The fifth Symposium circumnavigated the Baltic Sea and took place in June 2003 under the auspices of His All Holiness The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and His Excellency Mr Romano Prodi, President of the European Commission.
The Baltic is one of Europe’s three enclosed seas. It is almost landlocked, with only a narrow outlet (the Kattegat) leading to the open ocean. The Baltic Sea’s influx of salty, oxygen-rich water is very limited. This makes it extremely vulnerable to pollution.
Shores and inlets are icebound in winter especially along the northern and the eastern coasts. The two largest rivers that flow 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 enters the sea near Gdansk. Almost all the rivers release agricultural run-off waters into the Sea, charged with fertiliser nutrients which cause ‘eutrophication’ and diminish the Sea’s oxygen levels.
The Baltic Sea’s water quality was damaged by early Scandinavian industrial development and – much more gravely – by intense and often reckless industrialisation after 1945 under the USSR. The Vistula River, especially, became a sewer of human and industrial waste. The Baltic Sea has also suffered from the dumping of military waste, such as World War II munitions and reactor equipment from Nuclear Submarines. A new threat is the rapidly increasing transport of oil by tankers through the Baltic Sea.
Fish Stocks have fallen heavily, especially cod and salmon. This is mainly a consequence of reckless over-fishing by disproportionately large fishing fleets, equipped with the latest technology. Pollution has reduced the bird and seal populations.
In 1989 the end of the USSR restored peace and unity to the Baltic region after 50 years of tension. Germany was reunified, and the three Baltic Republics resumed independence. Finland soon became a member of the European Union and Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia followed in the following wave of inductees.
The Symposium provided an opportunity to expand the involvement of church religious leaders and their congregations in the long-term efforts to protect and conserve the Baltic Sea. It was demonstrated that among the states around the Baltic, there are sharp socio-economic contrasts and unjustifiable inequality. Yet the ecological problem is not simply economic and technological; it is spiritual and cultural. What is required is a change of attitude with a new way of viewing ourselves, one another, and the world.
The overarching goals of the Symposium were:
- to examine the environmental problems of the Baltic Sea in their scientific and social context, through informal dialogue and visits to selected sites;
- to heighten public awareness of the environmental issues (and their causes) which threaten the Baltic Sea; and
- to suggest working solutions towards the protection of the Baltic Sea from further degradation.
The Symposium was held onboard a ship which travelled from Gdansk in Poland to Kaliningrad in Russia, Tallinn in Estonia, Helsinki in Finland and ended in Stockholm, Sweden.
The Symposium brought together two hundred and fifty participants – theologians, scientists, policy makers, environmentalists and journalists – largely drawn from the visited countries. The shore visits and onboard plenaries involved many distinguished individuals. Statements and presentations were delivered onboard during seven plenary sessions culminating in an eighth plenary at the Swedish Parliament. Invited speakers and local participants reviewed the general environmental problems of the Sea and specific environment-related issues relevant to the sites visited. Discussion groups focused on the ethical, social and economic dimensions of the identified problems and sought suggestions for their mitigation. The rich variety of contributors made for lively and inspiring discussions and constructive discourse.
From the outset NGOs, national and local authorities were involved in the planning, in determining the Symposium’s focus, and in selection of sites to be visited.
The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew opened the Symposium and spoke of the necessity “to act with reverence and compassion, mindful of our responsibility to future generations and of the need to share justly with others that which belongs to all alike”. A letter was delivered from Pope John Paul II, offering his blessings for the forthcoming Symposium and reasserting his commitments made during the Adriatic Sea Symposium.
His Eminence Metropolitan John of Pergamon in his Keynote Address set the tone for the Symposium when he discussed the concept of stewardship of nature, identifying its limitations and introducing his new model of priests of creation. He urged ‘people to take a positive view of ecology, something like an attitude of love towards nature. As priests rather than stewards we embrace nature instead of managing it…Its deeper meaning is…ontological, since this ‘embracing’ of nature amounts to our very being…’
During the discussions it was agreed, as outlined in the statement issued on the Protection of the Baltic Sea, that further commitment and effort were required to:
- Limit the discharges into the sea of excess nutrients that cause eutrophication and are harmful to the marine biosphere;
- Stop the discharge of toxic chemicals into the sea;
- Stop the careless introduction of non-native species of fish and other organisms that threaten marine ecosystems and existing species;
- Stop the over-fishing, habitat destruction and other factors that threaten fisheries, and establish a network of marine protected areas in the Baltic;
- Enhance the capacity of the Baltic Sea states in transition to monitor, assess and manage their marine ecosystems;
- Increase awareness of the sea’s problems and engage in education and actions to eliminate them; and
- Reduce the risks associated with the transportation of hazardous substances across the Baltic Sea; citing the urgent necessity for double-hull and clean-ship technologies to avoid oil-spills.
The sinking of the Fu Shan Hai, following a collision off Bornholm, which occurred during the Symposium, highlighted the acute dangers posed by the transportation of hazardous substances, as tens of thousands of tons of pollutants were dispersed into the Baltic sea.
Development of an ‘environmental ethos’
The many formal and informal discussions aboard the ship have played, and continue to play, an influential role in the content of numerous lectures, seminars and publications on the subject of ecology and spirituality and ‘environmental ethos’.
Spreading the word
Following Symposium V, Theobalt, a coalition of Churches from around the Baltic Sea, held a seminar on the island of Gotland, to bring to a Parish level the theology discussed during the Symposium.
The Symposia started a mutually rewarding relationship between The Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Church of Norway on environmental issues, particularly in the field of protecting the world’s seas. This relationship resulted in the planning of a North Sea Symposium organised by religious and environmental officials in Norway, in which His All Holiness participated.
Protecting Sacred Natural Areas
Working relationships formed during the Symposium resulted in the launching of a project on Sacred Natural Areas in Developed Countries.
Church and State collaboration
Another direct result of the Symposium was the participation of the Church of Sweden in the Swedish government’s Baltic Sea decision-making process
Bread and Fish
One idea, born during a working group on the Baltic Sea Symposium was “Bread and Fish”, in which participants hoped to bring together farmers and fishermen. The idea was to encourage both groups, along with the public, to start thinking more about the environmental issues that link the two industries. This project will be launched in August 2005 and will develop through summer courses and events in the run-up to the establishment of an annual Bread and Fish Festival to be held for the first time in 2009 in towns and cities around the Baltic Sea.