Hanoi, sous les bombes des B-52 étasuniens, obligeant la rigide organisation du parti communiste local à se confronter avec la dialectique des sciences sociales, s’est senti offensé par la manière dont on a traité dans l’information, depuis le 31 juillet, la maladie de Fidel Castro ; et plus encore, il s’est indigné pour le plan sur l’avenir de Cuba, décidé de façon désinvolte par le Département d’Etat américain, et renouvelé en toute occasion par Bush et Rice.

 

La souveraineté de Cuba

 

C’est pour cela qu’il a rendu public, lundi 5 août, un manifeste intitulé « La souveraineté de Cuba doit être respectée » qui,  en quelques jours, a été signé par plus de dix mille intellectuels du monde entier dont neuf prix Nobel. François en a discuté avec Raul Suarez, pasteur protestant, président du Conseil des églises œcuméniques de Cuba, il veut en parler à Carlos Manuel De Cespades, avec Frei Betto, présent lui aussi à La Havane, et qui était avec François quand, après la visite de Jean Paul II en 98, Fidel Castro invita quatre théologiens de renommée mondiale pour interpréter, de l’intérieur, les sept homélies prononcées par Pape Wotjyla dans l’île.

 

La rencontre dans la sacristie de San Agustin est affectueuse. Carlos Manuel, par sa famille, est aussi descendant du général Menotte, dit el majoral, président du pays au début du siècle dernier, et qui accepta définitivement la tutelle du gouvernement de Washington dans la vie politique de la nation, a eu une jeunesse  de militance catholique opposée au nouveau régime socialiste ; il a même fait l’expérience pendant quelques semaines d’un camp de travail, mais ne s’est jamais perdu entre les excès de la Revolucion et l’intolérable siège politique et économique, parfois terroriste, des Etats-Unis. En 97, quand il était porte parole de l’actuel cardinal de La Havane, à l’époque archevêque, Jaime Ortega y Alamino, il commenta  d’une phrase drastique, « ces bombes viennent de Miami », la prolifération soudaine des attentats contre des installations touristiques de l’île. L’évêque de la ville symbole de la Floride s’en émut fortement et demanda une intervention à son collègue de La Havane, qui imposa  le silence à son porte parole jusqu’à la fin du voyage papal en janvier 98. Maintenant, après la confession et la condamnation de Ernesto Cruz-Leon, auteur matériel des attentats dans l’un desquels mourut Fabio Di Celmo, nous savons que le mandant de ce terrorisme était la Fondation  cubaine américaine de Miami : sous la direction de Luis Posada Carriles, le Ben Laden  latino-américain, dont le gouvernement des Etats-Unis n’a pas encore décidé de ce qu’il va faire, l’extrader dans un pays complaisant ou, enfin, le juger. Souvenir qui, de nos jours encore, est plus effrayant qu’affligeant. François Houtart, qui a rendu visite à l’archevêque la veille, commente avec un peu d’ironie : l’ami Jaime « se suavizo » (s’est radouci) et observe maintenant la révolution sans préjudice « en cohérence avec l’esprit de l’évangile ». Il n’est  donc pas surpris que l’église de Rome, sensibilisée par la Curie de La Havane, ait demandé justement ces jours ci de prier pour Fidel, provoquant l’indignation  des catholiques réactionnaires de Floride et d’Amérique Latine, « si proches de l’argent et si loin de Dieu ». François qui, à 37 ans à peine, au Concile de Vatican II entra comme expert dans une commission de recherche sociale dont faisait aussi partie Karol Wotjyla, confirme ainsi sa franchise, et le prestige qui, à Porto Alegre en 2005, lui fit demander au président Lula, de façon très explicite et hors de tout schéma, les raisons du retard, au Brésil, du changement social tant attendu qui, deux ans après son élection, avançait encore au ralenti en regard des promesses faites pendant sa campagne électorale.

 

« Beaucoup de choses se sont améliorées dans les rapports entre le Vatican et Cuba après la visite de Jean Paul II » remarque Carlos Manuel De Cespades, et il se souvient avec affection que cette évolution a commencé vers la moitié des années 80, grâce à l’engagement de Frei Betto, après  son livre interview Fidel et la religion, pour rompre l’incommunicabilité et favoriser le dialogue entre la révolution et le clergé local. Dialogue qui, ensuite,  a continué de façon autonome. Pour la première fois, l’église cubaine a rejeté le blocus économique imposé à l’île par les Etats-Unis, et le gouvernement de La Havane a effacé l’athéisme  de sa constitution pour le remplacer par le concept de laïcisme. Il n’est donc pas surprenant que, même en 2003, après qu’aient été fusillé à La Havane trois des onze membres du groupe qui, armes à la main, avaient assailli le groupe de touristes du ferry boat de la Bahia de Regla, dans une tentative de détournement, le cardinal Sodano, secrétaire d’état, ait déclaré « l’Eglise continue à avoir  confiance dans le gouvernement de La Havane  pour conduire Cuba vers une démocratie accomplie ». Déclaration qui, à l’époque, eut le mérite d’imposer une réflexion plus profonde sur les méthodes de siège étasunien contre Cuba, et sur les conséquences néfastes que cette politique incorrecte pouvait avoir sur la façon de réagir de la révolution.

 

Les nouveaux séminaires

 

Il n’y a pas eu que des inaugurations de nouveaux séminaires et lieux de culte, dans l’île, et constructions de centres d’attention sociale de l’église catholique, comme ceux de la Communauté de San Egidio et des sœurs Brigidines ; les moments de rencontre entre les différentes religions et la révolution sont aussi devenus plus clairs et fréquents. L’église catholique, en particulier, a accru sa présence dans la vie du pays même dans ce  secteur sanitaire où Cuba est un exemple pour tout le continent, avec ses trente mille médecins travaillant  dans de nombreux pays socialement atteints, comme Haïti, l’Angola, le Pakistan.  C’est sur ce terrain que s’est développée une entente  entre le Vatican et Cuba, qui amène le pape Ratzinger à être plus généreux, dan ses voeux de bonne santé à Fidel, que Pietro Ingrao. Et qui a poussé le collègue Cotroneo, dans le Corriere della Sera, à délirer sur une présumée « conversion » du leader maximo.

 

Le livre de Ramonet

 

L’infirmité de Fidel Castro a mis d’abord en crise les délais de la réédition du livre Cento ore con Fidel, d’Ignacio Ramonet, (publié en Espagne sous le titre Fidel Castro : biographie à deux voix) et prochainement  édité en France, Angleterre, Italie, Allemagne, Etats-Unis, Canada, Mexique, Argentine, Brésil, Colombie, Venezuela, et jusqu’au Japon et en Chine. La première édition, immédiatement épuisée à Cuba et en Espagne, où elle était sortie en mai, avait cependant suggéré à Fidel quelques ajouts, augmentations, précisions, qu’il apportait aux épreuves lorsqu’il a été contraint à cette intervention immédiate pour sa désormais fameuse papillome à l’estomac.

 

Le livre du prestigieux directeur du Monde Diplomatique, fruit de plusieurs rencontres au cours de trois années, suit, deux décennies plus tard, de façon encore plus large (633 pages, avec 70 pages de notes et index) la trace du récit que Castro me fit pour deux documentaires devenus historiques, en 87 et en 90, transcrits ensuite dans deux publications. Le travail fait avec Ramonet est une sorte d’autobiographie, un bilan de sa propre vie publique plus que privée, au seuil des quatre vingt ans, quand  on peut se risquer aussi à des révélations inédites, des jugements hors toute diplomatie, aux autocritiques, et aux confidences.

 

Saint Ignace de Loyola

 

Ramonet, comme je le fis à l’époque, tout en rappelant dans son introduction les agressions constantes que Cuba subit de l’extérieur, et citant même Saint Ignace de Loyola « dans une forteresse assiégée toute dissidence est considérée comme une trahison », ne dédouane pas la révolution des trois cents prisonniers d’opinion qui sont dans ses geoles, et de la peine de mort. Avec une grande honnêteté intellectuelle, le directeur du Monde Diplomatique ne néglige pas de rappeler cependant que la peine de mort abolie  dans la majorité des pays évolués est toujours en vigueur, en plus de Cuba, aux Etats-Unis et au Japon ; et il souligne aussi comment, dans ses rapports critiques, Amnesty International ne signale pas à Cuba de cas de torture physique, de desaparecidos, d’assassinats politiques et escadrons de la mort, de manifestations réprimées par la violence de la force publique, au contraire, par exemple, d’états de ce même continent sud-américain  considérés comme « démocratiques », tels que le Guatemala, le Honduras, le Mexique. Sans oublier la Colombie où « sont assassinés impunément syndicalistes, opposants politiques, journalistes, prêtres, maires, et leaders de la société civile, sans que ces crimes fréquents ne suscitent une émotion dans le monde des médias internationaux ».

 

C’est une approche honnête, qui ne justifie aucun manque de libéralité  commis à Cuba mais qui impose  une réflexion sur la violation permanente dans le monde, en plus des droits civiques, des droits économiques, sociaux et culturels, phénomènes inconnus dans l’île. La prompte récupération physique de Fidel Castro a cependant soulagé de leurs angoisses les éditeurs de la biographie que le leader maximo n’est pas arrivé, finalement, à écrire,  mais qu’il a fait en sorte de laisser à l’histoire.

 

Pedro Alvarez Tabio, « l’autre mémoire de Fidel », gardien rigoureux depuis trente ans du patrimoine littéraire  et historique  de la révolution cubaine, recevait, depuis le 15 août déjà,  deux chapitres par jour corrigés de la main du commandant convalescent. Ainsi, la deuxième édition  respectera les délais prévus pour la publication. D’aucuns vont jusqu’à jurer que Fidel se présentera lors d’une des journées entre le 11 et le 16 septembre au Palacio de las Convenciones, pendant le sommet des Pays non alignés, qui accueillera à La Havane plus de 100 chefs d’état des nations de ce qu’on appelle tiers monde.

 

Cet article est la deuxième partie d’une série de deux reportages depuis Cuba de Gianni Minà, on pourra trouver la première partie, en italien, sur :

http://www.ilmanifesto.it/Quotidiano-archivio/31-Agiosto-2006/art85.html

 

Edition de samedi 2 septembre 2006 de il manifesto

http://www.ilkmanifesto.it/Quotidiano-archivio/02-Settemebre-2006/art82.html

Traduit de l’italien par Marie-Ange Patrizio 


'De armoede was vroeger beter verdeeld'

Kan een kanunnik een marxist zijn? Dat kan, zegt de 81-jarige François Houtart. Hij is het nog altijd allebei. Houtart is de bezieler van het World Social Forum. Een gesprek met een oud-strijdmakker van Ho Chi Minh, Dom Helder Camara, Fidel Castro en Jozef Cardijn.

Als het goed is, bevindt François Houtart zich nu in de Keniaanse hoofdstad Nairobi, waar volgende week het World Social Forum (WSF) wordt gehouden. Die bijeenkomst van andersglobalisten verwacht opnieuw tienduizenden deelnemers uit de hele wereld. Kanunnik Houtart ligt mee aan de basis van het Forum, dat nog altijd een alternatief wil zijn voor het jaarlijkse World Economic Forum (WEF) in het Zwitserse Davos - de jaarlijkse hoogmis van het kapitalisme.

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© Patrick De Spiegelaere

Als jongeman reisde Houtart aan de zijde van kardinaal Jozef Cardijn door Latijns-Amerika. Sindsdien komt hij op voor de armen en de verdrukten in de wereld. Hij is overigens een kleinzoon van de katholieke politicus Henri Carton de Wiart, die in de jaren twintig kort eerste minister was. Als godsdienstsocioloog stelde Houtart zijn engagement later ter beschikking van bevrijdingsbewegingen in Centraal-Amerika en Indochina. Hij werd een compagnon de route van Fidel Castro en mocht priesters die voorgingen in de strijd, zoals Camillo Torres en Ernesto Cardenal, vrienden noemen.

In 1976 richtte hij aan de universiteit van Louvain-la-Neuve zijn Centre Tri-Continental op om zich over vraagstukken van de derde wereld te buigen. Bij de twintigste verjaardag van dat centrum, in 1996, stelde Houtart een bijeenkomst voor die een alternatief moest zijn voor Davos. Het resultaat was het Forum Mondiale des Alternatives, dat in januari 1999 in Zürich een ontmoeting organiseerde met vijf grote sociale bewegingen uit de hele wereld. De Braziliaanse boerenbeweging pikte het idee op en organiseerde in 2001 een eerste World Social Forum in Porto Alegre.

De organisatoren rekenden op vier, vijfduizend mensen. Het waren er twintigduizend. Een jaar later kwamen er zestigduizend mensen op af en daarna honderdduizend. Bij de laatste bijeenkomst in Porto Alegre waren er 155.000 deelnemers. Het WSF is een instituut geworden, met gedecentraliseerde fora in de verschillende landen en continenten. Omdat de organisatie veel te zwaar werd, besliste de internationale raad - waarvan Houtart nog altijd deel uitmaakt - om het WSF nog slechts om de twee jaar te organiseren. Dit jaar dus voor het eerst op Afrikaanse bodem, in Nairobi.

Krijgt u niet het gevoel dat u daar voor eigen parochie preekt?

FRANCOIS HOUTART: Misschien wel. Maar is dat erg? Het World Social Forum is een ontmoetingsplaats voor iedereen die de strijd wil aanbinden met het neoliberalisme: sociale bewegingen, niet-gouvernementele organisaties en onafhankelijke intellectuelen. Er worden geen beslissingen genomen, maar ideeën en ervaringen uitgewisseld. Margaret Thatcher zei destijds: there is no alternative . Intussen begint wereldwijd het besef door te dringen dat er wél alternatieven zijn voor het neoliberalisme en dat het mogelijk moet zijn de wereldeconomie op een andere manier te organiseren. Het World Social Forum heeft daarbij als katalysator gewerkt.

De globalisering is niet alleen een probleem voor het arme zuiden, maar ook voor de geïndustrialiseerde wereld.

HOUTART: Men begint zich er rekenschap van te geven dat de logica overal dezelfde is. De armoede in Europa of de Verenigde Staten heeft uiteindelijk dezelfde oorzaken als de armoede in de derde wereld. In Latijns-Amerika en zelfs in sommige Afrikaanse landen hebben zich de voorbije twintig jaar enorme economische ontwikkelingen voorgedaan. De steden zijn er in omvang verdubbeld of verdriedubbeld, met overal hetzelfde beeld: verkeersopstoppingen, wolkenkrabbers, op iedere hoek van de straat een vier- of vijfsterrenhotel.

Maar van de nieuw verworven rijkdom profiteert uiteindelijk niet meer dan twintig procent van de bevolking. De middenklassen blijven kwetsbaar en er komen steeds meer armen bij. Dezelfde mechanismen spelen in het Westen. Kapitalisten slijten hun gesofisticeerde producten aan twintig procent van de bevolking. Die andere tachtig procent, die nauwelijks koopkracht heeft, is voor hen niet interessant.

Ook communistische regimes, zoals de Chinese Volksrepubliek of Vietnam, omhelzen de vrije markt. Communisme en kapitalisme blijken perfect samen te kunnen gaan.

HOUTART: Ik las onlangs een rapport van de Wereldbank, waarin Vietnam een successtory werd genoemd: de armoede zou er zowat gehalveerd zijn sinds het land tien jaar geleden overgeschakeld is op een vrijemarkteconomie. Arm is, in de definitie van de Wereldbank, wie minder dan twee dollar per dag te besteden heeft. Wat het rapport er niet bij vertelde, was dat onderwijs en gezondheidszorg in Vietnam niet langer gratis zijn.

Meer dan een kwarteeuw geleden heb ik een sociologische studie gemaakt van een dorp in de delta van de Rode Rivier. Vorige maand ben ik teruggekeerd naar dat dorp om er na te gaan wat er veranderd is sinds de invoering van de vrije markt. Wat mij opviel, was dat de overheid kennelijk niet langer de instrumenten heeft om publieke investeringen op peil te houden. Irrigatiekanalen worden niet meer onderhouden, coöperaties ontmanteld. In Hanoi - om over Ho Chi Minhstad nog maar te zwijgen - zie je steeds grotere tegenstellingen tussen arm en rijk.

Was er onder communistische regimes vroeger meer sociale rechtvaardigheid?

HOUTART: Laten we zeggen dat de armoede beter verdeeld was. Ik zal niet zeggen dat er vroeger geen mensen waren die privileges hadden, maar je zag geen extreme rijkdom. Nu ontwikkelen topmensen van de communistische partij zich tot wilde kapitalisten. Kijk maar naar de zogenaamde Gini-coëfficiënt, die door de Verenigde Naties wordt gebruikt om inkomensongelijkheid aan te geven: in de Chinese Volksrepubliek is het verschil tussen de armsten en de rijksten nu haast even groot als in Latijns-Amerika.

Arbeiders in Europa verliezen hun baan omdat arbeiders in China of India goedkoper zijn.

HOUTART: Niet alleen in Europa. Ook uit Sri Lanka, een land dat ik toevallig goed ken omdat ik mijn doctoraalscriptie heb gemaakt over het boeddhisme in Sri Lanka, trekken buitenlandse investeerders zich terug, omdat de arbeidskracht in China of Vietnam bijvoorbeeld nóg goedkoper is.

Wordt op het World Social Forum over dat soort kwesties gediscussieerd?

HOUTART: Zeker. Op het internet circuleren allerlei voorstellen, die in Nairobi besproken zullen worden. Bijvoorbeeld: wat kun je doen om te verhinderen dat de export van goedkope Chinese auto's naar België de sluiting van Volkswagen Vorst tot gevolg heeft? Je zou kunnen overwegen om een hoge invoerbelasting te heffen, waardoor de concurrentiepositie van Europese auto's gevrijwaard blijft, en die belasting vervolgens terugstorten aan de Chinezen om in China het lot van de lokale arbeiders te verbeteren. Ik besef dat het tamelijk utopisch klinkt, maar we zullen in ieder geval naar oplossingen moeten blijven zoeken.

Is het marxisme als wetenschappelijk instrument vandaag nog bruikbaar voor een socioloog?

HOUTART: Dat denk ik wel.

Zou een kanunnik zich een marxist durven noemen?

HOUTART: Natuurlijk. Ik schaam me daar niet voor - integendeel. Maar ik ben natuurlijk geen dogmatisch marxist. Mijn ervaring met communisten is dat ze, overal waar ze aan de macht zijn gekomen - in de Sovjet-Unie, maar ook in Vietnam en zelfs op Cuba - de sociologie hebben afgeschaft. Communisten gaan ervan uit dat het marxisme op alle vragen het antwoord heeft. En dan is er vanzelfsprekend geen sociologisch onderzoek meer nodig. Ze hebben daar een zware prijs voor betaald, want het gevolg is geweest dat ze totaal blind zijn gebleven voor wat er in de communistische samenlevingen aan de hand was.

Kunnen marxisme en christendom met elkaar worden verzoend?

HOUTART: Het zou een karikatuur zijn om Jezus Christus een marxist te noemen. Dat was hij natuurlijk niet, maar hij koos wel partij voor de armen. In dat engagement ligt de basis van zijn boodschap, van het evangelie, van de waarden die hij in zijn eigen samenleving uitdroeg. Onze samenlevingen zijn veel complexer geworden. Er is daarom analyse nodig en het marxisme is, volgens mij, nog altijd het meest adequate instrument om te begrijpen wat er in de samenleving gebeurt.

Marx zei toch dat godsdienst opium is voor het volk?

HOUTART: Ja, maar hij zei ook dat godsdienst zuurstof kan zijn voor onderdrukte volkeren. Hij zag de dubbele rol die godsdienst kan spelen. Mijn terrein was dat van de godsdienstsociologie. In de jaren tachtig praatte ik regelmatig met Cubaanse intellectuelen over de bevrijdingstheologie in Latijns-Amerika en het engagement van christenen in revolutionaire bewegingen in El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua. Ze overtuigden er het centraal comité van de Cubaanse communistische partij van om me te inviteren voor een stoomcursus voor het topkader. De conclusie was dat een marxistische benadering niet kan vertrekken van een dogma - dat godsdienst opium is voor het volk - maar altijd naar de werkelijkheid moet kijken.

Was uw klasje geslaagd voor het examen?

HOUTART: Een jaar later schrapte een partijcongres de paragraaf die gelovigen uitsloot van lidmaatschap. Er speelden daarbij natuurlijk ook andere overwegingen - het was ten slotte belachelijk. Maar ik heb ook hier in Leuven altijd de marxistische benadering gebruikt. Ze is naar mijn mening het meest geschikt om de rol te begrijpen die godsdiensten in de samenleving spelen.

Wanneer hebt u Fidel Castro voor het laatst ontmoet?

HOUTART: Vorig jaar, voor hij ziek werd.

Kan het communisme in Cuba na Fidel overleven?

HOUTART: Niemand had zich voorgesteld dat het 'post-Fideltijdperk' al bij zijn leven zou beginnen. Ik was er nog in december. Zijn broer Raúl heeft veel krediet opgebouwd omdat hij zich discreet opstelt. Discreet en efficiënt. De vraag is nu of het land de noodzakelijke beslissingen kan nemen om van een socialisme van de 20e eeuw over te stappen naar een socialisme van de 21e eeuw en het systeem kan aanpassen zonder de grote verworvenheden op het vlak van gezondheidszorg, onderwijs en cultuur te verliezen. Dat wil dus zeggen: zonder de weg op te gaan van China en Vietnam.

Helpt de opmars van links in Latijns-Amerika de Cubanen om die stap te zetten?

HOUTART: Zeker. Maar omgekeerd zou die ontwikkeling zonder Cuba ook niet mogelijk zijn geweest. De grote onbekende is hoe de Verenigde Staten zullen reageren. Raúl stelde de Amerikanen een dialoog voor, maar Bush weigert met hem te praten. Overigens: als het Amerikaanse embargo van de ene op de andere dag zou worden opgeheven, is dat gevaarlijk voor de Cubaanse samenleving. De schok van een plotselinge overvloed aan consumptiegoederen kan te groot zijn.

U zat onlangs in Mexico nog een volkstribunaal voor over de Amerikaanse Cuba-politiek. De traditie van Lelio Basso en Bertrand Russell ligt u na aan het hart. Maar heeft zo'n namaakrechtbank eigenlijk wel impact?

HOUTART: Het hangt ervan af wat de massamedia ermee doen. Het zijn natuurlijk opinierechtbanken zonder enige juridische grondslag. Ze halen hun macht uit hun overtuigingskracht, en daarom moeten ze serieus werken en moeten de media meewillen.

En die laten het afweten?

© Patrick De Spiegelaere

HOUTART: Soms wel, soms niet. In Bogota werd recent een tribunaal gehouden over de straffeloosheid van paramilitaire organisaties. De zitting werd gehouden in het Colombiaanse parlement. Ik zat als voorzitter van het tribunaal twee dagen in de stoel van de parlementsvoorzitter. Naast een groot portret van Simon Bolivar. We hoorden de meest vreselijke getuigenissen uit twee wijken in de stad waar de voorbije drie, vier jaar zeshonderd jongeren zijn vermoord.

De nationale televisiezender heeft de voorlezing van het verdict rechtstreeks uitgezonden in het hele land. Niet alleen de paramilitairen werden veroordeeld, maar ook de politie en het leger en iedereen die medeplichtig is - de regering inbegrepen. De mensen uit de buurt konden hun ogen en oren niet geloven: dat ze zelf mochten spreken in het hart van de macht. Dat geeft toch stof tot nadenken.

U zat in Brussel ook in een Irak-tribunaal. Is daar volgens u een burgeroorlog aan de gang, of toch een godsdienstoorlog? En is terrorisme te rechtvaardigen?

HOUTART: Godsdienstoorlogen zijn zelden oorlogen waarin het alleen over godsdienst gaat. Het religieuze element speelt een rol, maar het is altijd complexer. Het zijn vaak hoofdzakelijk politieke oorlogen, zoals met de katholieken en de protestanten in Noord-Ierland. Er is dus een meer globale analyse nodig om te kijken wat er echt aan de basis van ligt. En wat het terrorisme betreft: anderhalf, twee jaar geleden organiseerde Fidel Castro in Havana een conferentie over terrorisme, waarop ik uitgenodigd was. Hij was tijdens een gesprek bijzonder duidelijk. 'Geen enkele vorm van terrorisme is geoorloofd', zei Fidel. 'Of het nu om Palestijnen gaat, Irakezen of Tsjetsjenen.'

Kortom: 'Gij zult niet doden'?

HOUTART: Niet alleen dat. Er moet ook een nuance worden aangebracht, want er is toch een verschil tussen het terrorisme van de staat en dat van volkeren in nood. Ik herinner me dat kardinaal Oscar Romero van El Salvador het gebruik van geweld veroordeelde, maar toch een verschil zag tussen het geweld van de rijken en dat van de armen.

Is het niet een beetje te simpel om het terrorisme van het ene kamp als excuus te gebruiken voor het terrorisme van het andere?

HOUTART: Precies daarom moet er ook een serieuze analyse worden gemaakt. Een groot deel van het terrorisme in het Midden-Oosten is een gevolg van de politiek van het Westen. Wij zijn begonnen met de Taliban en Osama Bin Laden te helpen, toen ze in Afghanistan tegen de Sovjet-Unie vochten. Dat krijgen we nu terug. Probeert u zich ook eens in de plaats te stellen van de mensen in Irak die met zo'n oorlog worden geconfronteerd....

Bedoelt u dat terrorisme ook een vorm van wettige zelfverdediging kan zijn?

HOUTART: Wettig nee, zelfverdediging ja. Maar ik keur terrorisme niet goed. Al was het maar omdat het meestal het beste cadeau is dat je de tegenstander kunt doen. 'Elf september' was voor George W. Bush toch een geschenk op een zilveren schotel? Om zijn macht te kunnen vestigen en zijn beleid uit te voeren? Ik herinner me een jongen in Sri Lanka. Een Singalees, die opkwam voor de zaak van de Tamils. Hij kwam om bij een aanslag van Tamils op een trein. Dat is het resultaat van terrorisme. Het is politiek contraproductief.

Staat het internationale terrorisme ook op de agenda in Nairobi?

HOUTART: Zolang er mensen rondlopen op aarde, zal er terrorisme zijn. We moeten niet dromen. Maar er zal in Nairobi zeker over worden gepraat.

Hoe krijgt u in Nairobi vierduizend organisaties op één lijn?

HOUTART: Er blijven natuurlijk altijd verschillende tendensen. Er zijn diegenen die geloven dat het kapitalisme kan worden veranderd en er zijn diegenen die, zoals ik, denken dat het hele systeem niet deugt. Als het forum ooit uit elkaar spat, verliezen we elke kans om een ander Davos te maken. Dus moeten we blijven samenwerken. Tegen de multinationals, de Wereldbank, het Internationaal Monetair Fonds. Daar zit veel macht bij elkaar. En ik ken die mensen ook. Dat zijn geen monsters. Maar ze leven in een andere wereld. Ik zeg hen vaak: 'Jullie zijn analfabeten, jullie kijken alleen met een economische bril.' Daarom zijn ze ook niet in staat om de werkelijkheid te zien zoals ze echt is.

In plaats van 'Ni Marx, ni Jésus' zegt u: Marx én Jezus?

HOUTART: (lacht) Ik had daarover ooit een lang gesprek met Michel Camdessus, die toen directeur-generaal van het IMF was. Een praktiserende katholiek. 'Hoe komt het', vroeg ik hem, 'dat uw beleid u zo logisch lijkt, terwijl het in Afrika en Zuid-Amerika alleen rampen aanricht? Komt dat misschien omdat u de markt als een van God gegeven, natuurlijk gegeven ziet?' Hij werd boos. In de markt van Camdessus spelen sociale factoren geen rol en wegen vraag en aanbod even zwaar. Maar in de praktijk is dat natuurlijk nooit het geval. Als de kapitalistische logica wil spelen, móét er zelfs ongelijkheid zijn. Wie dat ontkent, vervalst het spel.

U hebt nu vijftig, zestig jaar sociale strijd achter de rug. Is de kloof tussen arm en rijk in die tijd niet alleen maar groter geworden?

HOUTART: In algemene termen wel. Maar in Venezuela, bijvoorbeeld, heeft Hugo Chavez het analfabetisme in korte tijd uit de wereld geholpen. Dat is dus mogelijk. De ommekeer in Latijns-Amerika is opmerkelijk. Ik maak mij nu vooral zorgen om de ecologische problemen. Ik was in november in Amazonië voor een conferentie over recht en biodiversiteit. We worden ons te langzaam bewust van wat daar gebeurt. De vernietiging van het woud gaat in een schrikwekkend tempo voort.

We kunnen de arme boeren daar toch moeilijk de rekening voor presenteren?

HOUTART: Het zijn de multinationals die het woud kappen. De verandering van het klimaat zorgt ook voor meer schade dan het kappen zelf. Ik durf het bijna niet te zeggen, maar er zijn onderzoekers die menen dat er in de jaren tachtig van deze eeuw in het hele Amazonegebied geen leven meer zal zijn. Alleen nog woestijn.

En toch blijft u optimistisch?

HOUTART: Cijfers over armoede in de wereld zijn geen abstracte gegevens. Achter die cijfers gaan mensen schuil. Terwijl de mensheid nu toch over zeven keer meer middelen beschikt dan vijftig jaar geleden, blijft het aantal armen toenemen. Een recent rapport zegt dat als de huidige politiek wordt aangehouden er in het jaar 2020 nog altijd 750 miljoen mensen zullen zijn die met minder dan twee dollar per dag zullen moeten leven. Kunt u dat aanvaarden? En of de moed mij soms niet in de schoenen zinkt? La lutte continue, quoi.

Piet Piryns en Hubert Van Humbeeck


General Assembly of the United Nations

Panel on the Financial Crisis

Francois Houtart. Founder and President of the Centre Tricontinental and Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the Université Catholique de Louvain. 

30 October 2008 

Ladies and Gentlemen, Delegates, and Dear Friends:

The world needs alternatives and not merely regulation. It is not enough to rearrange the system; we need to transform it. This is a moral duty. In order to understand why, we must adopt the point of view of the victims of this system, Adopting this point of view will allow us to confront reality and to express a conviction, the reality that the whole ensemble of crises which currently afflict us –finances, food supply, water, energy, climate, social— are the result of a common cause, and the conviction that we can change the course of history.  

Confronting Reality 

When 850 million human beings live below poverty level, and their number increases, when every twenty-four hours tens of thousands of human being die of hunger, when day after day entire peoples, whole cultures and ways of life simply disappear, putting in peril humanity’s patrimony, when the climate deteriorates to the point that one wonders whether or not it is worth the trouble to live in New Orleans, the Sahel, the islands of the Pacific, Central Asia, or along the coasts of our continents, we cannot content ourselves with speaking about the financial crisis.

Already this latter crisis has had consequences which are more than merely financial: unemployment, rising prices, exclusion of the poor, vulnerability of the middle classes. The list of victims grows ever longer. Let us be clear. This crisis is not the product of some bad turn taken by one economic actor of another, nor is it just the result of an abuse which must be punished. We are witnessing the result of a logic which defines the economic history of the past two centuries. From crisis to regulation and from regulation to crisis, the unfolding of the facts always reflects the dynamics of the rate of profit. When it rises we deregulate; when it falls we regulate, but always in service to the accumulation of capital, which is understood as the engine of growth. What we are seeing today is, therefore, far from new. It is not the first crisis of the financial system and it will not be the last.  

Nevertheless, the financial bubble, created over the course of the past few decades, thanks, among other things, to the development of new information and communication technologies, has added fundamentally new dimensions to the problem. The economy has become more and more virtual and differences in income have exploded. To accelerate growth in the rate of profit, a whole new architecture of derivatives was put in place and speculation became the modus operandi of the economic system. The result has been a convergence in the logic governing the disorders which characterize the current situation.  

The food crisis is an example. The increase in food prices was not the result of declining production, but rather of a combination of reduced stocks, speculation, and the increased production of agrofuels. Human lives were, in other words, subordinated to profit taking.   The behavior of the Chicago Commodity Exchange demonstrates this.  

The energy crisis, meanwhile, goes well beyond a conjunctural explosion in the price of petroleum.  It marks the end of cheap fossil fuels, which encouraged profligate use of energy, making possible accelerated economic growth and the rapid accumulation of capital in the middle term. The superexploitation of natural resources and the liberalization of trade, especially since the 1970s, expanded the transport of commodities around the world and encouraged the use of automobiles rather than public transportation, without consideration of either the climatic or the social consequences. The use of petroleum derivatives as fertilizers became widespread in a productivist agriculture. The lifestyle of the upper and middle classes was built on this squandering of energy resources. In this domain as well exchange value took precedence over use value.  

Today, with this crisis threatening gravely the accumulation of capital, there is a sudden urgency about finding solutions. They will, however, respect the underlying logic of the system: to maintain the rate of profit, without taking into account externalities –that is to say what does not enter into the accounting of capital and the cost of which must be born by individuals and communities. That is the case with agrofuels and their ecological and social consequences: destruction by monoculture of biodiversity, of the soil and of underground water and the expulsion of millions of small peasants who then go on to populate the shantytowns and aggravate the pressures to emigrate.  

The climate crisis, the gravity of which global public opinion has yet to take the full measure, is, according to the International Group of Climate Experts, the result of human activity. Nicolas Stern, formerly of the World Bank, does not hesitate to say that “climate change is the biggest setback in the history of the market economy.” In effect, here as before, the logic of capital does not taken into account “externalities” except when it reduces the rate of profit.

The neoliberal era, which led to the increase of the later, coincided as well with growing emissions of greenhouse gases and accelerated global warming. The growth in the utilization of raw materials and in transportation, as well as deregulation in the ecological sphere, augmented the devastation of our climate and diminished the regenerative capacity of nature. If nothing is done in the near future, 20%-30% of all living species could disappear in the next quarter century. The acidity of the oceans is rising and we can expect between 150 and 200 million climate refugees by the middle of this century.  

It is in this context that we must understand the social crisis. Developing spectacularly the 20% of the world’s population capable of consuming high value added goods and services, is more interesting from the standpoint of private accumulation in the short and middle term than responding to the basic needs of  those whose purchasing power has been reduced to nothing. Indeed, incapable of producing value added and having only a feeble capacity to consume, they are nothing but a useless mob, or at best the of object welfare policies. This phenomenon is accentuated with the predominance of finance capital. Once more the logic of accumulation has prevailed over the needs of human beings.  

This whole ensemble of malfunctions opens up the possibility of a crisis of civilization and the risk that the planet itself will be purged of living things, something which also signifies a real crisis of meaning. Regulation, then? Yes, if they constitute steps towards a radical and permanent transformation and point towards an exit from the crisis other than war. No, if they merely prolong a logic which is destructive of life. A humanity which renounces reason and abandons ethics loses the right to exist.  

 

A conviction 

To be sure, apocalyptic language is by itself a sufficient catalyst for action. On the contrary, a radical confrontation with reality like that suggested above can lead to reaction. Finding and acting on alternatives is possible, but not without conditions. It presupposes a long term vision, a necessary utopia, concrete measures spaced out over time, and social actors who can carry these projects and who are capable of carrying on a struggle the violence of which will be proportional to the resistance to change.

This long term vision can be articulated along several major axes. In the first place, a rational and renewable use of natural resources, which presupposes a new understanding of our relationship with nature: no longer an exploitation without limits of matter, with the aim of unlimited profits, but rather a respect for what forms the very source of life. “Actually existing” socialist societies made no real innovations in this domain.  

Second, we will privilege use value over exchange value, something which implies a new understanding of economics, no longer as the science of producing value added as a way of encouraging private accumulation but rather as an activity which assures the basis for human life, material, cultural, and spiritual, for everyone everywhere. The logical consequences of this change are considerable. From this moment forward, the market must serve as a regulator between supply and demand instead of increasing the rate of profit for a minority. The squandering of raw materials and of energy, the destruction of biodiversity and of the atmosphere, are combated by taking into account ecological and social “externalities.”  The logic governing the production of goods and services must change.  

Finally, the principle of multiculturalism must complement these others. It is a question of permitting all forms of knowledge, including traditional forms, all philosophies and cultures, all moral and spiritual forces capable of promoting the necessary ethic, to participate in the construction of alternatives, in breaking the monopoly of westernization. Among the religions, the wisdom of Hinduism in relationship to nature, the compassion of Buddhism in human relations, the permanent quest for utopia in Judaism, the thirst for justice which defines the prophetic current in Islam, the emancipatory power of the theology of liberation in Christianity, the respect for the sources of life in the concept of the land itself among the indigenous peoples of the Americas, the sense of solidarity expressed in the religions of Africa, can all make important contributions in the context of mutual tolerance guaranteed by the impartiality of political society.  

All of this is utopian, to be sure. But the world needs utopias, on the condition that they have concrete, practical results. Each of the principles evoked above is susceptible to concrete applications which have already been the object of propositions on the part of numerous social movements and political organizations.  A new relationship with nature means, among other things, the recovery by states of their sovereignty over their natural resources and an end to their private appropriation, the end of monocultures and a revaluation of peasant agriculture, and the ratification and deepening of the measures called for by the Kyoto and Bali protocols on climate change. 

Privileging use value requires the decommodification of the indispensible elements of life: seeds, water, health, and education, the re-establishment of public services, the abolition of tax havens, the suppression of banking secrecy, the cancelation of the odious debts of the States of the global South, the establishment of regional alliances on the basis not of competition by of complementarity and solidarity, the creation or regional currencies, the establishment of multipolarity, and many other measures as well. The financial crisis simply gives us a unique opportunity to apply these measures.  

Democratizing societies begins with fostering local participation, includes the democratic management of the economy, and extends to the reform of the United Nations.  Multiculturalism means the abolition of patents on knowledge, the liberation of science from the stranglehold of economic power, the suppression of monopolies on information and the establishment of religious liberty.  

But who will carry this project? The genius of capitalism is to transform its own contradictions into opportunities. How global warming can make you wealthy! reads an ad in US Today from the beginning of 2007. Can capitalism renounce its own principles? Obviously not.  Only a new set of power relations can get us where we need to be, something which does not exclude the engagement of some contemporary economic actors. But one thing is clear: the new historic actor which will carry the alternative projects outlined above is plural. There are the workers, the landless peasants, the indigenous peoples, women (who are always the first victims of privatization) the urban poor, environmentalists, migrants, and intellectuals linked to social movements. Their consciousness of being a collective actor is beginning to emerge. The convergence of their organizations is only in its early stages. Real political relationships are often lacking. Some states, notably in Latin America, have already created the conditions for these alternative projects to see the light of day. The duration and intensity of the struggles to come depends on the rigidity of the system in place and the intransigence of the protagonists.  

Offer them, therefore, a platform in the General Assembly of the United Nations, where they can express themselves and present their alternatives. This will be your contribution to changing the course of history –something which is must happen if humanity is to recover the space to live and once again find reason to hope in the future. 


PORTRAYING THE PERSON AND THE WORK OF FRANCOIS HOUTART

Based on Interviews in July 2005 in Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium [1] .

JEROME SAHABANDHU

Abstract

This report that compiled in a question-answer format contains the first of an interview series I have conducted with Prof. François Houtart of Belgium as a part of an ongoing research. Interview sessions were conducted in July 2005 at the Tri-Continental Centre in Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium. This is the first in the series of three interviews. The present interview was aimed at the development of an overall theoretical framework for reconstructing François Houtart’s intellectual biography and social thought in its socio-political and ecclesial plus Houtart’s reaction to some issues such as terrorism, democracy, reconciliation and common good ethical approach. The report in its own right is informative and has pedagogical importance for theology and sociology alike. 

BACKGROUND to François Houtart

Houtart was born in Brussels in 1925.The young seminarian completed his Philosophy and Theology in Malines, Belgium in 1949.His initial experiential context was in the aftermath of World War II (1939-1945). Houtart, as a student encountered one of the very crucial social issues at that time, namely, the sitz im leben of the working class community, in particular of the young workers and wanted urgently to respond to the issue. This led him to study sociology of religion.

Houtart obtained a Licentiate in Socio-Political Sciences from the Catholic University of Louvain (KUL) in 1952. Upon completion of a postgraduate course in Urban Sociology at Chicago University in 1954, Houtart embarked on a PG Diploma programme in City Planning at the Institut Supérieur d´ Urbanisme Appliqué, Brussels. In 1974, Houtart presented to the Catholic University of Louvain, of which he is now professor emeritus, a PhD thesis on “Religion and Ideology in Sri Lanka ”. An abridged version of his doctoral thesis was published under the same title and become a ground breaking systematic study in Sociology of Buddhism and Ideologies in Sri Lanka . Hoping for a radical change in the Church, Houtart has been an optimistic and energetic facilitator for the Vatican II Council on two fronts. Firstly in his capacity serving as the secretary of the sub-committee on signs of the times, by drafting the Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes), which became a key instrument in 20th century Christian Social Teachings. Secondly, he advised Latin American Bishops during and after the Council.

In 1956, Houtart founded the Center for Socio-Religious Research (CSRR) and in the same year became the secretary general of the International Conference of Sociology of Religion. After 1958, he directed various research projects and empirical studies for the International Federation of Institutions for Socio-religious and Social Research (FERES).

Responding to Third World issues together with the purpose of convergence and solidarity of the social movements, specifically those occurring in the southern hemisphere, Houtart founded CETRI- centre tri-continental in Louvain-la-Neuve in 1976. The third World Documentation Centre of CETRI is now integrated to the UCL library, Louvain-la-Neuve. Houtart has carried out socio-religious research in various countries, such as Malta , Latin America, USA , India , Sri Lanka , Vietnam , Nicaragua and has been consulted for socio-religious research in South Africa , Korea , Philippines , Cuba , Russia , Hong Kong, Poland and Italy . In addition, Houtart has been invited to be a facilitator at many conferences and workshops around the world. He still keeps in touch with many countries and contexts in which he worked. Nicaragua was one of the turning points, as he discovered a dialogue between Marxists and Christians, as a model for liberation.

Some of the theological colleges and institutes in South India and Sri Lanka have introduced Houtart´s social analysis methods into the theological education modules. This method has had a positive impact on the training of Christian ministers and the Laity who opted for theological formation in South Asia.

In 1996, at the twentieth anniversary of CETRI, Houtart proposed a meeting that later became the “Other Davos”, with the view of creating a counter movement to the dominant world economic forum in Davos in 1999.  The World Forum for Alternatives came into being, as a result and paved the way to the World Social Forum (WSF) in Port Alegre in 2002. Houtart was one of the co-founders of the WSF.

Houtart was the Chief Editor of the international journal Social Compass from 1960-1999. He served on the advisory council of the Catholic Journal Concilium while contributing to the pages. A quarterly from Brussels, COELI, carries Houtart’s articles regularly. Currently, he serves as a consultant to the journal Alternative Sud.

Houtart is actively involved in the Brussels Tribunal for the war in Iraq . His involvement in the people’s tribunals goes back to the war in Vietnam . Houtart is shifting the focus of his studying, moving towards issues of primal/indigenous communities (especially in Latin America), reparation and compensation, spirituality and political-economics, as he continues to work with social movements and forces.

THE INTERVIEW

Q: What have been the most important stages and turning points in your priestly and intellectual life?

A: In the late forties I was very conscious of the situation of the working class community. My experiences with the Young Christian Workers (YCW) challenged me a lot. Josef Cardijn was an inspiration for me. He was the founder of the Young Christian Workers Movement and later became a Cardinal. The situation of young workers at that time was extremely difficult. The working class went through a very difficult time during and after the Second World War.

After my ordination in 1949 I asked permission to proceed with studies in the social sciences. I studied the religious situation of cities: in particular, Brussels compared with other European cities. In the study, one of my questions was why the working class was so much against the Church.[2] Actually, the Church was allied with the enemy of the working class-the bourgeoisie. I also discovered the pastoral situation at that time - pastoral institutions like parishes were much less present in the working class neighbourhoods. During the whole 19th century the Church in Europe was really literally absent from the places where the working class was constituted - working class neighbourhoods and also in the big cities. The identification of the Church was with the bourgeoisie in the context of industrialisation. Of course, there were some priests who worked with the working class community but they had to face a lot of troubles.

I did a similar kind of study in Chicago.[3] There, I discovered just the contrary. In the USA the Catholic migrants constituting a large proportion of working class were accompanied by priests. The European Church had thought that the migrants were going to a Protestant country, and that a Catholic priest should accompany them, so that they would not become Protestants. The good aspect of this was that priests were present there and the pastoral work was being carried out. Priests were natural leaders of the group and they strongly identified with the cause of the class. So there was no anti-clericalism among the American working class. In Europe it was the other way around. My study on American Catholicism was published in French and the original research work may be found in manuscripts.

This research work was an important turning point for me - in order to better study the pastoral issues of the working class I opted for a sociological approach.

The second turning point was my travels in Latin America in the 1950s.

My first visit in Latin America was in Cuba for the YCW congress for Central America and Caribbean in 1953. This was something I had wanted to do for as long as I had known the leaders of YCW movement at the International Level. In addition to this, I was very impressed by the priests from Latin America who came to Louvain when I was studying there. It was during my holidays from the University of Chicago, where I was attending a postgraduate course in sociology, that I went to Cuba for the congress, and I also took the opportunity to stay one week in Haiti . So that was my first introduction to Latin America. A year later I spent six months visiting the Young Christian Workers movements in all the countries in Latin America before returning to Europe. This was my way of discovering Latin America from the perspective of the poor. I learned of many social issues that Latin America was facing at that time and wrote an article on the situation of the Church in Latin America for a North American Jesuit journal, which was widely reprinted. This was the origin of the research work that I did on Latin America over a four year-period. The research concerned all the countries in Latin America from social and religious points of view; the work was published in 43 volumes between 1958 and 1962 and was finished just before the Second Vatican Council.

In Brazil I had worked with Dom Helder Camara, who later became the Vice-President of the Bishops’ Council of Latin America (CELAM), so when the Council was announced he asked me to make a synopsis (résumé) of my research in Latin America to distribute to all the Bishops at the beginning of the Council so they might better understand the Latin American situation. I was then appointed as an expert to the Latin American Bishops.

The third turning point was my commitment against the war in Vietnam.

My work in Belgium for the Socio-Religious Centre of the Bishops’ Conference took place at the time of the Vietnam War. I took a position against the war and became associated with many of the anti-war movements of the left, especially the Communist movement. Because of this commitment, I became the Vice-President of Belgium-Vietnam Association. This experience helped me discover the other wars of liberation in the Third World and elsewhere.

Of course, I had already been involved with the struggles in Latin America for quite some time, especially with Camillo Torres.[4] I knew him even before he became a priest and had invited him to come to Louvain and study sociology. We were friends for many years.

It was my experience in Latin America, which led me to discover the context of Vietnam , the role of American Imperialist war and the liberation movements and wars in Africa. I became involved with many of the leaders of African Liberation movements - South Africa , Namibia , Mozambique , Angola , and Cabo Verde.

Later, I became the Chairperson of the Belgium-Vietnam Association and was invited to Vietnam (during the war in South Vietnam in 1968 and, later, in 1974, to North Vietnam ). That was also the origin of my sociological research on Vietnam .[5] This coincided with my dream of doing research on a socialist country and the Vietnamese asked me to collaborate on the creation of the Sociological Institute in Hanoi. I have maintained the relationship ever since then and have been invited to give a speech at the celebration of 60th anniversary of the Republic of Vietnam in August this year. The war in Vietnam was a very strong turning point in my social commitment.

Another important turning point has been Sri Lanka .

Because my Latin American work had reached a certain stage, after Vatican II, where I had also been involved with Gaudium et Spes, the secretary of the sub-commission of Latin American bishops asked me to help them prepare the Medellin Conference of 1968.The conference was focused on the application of Vatican II in the context of Latin America. Since I had accompanied them to the Council and also because of my studies on Latin America, they wanted me to help them with preparatory material and the like, dealing with all aspects of the Church, social commitment, pastoralia, liturgy, etc. They invited me to the meeting as an expert, but when I arrived, there was a Veto of the Holy See and so I could not participate in the conference. The Latin American Bishops were very disappointed but could not reverse the decision.

Tissa BalasuriyaThough it was a disappointment, I also thought that I had completed a step of the work and I had trained many leaders in Latin America (many of whom had studied in Louvain) to continue the work. I was then invited to do the same work in Sri Lanka by Tissa Balasuriya OMI [6] whom I had met in Kenya when he was there for the YCS[7] Movement meeting. As I was conducting some research work in Kenya at that time they had invited me to the meeting. Tissa asked me, “Why do you not come to Sri Lanka to do the same kind of work you have done in Latin America?” I replied, “Of course, I am most interested!” In 1968 I was in Kerala ( South India) for some conferences in different universities. In Kerala they pay well for resource persons, so I collected enough money to travel through Asia before going to Sri Lanka . I went to Japan , Korea , Hong Kong, Philippines , Vietnam , and Indonesia and finally to Sri Lanka . This was for me a great discovery. There I learned a great deal about the Oriental cultures, especially the Asian religions of Buddhism and Hinduism. During the following 13 years I went to Sri Lanka every year.

Finally, I decided to do my PhD on Sri Lanka , which I had never thought of doing before.[8]

I had done some work on American Catholicism in Chicago, but I did not present it as a thesis because that time I was not thinking of a university career and I was working in Brussels with the Bishops’ Conference and was occupied with socio-religious research. Later on the Research Centre was integrated with the Catholic University of Louvain.

Finally, CETRI[9]

In Old Louvain I was responsible for the Research Centre for the Sociology of Religion. The scientific studies took place throughout the city of Louvain. I had at my disposal a very big house, where I could do my work for the University and the rest of my work at large, namely, solidarity work with different social and liberation movements. Then New Louvain came into being! But when we moved to Louvain-la-Neuve all the University functions were unified and I had no space for my wider work. Not only that, but the atmosphere in the University was very conservative after 1968, so I was thinking of another space not only from a physical perspective, but also from an ideological point of view. That is why I founded the Tricontinental Centre (CETRI) in 1976 - to continue the solidarity work with social movements and forces in the South.

Q: How do you connect your priesthood and mission of the Church with being involved in larger world issues?

A: That has been for me a fundamental question. First I wanted to be a missionary

and that was my dream always ever since I was ten years old.[10] I had correspondence with missionaries in India . During secondary school, I was involved with the work for the missions. But when I wanted to enter the seminary my father was opposed, not because I was going to the seminary but because I was thinking of becoming a missionary. He said you are the eldest of fourteen children and you must remain in the country. I was very disappointed, but then I met a cousin of my mother who was an auxiliary Bishop of Malines and I asked him what to do. He proposed that I go first to the diocesan seminary for basic education in philosophy and theology. It was good training, he said, and after that I would still have the option of becoming a missionary. Well, thereafter I opted to study social sciences because of my interest and discoveries with Young Christian Workers (YCW) concerning social reality. But I never thought that going to the seminary would end up giving me the opportunity to work all over the world. The first reason for my position is that social commitment is a part of an active Christian commitment. My experience with the Young Christian Workers helped me greatly to come to this understanding. Then I gradually discovered the social teachings of the Church as a basic ground in this regard. Working with Canon Cardijn personally was another reference for this commitment.

The question became more difficult when I began to work against war in Vietnam , because that was a political matter. I took to the streets for demonstrations and meetings. For a priest at that time that was not normal. I was attending international conferences and having press conferences and being interviewed by radio, television, etc.  Finally I was called by the Rector of the Catholic University!

He was a very good person. But he said, “I ask you not to use your title as professor of the Catholic University of Louvain for any matter in connection with Vietnam , because I have had lot of complaints.” I said, “I do not use it but when the media people interview me they use it”. Then he asked me to explain my commitment against war in Vietnam . I explained for an hour. He listened and finally his conclusion was, “Okay, go on, but do not use the title of the University and, finally, between Ho Chi Min and Johnson[11] (Johnson was the President of the USA at that time), my chromosomes bring me nearer to Johnson than to Ho Chi Min.” It was in fact a political statement, but it showed me the degree of social awareness of a Rector of the oldest Catholic university in the world!

Then came the issue of the struggle against continuing colonialism, especially with the Portuguese colonies. [12] On this issue I had to take a position against the local Church, which was fully allied with the Portuguese government.[13] I was invited to a solidarity meeting in Sudan with South Africa and the Portuguese colonies.  I wanted to reflect on my commitment as a priest and I thought that if just because I am a priest, I cannot participate in solidarity with struggles for justice, and then there is something really wrong in that form of Christianity. I said to myself no, I am not going to stop. I must go to solidarity movement meetings. I decided to go to Khartoum and if my Bishop or the Holy See were think that what I was doing was not compatible with the priesthood, I would assume responsibility. I continued my work in Vietnam , Angola , Mozambique , South Africa , Cuba and with resistance movements in Latin America. Of course, this was not without difficulties and twice the Holy See tried to put me out of the University. But on these occasions the main protection came from the state. Professors of Louvain University are paid by the state and they cannot be thrown out on just anyone’s initiative. It is necessary to organise a juridical commission and to prove that the person concerned has committed a grave professional mistake. They could not use such an argument in my case and, luckily, to a certain extent, I was protected by the state against the Church.

Another factor in the Roman Curia being against my activities was that my sociological approach was based on Marxist analysis. I was very close to the liberation theologians in Latin America and Asia, especially to Sebastian Kappen from Kerala (1924-1993).[14] I was also closely involved a lot in developing Marxist social analysis methodology (for security reasons, we called it structural analysis) in Asia. This took place in India , Sri Lanka , Malaysia , Singapore , Thailand , Bangladesh , and, lastly, at a three-week seminar in Baguio, in the Philippines . [15]

This kind of analysis was the best instrument to understand the major social problems of capitalist societies and that is why I do not do see any contradiction with the Christian teachings .On the contrary. But it was a move against the mainstream currents in the Church. Theologically there was no fundamental objection for me, knowing, of course, that social reality, social struggle and the struggle for liberation are never totally pure.  We Christians agree in general with revolutions for social justice, but with one condition, that is that they be made by the angels! But no revolution is made by angels, and so we tend to object to revolution. Of course, there are always ambiguities. Can we wait for an unambiguous situation? No! The problem is whether to choose the ambiguities of the rich or ambiguities of the poor. We have to choose and the Gospel tells us to embrace the ambiguities of the poor. This means a critical commitment: critical in fruition of the values of the Gospel and commitment because we live in history, not beyond history. Being constructively critical –that is something I have always tried to do!  Most people accept such position, but only if they know you are committed. External criticism, they tend to believe, is in service of the enemy.

Let us give an example: the resistance in Iraq against the invasion by the United States and the United Kingdom . It was just last week that I attended the World Tribunal on Iraq in Istanbul after having presided over the Brussels Tribunal on the same issue[16]. There are all kinds of problems involved with the resistance. Of course, Iraqis must resist, but at the same time we cannot accept the killing of innocent people in order to create terror. When I discussed the matter with Fidel Castro in early 2005, he told me, “We cannot accept any kind of terrorism. It must be absolutely condemned and we cannot tolerate it, even coming from the Chechens, the Palestinians and the Iraqis.” Of course, we agreed also that if the ethical judgement must be radical, it does not accept a political judgment that does not put on the same level state terrorism as a policy and terrorism by peoples in a desperate situation.

Q: Can you explain how you became a Canon of the Roman Catholic Church?

A: It was a folkloric event. Actually, there are two types of Canons in the Catholic Church: The true ones and the honorary ones. True ones are the counsellors to the Bishops celebrating the offices in the cathedral. Honorary ones are the priests who receive this title for their services. It is like Monsignor in other countries. The rule was that when a priest is appointed a professor of a Catholic university, he automatically receives the title of Canon. That is how it happened.

I said to the Bishop that I did not want this title. But my request was not listened to. The decision was taken in my absence and a ceremony was planned for the installation. We were four to be installed. But when the date approached, they could not reach me, because I was not in Louvain. I was in Moscow! They could not reach me. When it became known that I was in the Soviet Union, there was a scandal. This was in the early sixties! In fact, I had gone to Moscow because I had been participating a meeting on the sociology of religion in Sweden . During the first session of the Vatican II Council, where I had been working as an “expert”, I had met the special envoy from the Academy of Sciences of Moscow. He had said that whenever I had time I would be welcome at the Academy. I spent about two weeks in the USSR , taking part various visits and meetings, in particular with the Orthodox Church in Leningrad and Moscow. From Sweden , I came back through Moscow. So the Diocese of Malines had to organise a new ceremony for me.

Q: What was the historical context when you entered the training for ministry?

A: The historical context was very specific because it was still during the war.  Five days after of the commencement of the academic year, we had to leave the seminary and go home. We were dispersed, because the Germans wanted to recruit us for work in the German factories to take the place of young Germans who had been recruited for the war. So we were sent back home. Courses were organised in different places, like Catholic hospitals, high schools, etc.

During that period I spent several months with my grandparents for security reason. That was very interesting for me as my grandfather had been prime minister. He was the founder of the Christian Democratic Party in the 19th century in Belgium and had served as Chairman of sessions of the League of Nations in Geneva. He had had great political experience and was also a writer. It was thus a very interesting experience for me to be with him.

After that I went to the countryside for some time and there I joined the guerrilla resistance to the German occupation and Nazism. This was also very important for me as later I got involved in anti-war activities.

Q: What were the intellectual currents at the time you were in postgraduate studies and who were the key players who attracted you most?

Henri de LubacA: During the seminary formation Marie-Dominique Chenu, Jean Danielou, and Henri de Lubac were the most important French theologians; Canon Jacques Leclercq, professor at the Catholic University in Louvain, was very important both in sociology and in Natural Law. In sociology, it was Emile Durkheim, and Gurwitch,[17] the latter of whom was still alive at that time. I went to the University of Chicago especially for the study of urban sociology. It was a great school; Parker and Berger were both associated with it.

It was only in Sri Lanka that I discovered Karl Marx. When I was doing my thesis I began to work with the theories of Max Weber. Then I gradually discovered that the Weberian approach was not enough, though Weber was interesting. Although I already had an introduction to Marxism, it was only in the Kandy Library of the University of Peradeniya that I began to read Marx and Marxist literature in earnest. At that time all the walls of the campus were full of Marxist and Leninist slogans because of the student movement. I spent hours and hours in Kandy Library in extremely hot weather. I read Grundrisse and finally I adopted a Marxist approach because I found it was the best approach for understanding pre-capitalist societies. I also read Althusser and Bourdieu at that time.

 Q: What about your participation in Gaudium et Spes?

A: There were commissions preparing the different documents of the Council and there was a sub-commission for the Gaudium et Spes introduction. I had been invited to go to Rome for the preparatory work of this document during the four years prior to the Council. Shortly after the opening of the Council I was asked to be the secretary of the sub-commission for the redaction of the introduction. Cardinal Karol Jozef Wojtyla (later Pope John Paul II) was also a member, and there were some other interesting theologians present: de Lubac, Chenu, and Karl Rahner. The text was based on a book that I had written with the title The Church in the World, a small book, which had been translated into several languages (Spanish, Russian, etc.). My position was that if the Church wanted to prepare a document on the Church’s presence in the world, it should start with the question of what the world is. That is why the introduction started with a certain description of the world, though not a real analysis, because such an analysis would not have been accepted by the Bishops. That is why the document was titled: Joys and Hopes. We worked together with the other countries’ representatives for four years’ time. It was the subject of great discussion because these texts belonged to one of the two major documents (constitutions) of the Council, the other being Lumen Gentium.

To begin such a document with a new approach was not an easy thing, because up to that point in the history of the Church, the approach of conciliar documents had been a deductive one, which characteristic of a theological perspective. They start with the Word of God (revelations) and then go to reality. The whole training of the clergy at that time in theology was highly dogmatic. In this traditional approach the first thing is the Word of God that must be understood and then communicated to the people.

In Gaudium et Spes it was completely the other way around. We took an inductive approach and that was not in line with the long ecclesiastical tradition of Church documents. So some theologians were not at ease with that the kind of approach we had taken. I remember one member of the Theological Commission, a French Cardinal, saying after reading it, “This text seems to be written by a sociologist and not by a human being.” So up until the end there was no assurance that the Council would accept it and we had to do a lot of redaction. At least it was accepted in the final plenary session.

Q: What is your relationship with the Protestant churches?

A: I have been involved with the World Council of Churches (WCC), before, and after the Vatican II Council. I participated in the Programme to Combat Racism. I often went to Geneva then. I also have been involved with Frère Roger Schutz and the Taizé Community in France . After the Council, I became involved in dealing with various social issues.

 Q: Was Nicaragua a turning point in your thinking process?

A: I had been in Nicaragua in 1954 when I made my first visit to the YCW in Latin America. This was during the Somoza dictatorship. But at that time I had not established any specific links with the country. When the Sandinista revolution took place I was still working in Vietnam . I had continued to work with Latin American countries, but not as intensively as previously. I had friends in Nicaragua , some Jesuits and some Franciscans who were very close to the Sandinista revolution. When I had finished the main part of my work in Vietnam , including the training of a good number of the members of the Institute of Sociology and with the study of the Vietnamese commune of Hai Van in the delta of the Red River in North Vietnam . Friends in Nicaragua wanted me to come there, so I decided to go.  The Nicaraguan experience was extraordinary because it was a society in which a revolution was taking place. One of the questions was how to relate to culture, religion and sociology of religion in particular in that situation. One thing that impressed me was the commitment of Christians. There was not so much theological thinking as such, as people in Nicaragua were more practically than intellectually oriented but there was a living Christianity within a revolutionary process. It was a very complete experience, wherein, for example, the liturgical transformation was very important.

The Missa Campesina (the peasant mass) was rich with the songs taken from the Nicaraguan folklore. People participated with great enthusiasm and faith. It meant a renewal in the life of the Church. Though the Missa Campesina was later forbidden by the Church authorities, many continued to practise it. There was also a new approach to the Bible.[18] From the point of view of the faith, it was a very important spiritual experience. I was happy to witness it. I founded a social research centre affiliated with the UCA (Central American Universities) and also worked with the Sandinistas on different aspects of social research. Whenever I went to Nicaragua I was able to stay few days in Cuba and since1953 I have been there quite a few times. I had long discussions with several friends, intellectuals on issues of religion, revolution, Marxism, etc. Because several of them were in touch with Nicaragua, Guatemala, and El Salvador, where many Christians were involved with revolutionary movements and also with the liberation theologians, they began to think that it was inadequate to repeat as dogma that religion is the opiate of the people. After two or three years they proposed that we organise a course on the sociology of religion. They knew I was using a Marxist approach and they finally convinced the Central Committee of the Communist Party to invite me and my colleague Genevieve Lemercinier for an intensive two-week course. This was held in La Havana in the school of diplomats. About 50 people attended the course, including those responsible for Party ideology and professors of philosophy and one Colonel of the army in uniform. It was as in 1986, after years of Soviet domination.

Our message was: If you are Marxists you cannot look at reality in a dogmatic way. You have first to look at the reality. Is religion is necessarily the opiate of the people? Let us study the facts. The course studied historical situations and various religions, including Christianity. The conclusion was that some times religion is the opiate of the people and sometimes it is not. It can be the inspiration for social commitment and liberation. They agreed and a year after the clause in the rules of the Communist Party saying that it was forbidden for a believer to be a member of the Party was suppressed.  The contents of the course were published under the title The Sociology of Religion. All this happened thanks to Nicaragua where I found many Christians, together with Marxists, among others, people like Ernesto Cardinal, very committed to social change.

Q: Would you comment on the impact of your seminars [19]  in Southern India and in Sri Lanka , especially with regard to theological education and social movements?

A: In fact, Genevieve Lemercinier and I had conducted many social analysis courses in the Philippines , Thailand , Malaysia , India , Sri Lanka and Pakistan . Our main aim was to help understand the society especially for the people engaged in social movements and community development work. I went back to Kerala in 2004 for a seminar with people from all over India at the Orthodox seminary. There were also people from Socialist and Marxists parties, social activists, theologians and Christians from different traditions. A professor from Madurai told me that our social analysis was used in most of the Protestant theological colleges and seminaries in the training of ministers and laity. This was the case with the Tamil Nadu theological seminary in Madurai. This was the work of Bastiaan Wielenga and Gabrielle Dietrich. I was very pleased with this news because it meant the method had been used for social activism and for ministerial training. In the Philippines it was used in wider social and ecclesial movements and action groups, and student movements after the Baguio Seminar of 1976.

That is why a year later when I came back to the Philippines with Genevieve Lemercinier for a seminar for the major superiors of the women’s congregations of Asia, I was expelled by the Marcos. I could not enter Manila anymore, because I was denounced and put on the list of persons prohibited from entering the Philippines (blacklisted). The police had the order to send me back on the same plane I came on, but it was going to South Korea . There also I had some problems with the military government. I had been invited by the Buddhist University, for a seminar on Buddhism in the modern world and I discovered on the spot that it was a political endeavour. The military dictatorship of South Korea had thought to get some ideological support from the Christian Churches for their anti-Communist work. They could not get it. Happily, in South Korea the Protestant and Catholic Churches were opposed to the military dictatorship, though many had suffered for this. Being well acquainted with the Cardinal there, Cardinal Kim, I went to visit him. The first thing that he asked was; “Do you think that you have been followed?”  He took me with him to his private apartment because he feared there were microphones hidden in his office and talked about the situation for one hour straight. The event at the Buddhist University had been organised by the military. The rector was a general. They wanted to use Buddhism as the ideological background to justify the military regime in South Korea and to fight against Communism. They asked me to give a talk on Buddhism in the modern world and modern Buddhism in south Asia. When I understood the whole matter, I completely changed my speech during lunchtime and took a very different path and talked of the failure in using Buddhism against Communism in Thailand . They were furious. They tried to stop my speech. So I was not eager to be sent back to South Korea .

At the Manila airport the head of police told me “I cannot wait any more; I am ready to send you to Bangkok but not to Seoul!” One month later I was in Malaysia for a seminar and the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Manila given the reasons for my being expelled from Philippines . He gave four reasons: Firstly: I was very dangerous because I was using false names: sometimes I was known as Father Houtart, sometimes Abbé Houtart (Father in French). They did not understand that these were the same. The second thing was that I had been in the guerrilla in Colombia ; they had mistaken me for Camillo Torres. The third thing was that I had criticised the Pope. Lastly, my writings were the bible of the Leftist Catholics in the Philippines . So for those four reasons they expelled me. Anyway, this shows that our sociological method had been very fruitful.

Q: Who were the leading figures in the Philippines ?

 A: Carlos Abesamis and Bishop Xavier Labayen.

Q: How do you explain the move in the sociology of religion from a confessional approach to a professional approach?

Jacques LeclercqA: When I came back from Chicago I was invited by (Canon) Jacques Leclercq,[20] who founded the International Conference of Sociology of Religion (Conférence Internationale de Sociologie Religieuse or CISR, now the SISR), to become the secretary general of this conference, a position I subsequently held for ten years. An important question was raised: Is sociology an ecclesiastical discipline? Of course you can use it for pastoral purposes, but this is not the purpose of sociology. The sociology of religion is a part of sociology. As a matter of fact, the first name of this conference was religious sociology. Finally, after much debate and a clear move towards a scientific approach, it became the sociology of religion.

The same thing happened with Social Compass,[21] the international journal of the sociology of religion. It was originally a Dutch journal[22], which was instituted in the service of the Catholic Church. When I became the editor of the journal[23] my position was that it should become a scientific journal. The same controversy took place at the Catholic University of Louvain where the research centre I was in charge of was part of the Faculty of Economic, Social and Political Sciences, but the research was conducted for the purposes of pastoral work. That led to a conflict with the Rector of the University, who was a Monsignor. He wanted the centre to be under the Faculty of Theology and told me that sociology of religion is at the service of the Church. My position was that it should remain a scientific activity within the social sciences at the University. Later, when a layman became Rector, there were no more problems. As the editor of the journal I first opened it to non-Catholic Christians and then to people of other faiths and finally to all those who present their research in a scientific manner. So this was how we moved from a confessional to a professional approach.

Q: Tell something about your association with the journal Concilium and the COELI Bulletin.

A: Concilium[24]:  I have been with the council of Concilium since the beginning. I have written several articles. Now I do not have much time, but continue to receive their programmes. Initially I was associated with the Flemish theologian Edward Schillebeckx.

COELI Bulletin[25]: I have been on the board since the beginning. They have meetings in Brussels and when I am here I go. I saw the impact of it on theological thinking in Asia, Latin America and Africa. It was very much associated with the Christians for Socialism in the beginning. The magazine has been important in continuing the path of the liberation theology during the restoration period initiated by and Paul VI [26] .

Q: What was your motivation for starting CETRI (Tricontinental Centre)?

A: The kind of work that CETRI is doing now had already existed when I was in Brussels and in the context of Louvain University. When I was working with the research centre for the sociology of religion, because of my travels in Latin America and Asia I had many contacts, and my preoccupation was solidarity with the so-called Third World and solidarity with the people and communities who were struggling to change society. In Louvain I had enough room in the University building assigned to the centre for both activities, but when the University moved to Louvain la Neuve, (New Louvain), the main problem became the physical space, because University activities were concentrated. But also an autonomous ideological space became necessary after the reaction to May 1968. I took the challenge positively and thought that it was a good opportunity to organise the Tricontinental Centre.

I had some inheritance from my father, but that was not enough and my mother and some friends came forward and CETRI was founded in 1975. It was built with enough space for accommodation for postgraduate students from Asia, Africa and Latin America. A documentation centre was established to house the many documents I had been receiving from Third World countries. I also had exchange of journals with Social Compass. Soon we realised that we did not have enough space for this at CETRI. Happily, the University was very willing to cooperate and the documentation centre was integrated into the Social Science Faculty. After some time, it became partially financed by the Belgian Ministry of Development Cooperation.

We also thought of having a journal of our own.  It began as South-South Bulletin in English, Spanish and French. For two years we focused on the resistance movements in Southern countries. Finally I decided to begin Alternative Sud[27] to give an opportunity for the voicing of the ideas and critical thinking of the South. This goes together with our concern to share the Southern views with the North.

 So CETRI could be a meeting ground for the three continents of the South and also a place to continue with the common work of thinking and research.

Q: In what directions is CETRI currently moving? In other words, how would you describe CETRI in 2005?

A: CETRI continues to disseminate the critical thinking of the South by way of the documentation centre and the journal Alternative Sud, which has been translated into various languages, such as Spanish, Italian and Arabic. A new focus is on the convergence of social movements and the globalisation of resistance. This all began with the organisation of the meeting that came to be known as the Other Davos ( Switzerland ) in 1999. Representatives of social movements (peasants’, workers’ and women’s movements) from various parts of the world all came together with analysts of worldwide renown, such as Samir Amin, for the common goal of proving that is “alternatives are possible”. The Brazilians picked that idea up and paved the way for the World Social Forum. Actually the original idea was given at the 20th anniversary of CETRI in 1996, when Ernesto Cardenal and Samir Amin were present. I made a speech mentioning that we should organise a counter Davos to dominant World Economic Forum. That became the World Forum for Alternatives.[28]

Now actually CETRI has been somewhat institutionalised with its documentation centre, the journal (Alternative Sud), and with other publications on resistance. So currently CETRI is at the service of globalisation of resistance.

On of the main issues is finance, because there is practically no structural financing. The danger is to be absorbed in fundraising and realising contracts. My hope is that CETRI will not be forced to become reformist because of this. I do not want to leave a place that we have built through the years for more radical positions, shifted to less clear commitments. Of course, CETRI has built up a partnership network throughout the world. This is a great hope. But, again, to maintain partnerships we need funds. You need to communicate and meet; so, for the moment, I keep those contacts because I do not have to be paid. But others just remain here and sometimes they do not even have money to go to the Social Forums. There are real needs but you do not have finances, so the system is killing you! This is an important question we have to face.

Q: Please describe your emphases in the different periods from 1950s.

A: In the fifties the main emphasis was on the fact that the working class in continental Europe was quite opposed to the Church and even against religion. On this I reflected in contrast with the Gospel’s choice of justice and identification with the poor. One of my main preoccupations at that time was to try and explain why such a contradiction existed. Precisely the people who are suffering more from the economic system were the ones who did not believe in the message of the Gospel and a good part of the bourgeoisie was nearest to the Church. I remember the study I made in Brussels showing that the working class neighbourhood had less than ten percent regular religious practice and in the bourgeoisie neighbourhood it was more than fifty percent. I did more empirical research about this. Of course, at that time already more or less we knew the reasons, as it was part of industrialisation process, which created the class opposition between a new class and the bourgeoisie. But what I discovered was that during the whole period of rapid industrialisation and urbanisation, the Catholic Church was not institutionally present with the people. It was not only an ideological position, but even the pastoral structures were lacking precisely in the places where the working class was established. That was my main preoccupation in the fifties and that is why I went to the USA [29] and finally to Latin America.

At the end of the fifties my interest was Latin America, which was the most Catholic continent in full demographic expansion, with very deficient pastoral structures and also with quite radical social movements. The Church and the ecclesial structures were quite far from the major problems. That is why I began extensive research on all the countries Latin America. I proposed it to the Holy See but at that time but there was absolutely no interest at that level. However, I am thankful to a great friend of mine Msgr. Luigi G. Ligutti, who was a North American priest, and the observer of the Holy See at FAO[30] who helped me financially to organise that research, which took four years. That was my main preoccupation at that time.

After that came the Vatican II Council. In 1962 the Council was announced. I was involved with it and in the sixties I had the hope that a real transformation would happen in the life of the Church from all points of view: theological, liturgical, pastoral and social. That was a unique opportunity to realise necessary transformations to meet the expectations and the needs of the modern world.  I invested substantial time in that and participated in many conferences and meetings. I continued the work of the Research Centre with the same preoccupation so that research was not a just a scientific activity but applied research in order to give a better instrument to action, social and pastoral and to contribute to a better realisation of the role of the Church in the modern world. I also was involved with the WCC at that time regarding these issues.

At the end of the sixties and the beginning of the seventies, though I continued doing the same kind of work, my main preoccupation was international affairs-the war in Vietnam, the liberation struggles in the Portuguese colonies, the struggles of Africa and Namibia I gave many talks on those issues in a great number of countries and to a wide variety of audiences. I was involved with the leaders of those movements. Some of them became very good friends. I was also preoccupied with the way that the Church was reacting or responding to those events, and denounced the fact that, for a while, the American Churches defended the American role in Vietnam, and that the Portuguese Catholic Church supported colonialism as a part of the struggle against communism in Africa. That was in the seventies.

I founded CETRI. In 1976 my preoccupation was to have an instrument with a sociological approach in order to realise solidarity with the Third World countries and also to bring about a more scientific basis for the Third World studies- research, knowledge, and communication. It was also during those years (since 1968) I began to discover Asia and Asian religions, especially Buddhism. I wrote my PhD thesis on the sociology of Buddhism in Sri Lanka in 1974. Of course, it often concerns extremely different societies and cultures, but I work with the same focus: the idea of trying to explain the role of religion in society and how much it contributed to building cultures and so orienting the general shape of societies. What I understood was that religion is part of society but also the fruit of society. This time I wanted to apply my approach to other faiths: how religion was functioning in Eastern societies. I had worked in Europe, North America and Latin America and now began to work in Asia.

In the seventies and eighties, I also had quite a lot of contact with the socialist world. That was also one of my preoccupations after my contact with Vietnam and the liberation movements in Africa. I began to visit several socialist countries.

I had been to Poland before but more for religious reasons and in the Catholic milieu, rather than for social or political purposes. I began to have more contact with the Soviet Union, with Cuba and with Vietnam . My preoccupation was why these socialist countries were so radically anti-religious.

My feeling was that one of the failures of the socialist system was its anti-religious position. To force very believing masses of people, like those in Latin America or Asia, to come to an atheist position almost as a must before becoming a socialist was, I found totally wrong. So I had many discussions with different groups of Marxists in Sri Lanka, in India, in Vietnam, in Cuba and the rest of Latin America, and, of course, in Europe. I organised a few conferences on that topic in socialist countries and hoped to do some research on the topic in socialist countries. That was more or less the end of seventies and the beginning of the eighties.                             

In the eighties my main preoccupation was Nicaragua , precisely because I found there a meeting place between socialism and Christianity. Because so many Christians were committed in the revolution, many of my friends asked me to go there. I had finished a substantial part of my work in Vietnam . My desire was precisely to collaborate with a social revolution, which did not deny the importance of the role of Christians or the importance of the Gospel as an inspiration for the transformation of the society.  I did research in Nicaragua for the Sandinista Front and for the progressive part of the Church. I then began to go quite often to Cuba and gave a course on the sociology of religion with my colleague Genevieve Lemercinier. That was, I would say, the preoccupation of the eighties.

In the nineties [31]the preoccupation was the question of globalisation, because the neo-liberal model was imposing itself more and more and socialist countries in Eastern Europe exploded. The Tricontinental Centre was a good platform for exploring this issue. Globalisation of the capitalist system was the basis of the increasing social differences in the world and an obstacle to real solutions. So I began to work on that and the journal Alternative Sud focused on analysing the various aspects and faces of globalisation. It began in 1994. In 1996, on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of CETRI, I proposed the idea of organising a counter Davos conference in order to build the forces of anti-globalisation. This became the alter-globalisation movement, which means another kind of globalisation. The first meeting at Davos in Switzerland in 1999 was one of the origins of the World Social Forum. Since then I have been very much involved in this, not only participating in the Forum but also in the thinking process, empirical and theoretical, on the meaning of the World Social Forum and developing a critical approach to the constitution of a new historical subject.

It was also in 1996 that Genevieve Lemercinier died. She had been my collaborator at the Socio-Religious Centre in Brussels, my assistant at the Catholic University in Louvain and, later on, my colleague. She was also the co-founder of CETRI. She completed a PhD in Sociology, writing a thesis on ideology and religion in Kerala. She accompanied me during my travels and work in Asia and Latin America for more than 30 years. Her contribution was theoretical and methodological, completing my approach, which had been more philosophical. Her scientific contribution, her political commitment and her profound religious conviction were a fundamental contribution to the work of both the sociology of religion at the University and of CETRI for over 20 years.

  1. How can we build another force to transform the main orientation of thinking and of practices of the economic political field?
  2. How can we as Christians contribute to that?

This is the concern of the journal Alternative Sud and also of recent publications in Globalising Resistances in collaboration with Samir Amin. This has been for me extremely important for the general approach of the work, as everyone knows that Samir Amin is a Marxist and an atheist. We are able to collaborate and to create a united front in all that we are trying to achieve.  His theoretical approach is one of the most profound and brilliant of the moment and has great importance for the development of the resistance to global capitalism. Recently, I have also been impressed by another issue, the fact that many revolutionaries, in the new situation where revolution is not at the door, have changed and adapted their ways of thinking. I do not speak here of those who have abandoned the struggle, but those who are discovering the spiritual dimension of life. After having encountered many deceptions in their own struggles they see a way to continue rather than abandon this quest. Such an approach is religiously plural, but a new dimension of the Christian faith is part of it.

The only way to meet the challenge of capitalist globalisation is to join forces to de-legitimise it and to organise the popular movements and organisations to propose and bring about alternatives. The Social Forum does a lot on this path, but a great deal remains to be done.

Q: What is the relationship between the globalisation of capitalism and the question of culture today?

A: Globalisation today is not only a technical problem. The type of globalisation we have today is the globalisation of the accumulation of capital, which is orienting and influencing all the decisions of the international economy, and also political and military fields. Culture is at stake because human beings are transformed into producers or consumers. It is only as a producer or a consumer that you are useful for capital accumulation. And that transforms attitudes and mentalities, in other words, culture.

The consuming culture is important because if you do not consume you do not contribute to the accumulation of capital and you are useless. That is why, for example, the continent of Africa, which is consuming very little, is just left over. It is because they are useless. That creates a whole approach to life, which is also ultimately influencing the culture of the people. This is why we have to work also from a cultural point of view. In the same line of thinking, the role of religion is quite important. Such an approach gives the possibility of being critical and proposing other aims in the social organisation of life.

 Q: Please describe the path that led you to the Marxist approach to the sociology of religion.

A: For me the main problem was to explain the social functions of religion in society. Therefore I had to use an ontological instrument. I found that the sociology proposed by Marx was the best tool for understanding societies and so for understanding the role of religion in society. Of course, it is a tool and not a dogma. The reasons for this are four:

First, the totality of the approach, in the sense that when you study one element of society you have to put that within the context of whole of society in order to understand it. Religion or family is not something in itself; it is always a part of the totality of society.

It is also an historical approach, you do not understand the situation of today if you do not know its genesis, and how it has been constructed.

Thirdly, it is dialectical approach. Sociology is not a natural science, rather it is about interactions between acting people. When one social group acts another group reacts. Reality is proceeding not in a linear way but in a dialectical way. That is very fundamental in Marxism.

Finally, the theory of historical materialism is central in the sense that if you do not go into the way that people are organising themselves, to produce their means of existence, you are unable to understand the constitution of a society. It is not dogma. It is the result of empirical research. We find that everywhere.

So the idea is not that religion comes from the economy. That is stupid! But definitely the great religions like Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, etc., have appeared when the people were able to produce some surplus which gave the possibility that a priestly or a religious group would appear, not being required by necessity to work to produce material goods. It is only when society is producing enough means of existence, so that some people are not obliged to work with their own hands, that you can have a religious institution. The same can be said about artists or philosophers. Religious beliefs and practices exist of course, but it was part of the group and not an institutionalised matter as such. All the great religions are based on a philosophical approach to life, but they only become institutions when society has produced enough means of subsistence.

Q: Where do you stand in relation to Otto Maduro, Anthony Mansueto and Antonio Gramsci?[32]

A: The great contribution of Gramsci was to introduce into Marxist thinking aspects which had been neglected by the Marxist tradition, especially culture, the role of intellectuals, role of religion and certain aspects of the political dimension. That has been very important for Gramsci. That is why his approach was also rejected by some of the most Orthodox Marxists at that time.

As far as the others are concerned the preoccupation of Maduro and Mansueto is more of a religious preoccupation and they worked quite a bit along that line. Maduro was attracted by the psychological aspects of religion but Mansueto is more a philosopher but both are quite preoccupied by the Christian basis of their thinking, so their contribution is interesting. Sometimes, though I do not agree with them as a whole, it was very important to see people coming from a Catholic background and a keeping religious preoccupation while adopting a Marxist approach and try to work on certain coherence in both approaches.

Q: What do you see as the relationship between a Marxist analysis of society and a Marxist analysis of religion?

A: For Marx there was no difference, because he came to the idea that religion is part of society and if you analyse society you have to analyse religion. He was preoccupied not only by scientific analysis but by constructing the tools for action. He said very clearly that when religion plays a role against the emancipation of human beings you have to fight against it. This is an empirical position Marx developed when he became primarily interested in the socio-economic analysis of capitalist and pre-capitalist societies.

In the first part of his writings, when he was more a philosopher than a social analyst, he influenced by the views of Feuerbach, whose philosophical approach was that religion had to be rejected and destroyed, as a matter of principle. Marx later changed his views quite radically and was involved in a controversy with the disciples of Feuerbach.  They were called fundamental atheists, whereas Marx came out with the view that it was useless fight against religion as an abstraction. He said doing so was employing theological discourse in reverse. He wanted to observe the role of religion in different types of societies because religion is part of society and if we want to change society we have to look at its foundations. That is why when he analysed the role of religion in Prussia , he said the first thing was to fight against religion because the religion was, in this case, one of the main institutions maintaining the system. It was not a matter of principles, but of empirical reality. It is also interesting to remember that when Marx is quoted as saying that religion is the opiate of the people; it is just one part of the sentence. In the rest he also says that religion is the inspiration of the oppressed people. Of course, opiates help people live through sad situations, but they do not lead them to enter into the struggle to change the situation. That was his observation.

In sum our message to Marxists is to take religion seriously and our message to theologians or religionists is to take society seriously.

Q: What is the current context of this Marxist approach?

A: Since the fall of the Soviet Union there has been a strong reaction against Marxism, not only politically but also intellectually. Marxism was seen as negative and dogmatic against a real scientific approach.

About fifteen years after the fall of the Soviet Union there was a renewal in Marxist thinking. Many publications have emerged. There are new approaches in social thinking, which are again taking Marxism seriously, even if the mainstream is still neo-liberal in economics and, to a certain extent, postmodern in philosophy and in social sciences. But there is a new approach with a revised vision of what the Marxist approach can bring, though the majority consider it a question of the past and think that if you are a Marxist, you are a dinosaur and you do not understand the changes taking place in society.

It is easier now because during the time of the communist regimes in Europe there was a “reduced type” of Marxism that was intellectually difficult to accept and was associated with the politics. Now is the time for a better analysis of the socialist societies of Eastern Europe and the causes of their failure. [33]

Q: What about your Utopology?

A: The struggle for Utopia is a struggle for hope, and that means that it is not a struggle for something impossible to attain. Capitalist logic is killing all Utopias. That is why Mrs. Thatcher said –TINA[34] and Francis Fukuyama speaks about the end of history. That means that any utopia is impossible! What can you hope for in a world of inequalities and oppression?

Struggle against the type of globalisation that we have today is fundamental for the definition of Utopia and the struggle for Utopia is also fundamental for the opposition to the present day globalisation. It is the search for another type of globalisation.

Q: What sources inspire you most in this Utopian thinking?

A: The struggle for Utopia is a struggle for hope, and that means it is not a struggle for something impossible to get, but with the idea that “something which does not exist today could exist tomorrow”. So that is the way that I define Utopia. A French Protestant Philosopher Paul Ricoeur, talks about necessary Utopia because of the fact that globalisation of capitalist logic is killing all Utopias. There are alternatives possible. Otherwise it is pointless to talk about Utopias .In the World Social Forum we have discovered that alternatives exist in all sectors of the collective human life. That is extremely important. We can talk about three levels of alternatives, the long-range, middle-range and short-range. There are alternatives and there are people working for alternatives. That means that the Utopia is possible and it is not just a dream.

We must also find enough motivating force to struggle in order to realise Utopia. There may be various types of sources of such force. One would be the humanist perspective that we find in many people committed to struggling for justice. This is a very fundamental basis for Utopia. Marxist militants, people who believe that it is possible to transform society, find motivation for commitment from this humanist conviction. If we take the believing community, for example, in Christianity, it is clear that the Bible reflects a process of liberation, and that the prophets speak about a possible future. In the Gospel we see the struggle against injustice and the hope in the Kingdom of God. All of this is very coherent. It means that we have to believe in Utopia. The next step is to be committed to the search and the struggles for such a Utopia.

Q: What is the relationship between resistance and the alternatives at the ground level?

A: This is of course a very concrete question raised also at the World Social Forum. It is all right to protest, but what do you propose instead? What do you bring about with your protest? And I must say that we are very conscious of that in the Forum. The fact that such forums exist is already progress, and all the things happening during the forums and surrounding the forums are important steps forward. But it is true that the relation between resistance and what has to be accomplished is not an easy matter. It is easier to protest than to construct, than to build the Utopia. The protest is necessary to de-legitimise the system, because if you are not convinced that the system is not just and has to be changed, how will you mobilise people to change it? Here also we can talk about three levels, the economic, the social and the ethical protest. Such a step is necessary, but it is only one step in the building of alternatives. We also have to show that it is possible to organise the economy, social relations, political life and culture on another basis. So that is the relationship between resistance and alternatives and for me it is impossible to separate them.

Q: In your recent thinking you have given emphasis to human solidarity and respect for nature in the context of primal religions. Could you elaborate on this?

A: Having worked with indigenous peoples at different meetings and also having been involved in research into the autonomy of the primal peoples in Latin America, I have discovered the richness of the religions of those peoples. Generally, we think only in terms of the great religions, which have elaborate philosophical bases, like Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Judaism, Islam, Christianity, etc.  and we do not take too much into account the religiosity of indigenous peoples. Personally, I have discovered two main pillars in the primal communities:

1. The symbiosis between human beings and nature.  Of course, this is expressed with a non-analytic culture and way of thinking, so immediately we tend to link them with witchcraft.  But for me this is secondary and it is normal in the kind of culture in which indigenous people live. They express such a fundamental value in their own language with their experience, and we have to express this in our language with another type of thinking.

With modernity, we have separated human beings totally from nature. Man has to dominate and exploit nature, in function of its necessities. We see the result of that kind of attitude that does not hesitate, for to experience immediate necessity is to forget about the future. This the first pillar in all the traditional religions: the symbiosis between nature and man is fundamental; man is part of nature and is not separated from nature. So to destroy nature means to a certain extent to destroy humanity. Think of the way that we treat animals.  Each year seven hundred thousand animals are killed for scientific purposes in Belgium alone. Is that a human way of relating to the living world and nature? There is some horrible treatment of animals: if we take the issue of industrial production of chickens, for example, it is utterly dehumanised. Capitalism has produced and promoted ways to use nature as a commodity and not to worry about any other aspects and dimensions of nature. The idea of respect for nature was also well developed in the Oriental religions.

2. The second pillar is human solidarity. That means that man is not just an individual but he is part of a group, of a community. Capitalism has developed an extreme individualist vision of the world. On the contrary, human solidarity is quite central in indigenous religions. This functions as a criticism of individualism and puts emphasis on the collective necessities of mankind and the social dimension of human life. That is why the rediscovery of primal traditions is quite important.

The difficulty is that they express these views in their own culture and we have our own culture, which has been deformed by capitalist logic and thinking, but which is also a step forward. We are interpreting reality not in function of myths, but using knowledge of the functioning of nature and society. But that does not mean that we have to use this knowledge for the exploitation of nature and human beings. That is why the valorisation of traditional religions has meaning.

Q: How do you look at the question of terrorism?

Freedom Fighter or Terrorist?A: Terrorism is the use of blind violence to kill innocent people. In ethical terms it has to be condemned. I told you of my conversations on the matter with Fidel Castro, who said that terrorism, have to be condemned in any case. He also said, “I can say that during the war to re-conquer Cuba , we never killed a civilian. That is totally against all ethics. Today even if it comes from the Palestinians or the Iraqis, terrorism has to be condemned,” and I agree with that.

But the fact that terrorism is a concept so connected with ethics makes it subject to manipulation. That is what political leaders from the USA and other countries are doing when they call everyone who is not in agreement with them a terrorist. Now people like Eva Morales in Bolivia and movements of landless peasants in Brazil are being called terrorists. It immediately raises the image of something that is ontologically wrong in order to mobilise people against them. Calling every enemy a terrorist is a manipulation of the vocabulary.

I remember during the war when I was involved in the resistance myself, at the end of the war I was with a small commando of two or three others on a farm where German soldiers were sleeping, exhausted from the long retreat from Normandy. The first word that they said was terrorists! And we said, “No, we are not here to kill you!” But that was their reaction and they believed that any person in the resistance was a terrorist.

Now there are two things to add, politically speaking. Terrorism used by people who are really oppressed, not knowing what to do, is completely different from the kind of terrorism used by the state. State terrorism is used systematically and scientifically by states or by political organisations. This is not the same thing.  As Monsignor Romero, the Archbishop of El Salvador said: “The violence of the dominant class to defend their privileges is not the same as the violence used by the victims even if you condemn violence.”  As I said at the anti-terrorism meeting in La Havana in 2005, of course we have to condemn terrorism, but at the same time we cannot abandon political judgment. This is precisely what we are discovering at the tribunal on Iraq . State terrorism is used by the USA and the UK . But what about car bombs killing people in the markets and mosques? Such methods cannot be accepted, but the condemnation of these forms of resistance should not obscure the primary terrorism brought about by the war. And we must not enter into the logic of the Americans and British calling every resistance terrorist!

Q: What about your work on people’s tribunals?

A: Opinion tribunals have moral and ethical force instead of juridical force. I remember that I assisted the Brussels tribunal on the war in Vietnam , more than thirty years ago. It was perhaps the first one, with the judges were Jean-Paul Sartre, Bertrand Russell and Lelio Basso, an Italian senator, who later founded the permanent people’s tribunal in Rome. He asked me to be a member of the tribunal and I participated in about fifteen different sessions on topics such as Nicaragua , Guatemala , El Salvador , Eritrea , Afghanistan and multinationals. I was president of some sessions, such as the one on immunity in Latin America in 1991. Lately this idea expanded. Now tribunals have been formed in different parts of the world. I have chaired sessions of the tribunal on Iraq : one in Brussels in 2004 and the other in Barcelona in 2005. I was also the chairperson in Mexico for the tribunal on American policy on Cuba . The work of the tribunals is of a very serious type, with lawyers, economists, theologians, sociologists in the jury. It must be very strict in order to be credible. The formal aspect shows the difference between a tribunal and an act of solidarity. The form of the tribunal includes a specific charge, witnesses, prosecutor, defence and jury. I think even if is the tribunals are only of an ethical character, they may have a certain impact and ability to de-legitimise some situations.

The other purpose of the tribunals is to help the evolution of international law. Therefore, it is important to have international jurists who can really speak from the juridical point of view. So those are the two major functions of tribunals: to de-legitimise a specific situation and to promote some kind new orientation in the field of international law.

Q: What is your reaction to the concept of democracy?

A: Democracy is a very fundamental issue and it should not be a long-term aim only but something, which is also used within the struggle and in the functioning of social movements. The concept of democracy as it is used today by Western society is totally insufficient. There is only democracy in those countries in formal political life, but not in economics. We must add that an electoral democracy is not a participatory democracy and so we have to enlarge the concept.

Q: What is your response to the idea of reconciliation?

A: Is the love of neighbour compatible with class struggle? I have written a text on this topic[35]: There exists a concept of reconciliation, a concept that is used by the dominant classes. In Nicaragua since 1990, when the big landlords came back from Miami, the whole discourse of the political system has been about reconciliation. What does that mean? That means the poor peasants have again to accept being dominated by the landlords. They have to give back the property received as a result of land reform. So we have to recognise that reconciliation has been used in a very ideological way. Reconciliation is necessary but it can only happen if you recognise the faults of the past. Then you can have reconciliation. It is not just saying that reconciliation can be achieved, and we forget the past as in the cases of Argentina , Chile , Cambodia , Burundi and Rwanda .

Q: What is the relationship between reconciliation and liberation from a socio-political and a theological point of view?

A: From a political point of view, in order to have real reconciliation and reconstruction, which is a social process, there have to be conditions. Otherwise it does not work. One of the main conditions is the recognition of the wrong done, as I have said. If this does not happen, after one or two generations the matter will come up again. We see this, for example, in Turkey with the genocide of the Armenians at the beginning of the 20th century, more than one hundred years ago. Turks always refused to admit that there was genocide and now with the third or the fourth generation the matter is coming back again. We see this also in Latin America. After the military dictatorships came the laws of amnesty. Well, this did not solve anything because it was like saying that nothing had happened. In fact, things have happened and as long as this is not recognised and condemned, the matter will never die but will remain in the memory of the people. So, from the purely political point of view, in order to solve such situations, it is necessary to go through a social process of recognition of the wrongdoing and legal condemnation. After that, reconciliation can take place. But you cannot pardon something, which has not been recognised. You can pardon it if it has been recognised as a wrongdoing by the people who are responsible. Then you can say okay, in order to build society we have to bring about a process of reconciliation. That means the possibility of living together again. Let us consider the example of co-operation between the Germans, the French and the Belgians after the Second World War. New Germany recognised the wrongdoing and paid for it. Now the relationship between Germany , France and Belgium in spite of all that has had happened is excellent, and it has been possible to build on a reconciliation process. That is from a political point of view.

From the ethical point of view and even the theological point of view, this is all the more true. Because there is also, you see, an ethical aspect; reconciliation is a value recognised in the Gospel and is found in other religions as well. Such an ethical value has a special meaning for Christians in the work of constructing the reign of God. So it has a very fundamental dimension. But, again, this dimension is possible on the condition that the party who has been guilty has an ethical attitude. For example, the military in Argentina , South Korea , the Philippines and Haiti all refused to recognise any wrongdoing. How can you reconcile? In this sense reconciliation from an ethical point of view is meeting the same goal as from the political perspective. Finally, reconciliation means also a certain type of compensation; it may be material or it may be moral, but compensation is also necessary.

The victims can eventually renounce material compensation if they want to, but they have to decide, not the ones who were responsible in the past or the state. Of course, from the Christian perspective, pardon is very fundamental and very important and it is only possible when the wrongdoing has been recognised.

Q: What is your critique of the “common good” approach?

A: Theoretically, the “common good” is a positive concept, but we have to see how it is applied in practice. It has been used by the social doctrine of the Church, at least the Catholic Church, as the main fundamental concept for the organisation of society. However, it very often remains abstract, without taking into consideration the real existence of the social relationships which are structural ones and not simply a superimposition of different types of social status without structural links. In this way, the general vision is that the different social strata in society have to collaborate for the common good. Each one of them has its place and a role to play within that place.

But the problem is such a vision does not challenge the place.  In fact, in industrialised society, there is a bourgeoisie and there is a proletariat. Today we have a capitalist North absorbing the riches of the South. To create a common good is not just a matter of superimposing different strata in social life but to recognise that society is structural: the bourgeoisie cannot live without the proletariat. World capitalism cannot exist without the mechanism to absorb the riches produced by others. In most instances, the churches just call for raising consciousness: “Be aware and be preoccupied with the poor,” but they do not challenge the organisation of society to any great extent. In this sense the concept of achieving common good by asking each stratum of society to collaborate on moral grounds for the construction of a better society is an illusion, if you do not say at the same time that you have to transform the structures of society. Society is not just a superimposition of social strata, but a structural organisation of classes, and classes are structurally related. That is why I am critical of the type of analysis of society in terms of strata and not in terms of class. Such a position is not necessarily conscious. There is always an implicit analysis of society; you cannot elaborate a social doctrine without it. This is not only true for the Catholic Church or the Christian churches, but for all religions. That leads to a call for a moral attitude but not to a structural change of society and this has political consequences. For example, Christian democracy asks everyone to collaborate for the common good without challenging the place of different social groups.  In Vietnam , when I made a study of a Catholic commune in the North, the peasants told me, “Thanks to communism now we are able to live the Gospel, because now we are equal. Before there were some landlords who were exploiting us, but we had to respect them because they were Catholics. Now there are no more landlords. We are more or less equal and so we can live the values of the Gospel.” It was very interesting to hear that! How can we think of a Christian approach when you have the distribution of revenue in which 10% of people in Latin America absorbed 40% of the riches and almost half of the population is living below the poverty line? Then you preach reconciliation, you preach charity you preach common good. But first contribute to changing that, because otherwise you will be unable to apply your principle.

Q: Do you view ethics as a social construct?

A: Ethics in a tribal society is not the same as ethics in an industrial society. In this sense it is a social construction because it has to be adapted to the concrete situations, otherwise it remains just an abstract. You can elaborate all the great principles of ethics, but if they are not applied then they are just useless. I do not say that a theoretical approach is not necessary; I do not say that the fundamental issues like respect and the dignity of every human being as the basis of the construction of ethics are unimportant, but the concept of ethics, in the concrete sense of human life and in the history of humanity, is a social construction, because it must constantly be adapted according to place and time.

Q: Is this approach different from the traditional Roman Catholic natural law approach?

A: Absolutely. Of course the whole idea of natural law has been very greatly developed in Louvain by philosopher and sociologist Canon Jacques Leclercq, who I worked with and I knew very well. Because he developed the approach of natural rights and sociology simultaneously, he made a real contribution. Otherwise, the concept remains an abstraction, which has very little real social consistency. In a discussion about the market with the director of the IMF in Washington, I asked, “How it is possible that all your theories which seem to be perfect and logical, when in reality in the South they are transformed into catastrophes. Do you not think that the market is a social relation?” He was furious and he said, “No! You are wrong.” When you believe that the market is a fruit of natural law it becomes almost a divine institution and all the rest is logical. Then the dogma is the freedom of the market and you do not think that the market is a social relation where the powerful have advantages over the less powerful.

Q: What is your response to eco-justice concerns?

A: Of course, the problem of ecology is the destruction of nature and the climate, etc., but it is also a social issue. It is not just a natural issue, because that situation is the result of a certain economic and social system and a certain vision of development. This has to do with our type of human relationship with nature, and, of course, it goes together with the exploitation of human beings. Ecology is not something in itself. We have to defend nature with a consciousness of the social conditions at the origins of its destruction. It is the logic of the type of development brought by capitalism (which has also been assumed to a certain extent by real socialism) that has brought such fundamental contradictions. So eco-justice is a part of the whole vision that we have to develop by introducing a social approach.

Q: What was your relationship with Ernesto Cardenal?

A: I met him in 1982 after the Sandinista revolution. Ernesto was the Minister of Culture and I proposed to him some work on the cultural aspects of the revolution. He was interested and we had many discussions. We became very good friends. He left the Ministry ten years later after the fall of the Sandinistas. He went back to writing and sculpture. For the 20th anniversary of CETRI I asked him to make a sculpture for us and he created the Sanatio. It is a black bird found in Nicaragua , which he called the proletarian bird, because he has no colour and is a common bird that country.

Q: What was your relationship with Paulo Freire?  

A: I know Paulo very well and of course I was very impressed by his methodological approach. To a certain extent he was also coming from the same tradition as the YCW.

He was further influenced by Cardijn’s approach of See, Judge and Act. I met him several times and adopted some aspects of his thinking on social analysis. Finally, he had to leave Brazil because of the military dictatorship. He worked with the WCC (especially on adult education). When he was forced into exile and could not establish direct contact with his family in Brazil , I served as an intermediary. 


 

[1] The first of the interview series. This interview was held in Louvain-la-Neuve respectively on   6th, 10th and 11th. July 2005 at CETRI.

[2] Houtart calls this phenomenon: De-Christianization of the working class (my correspondence with Houtart on 23 February 2005).

[3] Houtart maintained a journal when he was in Chicago in 1952.

[4] Francois Houtart, The Meaning of Camillo Torres’ Choice, Unpublished article in CETRI archives, Louvain-la-Neuve (Ref: FH Doc 3.Bis/36)

[5] Houtart François and Geneviève Lemercinier , Hai Van: Life in a Vietnamese Commune (London: Zed Books, 1984).

[6] Tissa Balasuriya is an Asian Liberation Theologian based in Sri Lanka and a founding member of the EATWOT: Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians.

[7] The YCS Movement was also inspired by Cardinal Cardijn.

[8] François Houtart, Religion and Ideology in Sri Lanka , Bangalore: TPI, 1974. (One of the recommended works for the courses and the research in Understanding Society and Culture for the Undergraduate and Graduate courses at the Theological College of Lanka, Pilimatalawa, Sri Lanka which is a Protestant Ecumenical Theological School in Sri Lanka that is affiliated to the University of Serampore, West Bengal, India.)

[9] CETRI (The Tricontinental Centre) is situated in the city of Louvain-la-Neuve. As the name indicates the institution works with Latin America, Asia and Africa.

[10]  Referring to the year 1935.

[11] http://www.vietnampix.com/intro2.htm http://www.whitehouse.gov/history/presidents/lj36.html                                    

[12] For an overview on Houtart’s relationship to colonialism see: François Houtart, Colonialism (written in the form of a dictionary article for WCC, 1990.) 1-9.

[13] For an analysis of the religious justification of Portuguese colonialism see: François Houtart, Religion and Ideology in Sri Lanka, Bangalore: TPI, 1974.101-171.

[14] For a description of Fr. Kappen’s work, especially regarding the development of a counter-culture, see Bastiaan Wielenga, Liberation Theology in Asia, in The Cambridge Companion to Liberation Theology, ed; Christopher Rowland, CUP, 1999. 52-53.

[17] Gurwitch was a French sociologist of Russian origin.

[18] Houtart refers to the type of approach as presented by

Ernesto Cardenal in The Gospel in Solentiname, Orbis, 1985. (in 4 Vols.)

[19] The first of seminar this kind was held in 1973 in Bangalore India . The Baguio seminar was held in the Philippines in 1975 and the report was published in 1976. Francois Houtart, “Religion and Development”, Religion and Development in Asia, Baguio Feres Seminar Report, n.p. 1976.

[22] Social Compass was founded in 1953 by George Zeeger, director of the Catholic Social-Ecclesiastical Institute (KSKI), the official research centre of the Dutch Catholic Church.

[23] Houtart served as its Editor for forty years (1960-1999). See Social Compass 47(1), 2000, 5-6.

[25] COELI is published by Liaisons Internationales in Brussels.

 [29] Houtart was attracted by American Functionalist school at that time

[30] Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations.

[31] The context was the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 198) and the Treaty of Maastricht in 1992.

[32] Neo-Marxist thinkers

[34] There is No Alternative

[35] Francois Houtart, “Compassion Love of Neighbour and Social Predicament”, in Encounters with the Word: Essays to Honour Aloysius Pieris s.j. Ed.Robert Crusz et al. EISD, Colombo, 2004, 587-596.

Author

Jerome Sahabandhu of Sri Lankan nationality is a Methodist Minister and faculty member of the Ecumenical Theological College of Lanka in Kandy, Sri Lanka . Mr.Sahabandhu has completed his post graduate B.D. degree at the Serampore University College, West Bengal,India and his Masters in Intercultural Theology at the Katholieke Universiteit Nijmegen in The Netherlands respectively. His specialisation is Theological and Social Ethics. He is currently studying for his doctorate at the Irish School Ecumenics, Trinity College, Dublin. He interviewed François Houtart in July 2005 at the Tricontinental Centre at Louvain la Neuve (Belgium) for his research on social ethics based on Houtart's social teaching and research. The transcript of this interview is presented here with the consent of François Houtart and is published in the form of questions-answers style for the benefit of a wider readership.

Email: Jerome Sahabandhu <sahabandhu@hotmail.com>

Originally published: Australian Ejournal of Theology - October 2006 - http://dlibrary.acu.edu.au/research/theology/ejournal/aejt_8/houtart.htm