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«Die Welt war meine Gemeinde»- Willem A. Visser ’t Hooft

A Theologian for Europe between Ecumenism and Federalism


Filippo Maria Giordano and Stefano Dell'Acqua

Willem A. Visser ’t Hooft (1900–1985), Dutch pastor and theologian, was one of the most significant personalities in the Protestant Ecumenical movement. Deeply influenced by Karl Barth, and filled with a strong Ecumenical spirit, he was closely involved in the founding of the World Council of Churches, of which he was elected General Secretary. During the Second World War, many Protestants became convinced of the need for an international political system which, beside uniting the nations and peoples of Europe, would guarantee them fundamental freedoms and mutual respect for their historical, cultural and confessional traditions.
The directors of the WWC were strongly committed to federalism, partly because of the political traditions of the states from which their member churches originated (Switzerland; Great Britain and its Commonwealth; the United States), and partly because of their conviction that a simple confederation of states, based on the model of the League of Nations, would be completely incapable of containing national ambitions. In spring 1944, Visser ’t Hooft welcomed into his Geneva home the representatives of the European Resistance, who, under the leadership of Altiero Spinelli and Ernesto Rossi, signed the International Federalist Declaration of the Resistance Movements. These historic transnational encounters, aimed not only at coordinating military action or seeking diplomatic contacts but at exploring ways to «build» peace and re-establish the future of the Continent on new foundations, marked a profound break with the past.
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Geneva between Cosmopolitanism, Resistance Movements and Federalism




This paper aims at illustrating the historical context of the city of Geneva in the period between the two world wars which facilitated exchanges between the protagonists of the federalist meetings held at Willem Visser ’t Hooft’s home in the spring of 1944. The federalist meetings, during which the Federalist Declaration of the Resistance Movements was drafted, were not the result of an incidental or chance meeting, but rather of theoretical reflection initiated right on the banks of Lake Geneva as a result of the unique atmosphere that had been created in Geneva, which since 1920 had evolved into a cosmopolitan city in a neutral country, with a remarkable number of anti-fascist and anti-Nazi exiles from different nationalities.

In the period between the two world wars and especially after the creation of the League of Nations (LN) in 1920, in many respects, Geneva truly was a laboratory for reflection on the contemporary European situation and for developing projects concerning geopolitical order in post-war Europe. Since the organisation’s inception in 1920, along with The Hague and Paris, Geneva was a cosmopolitan city of peace, hosting the institutions and organisations resulting from the LN, such as the International Labour Organisation (ILO), created under the 1919 Treaty of Versailles and established as part of the League of Nations.

The Swiss Confederation itself became a member country of the LN by signing the February 13th, 1920 Declaration of London explicitly recognising Switzerland’s neutrality and...

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