Polarizing populism creating global divisions, World Council of Churches head warns at Davos

(Photo: © Peter Kenny)The Train to Davos on Jan. 28, 2007.

New signs of polarizing populism are generating greater division in the world, says the general secretary of the World Council of Churches, Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, while participating at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland.

"New expressions of polarizing populism are leading to greater division in our world and in our societies," he said speaking at a meeting of religious leaders at the annual meeting in the Swiss resort of Davos.

Chinese President Xi Jinping offered a vigorous defense of free trade at the WEF on Jan. 17 in
Davos in a speech stressing Beijing's desire to play a greater global role as the United States turns inward, Reuters reported.

"We see more tribalism, nationalism, racism, and violence," said the leader of the WCC that represents more than 550 million Christians from mainly Anglican, Orthodox and Protestant traditions.

"The root causes of these trends can often be found in the negative effects of economic globalization - or of its radical opposite, economic protectionism, inequality and exclusion – with more and more people marginalized and left behind, creating ever greater gaps between the rich and the poor," noted Tveit.

A community of 16 Religious Leaders joined in the meeting in the Davos gathering that brings together global political leaders, heads of the business world and people from all works of life who shape opinions.

The theme of the WEF this year is "Responsive and Responsible Leadership."

Tveit said, "Appeasing the fear of one group by increasing the fear of another cannot be the solution."

"These challenges require leadership accountable to the whole and one humanity for the sake of justice and peace for all. Real accountable relationships, not only to owners but also to employees, is a condition for a healthy business," said the WCC leaders.


He asserted that responsible global leadership today entails a much wider horizon of accountability.

"Economic gains must provide the resources for education, jobs, health, and a healthy environment - for all. Taxes are common resources needed for sustainable development of a society, and should not be escaped or avoided," he said.

"In a wider horizon of mutual accountability to humanity and the future of the one planet Earth, we can find much better solutions together than apart," Tveit told the meeting.

Among the religious leaders attending Davos along with Tveit are: Cardinal Peter Appiah Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace at the Vatican; the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby; Pinchas Goldschmidt, Chief Rabbi and president of the Conference of European Rabbis, Russian; Nasereldin Haghamed, chief executive officer of Islamic Relief Worldwide from the United Kingdom; Bani Dugal, principal representative of Bahá'í International Community's United Nations Office; Jim Wallis, president and founder of Sojourners, USA and others.

At the Davos meeting Christine Lagarde, managing diirector  of the International Monetary Fund in Washington DC, told participants that the concerns leading to populist movements in many developed countries are real, but the right policies can address them.

"We now have an opportune moment to put in place policies that will help," she said and suggested more redistributionist policies, since "excessive inequality puts a brake on sustainable growth."

She also urged a stronger social safety net, fiscal and structural reforms, and education to help both young people and mature workers prepare for the technological change that is disrupting the workplace.

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