Video Clips

1. What is "Religion, Science & The Environment"?
This is a movement originally conceived in 1988 on the Isle of Patmos, at a meeting of environmental and religious leaders. It was established out of concern for the water environment of the planet. This concern is both theological and scientific, and one of the underlying purposes of the movement is to establish common ground on the implications and imperatives of this ecological crisis between members of faith communities, professional scientists, and environmental activists. The leading spirit of "Religion, Science and the Environment" is His All Holiness Bartholomew, Ecumenical Patriarch of the Christian Orthodox Church, based in Constantinople.

The movement operates through Symposium study voyages, with several hundred participants. Their aim is to debate the plight of the waters, locally and generally; to visit onshore sites of special concern; to meet officials and NGO representatives in the countries visited; to propose solutions; and to initiate schemes or institutions for environmental co-operation and education.

The first Symposium voyage took place in the Aegean Sea in 1995. The second moved round the shores of the Black Sea in 1997, and the third travelled down the Danube in 1999. Symposium four visited the Adriatic coastline in June 2002, ending in Venice where the Ecumenical Patriarch and His Holiness Pope John Paul II issued a joint "Venice Declaration" on the need to protect the environment. Symposium five will take place in the Baltic Sea between 1st and 8th June, 2003.

2. The Baltic Sea Environment in Brief.
The Baltic is one of Europe's three enclosed seas, with the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. It is almost completely landlocked, like the other two, with only a narrow outlet (the Kattegat) leading to the oceans. But the Baltic Sea's influx of salty, oxygen-rich water is very limited. This makes it extremely vulnerable to pollution.

Its shores and inlets are icebound in winter, especially along the northern and eastern coasts. The two largest rivers flowing into the Baltic Sea are the Neva in Russia, running from Lake Ladoga through St Petersburg into the Gulf of Finland, and the Vistula which drains most of Poland and reaches the sea near Gdansk. Almost all the rivers deliver agricultural run-off waters into the Baltic Sea, charged with fertilizer nutrients which cause "eutrophication" and diminish the sea's oxygen.

The Baltic Sea's water quality was damaged by early Scandinavian industrialisation and - much more gravely - by intense and often reckless industrialisation after 1945 in the Communist regimes of East Germany, Poland and the Soviet Union. The Vistula River, especially, became a huge sewer of human and industrial waste. The Baltic Sea has also suffered from the dumping of military waste, such as World War Two munitions and reactor equipment from Soviet nuclear submarines. A new threat is the rapidly increasing sea transport of oil through the Baltic Sea.

Fish stocks have fallen heavily, especially cod and salmon. This is mainly a consequence of reckless overfishing, by disproportionately large fishing fleets equipped with the latest technology. Pollution has reduced the bird and seal populations.

Another urgent problem is the rapidly growing transport of oil through the Baltic Sea.

3. History of the Baltic region: Raiding and Trading.
In early history, the importance of the Baltic Sea was in trade. Baltic Sea amber had been traded across western and central Europe for millennia before the Roman period. In early-mediaeval times, the Vikings used the Baltic Sea as a corridor from Scandinavia to what is now Russia and - via the Russian rivers - to the Black Sea and Byzantium.

The post-Viking Scandinavians and their successors in the Hanseatic merchant cities built up a hugely wealthy trade in Russian furs, timber, wax, amber and dried fish. Meanwhile the Teutonic Knights, a German crusading and colonising Order, installed a German-speaking merchant and landowner class in what are now the Baltic Republics. Later still, in the 16th century, the hunger of rapidly expanding populations in France, England and the Low Countries generated the "Vistula grain trade", as Polish magnates turned their estates over to wheat which they shipped across the Baltic Sea.

But trade began to wither as wars broke out in the 17th century. Sweden suddenly emerged as an aggressive military power, and in the Thirty Years' War, Swedish armies crossed the Baltic Sea to devastate central Europe. In the 18th century, Prussia and Russia became the dominant European powers in the Baltic region and partitioned Poland between them. Their military strength, developing into the rivalry of the German and Russian Empires in the 19th century, pushed the weaker Scandinavian kingdoms, Denmark and Sweden, towards isolation and neutrality.

Norway peacefully achieved independence from Sweden in 1905; Finland, which had been a Swedish province and then an autonomous grand duchy of the Russian empire, was granted independence after the Russian Revolution of 1917. By the early 20th century, the Baltic Sea had become something of a backwater in European politics.

The outcome of the First World War brought prosperity and diversity to the Baltic region. An independent Republic of Poland was restored, Finland was free and Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia became autonomous. By now Sweden was developing its rich mineral resources and had a strong industrial base, while the new Finland exploited its forests to dominate the European newsprint market.
This hopeful period ended abruptly in 1939. Hitler and Stalin invaded and partitioned Poland; the Soviet Union attacked Finland and in 1940 annexed all three Baltic Republics. Sweden remained neutral, but German forces occupied Denmark and Norway. In 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union. Nazi firing squads, helped by local fascists, murdered the Jews of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, while at the eastern end of the Baltic Sea the long and terrible siege of Leningrad began. Under German influence, Finland reluctantly renewed hostilities against Soviet Russia, only to change sides and attack the German forces on Finnish territory in the last months of the war. This final period also brought the expulsion or flight of the German population east of the Oder, and the destruction of most of the southern Baltic Sea port-cities.

During the Cold War, almost the whole southern Baltic shore lay under Communist control, as far west as Lubeck. The Soviet Union annexed part of East Prussia (the Kaliningrad enclave), while Poland regained Gdansk and moved its frontier westward to the Oder estuary. Finland lost its eastern and northern territories to Russia, but was allowed to remain independent as a neutral under close Soviet supervision. The little Danish island of Bornholm became a goal for desperate East German or Polish refugees paddling or sailing to reach the West.

The 1989 collapse of the Soviet empire in Europe restored peace and unity to the Baltic region after 50 years of tension. Germany was reunited, and the three Baltic Republics broke away from the USSR and resumed independence. Finland soon became a member of the European Union, while Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia were in the next wave of applicants.

4. Religions Around the Baltic Sea.
Most of the countries around the Baltic Sea belong, by historical tradition at least, to the Protestant form of Christianity. The content of this allegiance is highly variable. In the Scandinavian countries religious observance has become very weak, while it remains relatively strong in the Evangelical Church in northern Germany. The Protestant churches in Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and the Baltic Republics are mainly Lutheran in origin, although Calvinism and other Reformed faiths can often be found there.

The three big exceptions are Poland (the most devoutly Catholic country in the region), Lithuania with its large Catholic majority, and Orthodox Russia. There are massive Russian Orthodox minorities in the Baltic Republics, especially Latvia and Estonia, and small but important Orthodox communities in Finland and eastern Poland.

There are Jewish communities in Sweden and Finland. Small Jewish groups still exist in the southern and eastern Baltic region, but the overwhelming majority of the Jewish population in the Baltic republics and Poland was murdered during the Nazi occupation. A few Moslem communities exist in north-east Poland and Lithuania, relics of the Tatar invasions, as well as in Finland (immigrants during the Grand Duchy period).

All these statements have to be qualified by the presence of large and recent immigrant populations, many of which - the Turks and Kurds in Germany and Scandinavia, for instance - are Moslem. Animism survived for a long time among the indigenous Saami peoples (they have been Christianised for over 200 years) on the northern fringe of the Baltic region.
Neal Ascherson