Volume 18 Number 3
A Heart and a Soul for Europe
01 June 2005

Europe will not find the way forward by avoiding conflict, but by transforming it, maintains Brian Walker.

The soul of Europe will be built upon its diversities, its qualities and its aspirations,' wrote Robert Scchuman, one of the fathers ofthe European Union, in 1963.

Must differences always divide? How do we build community, respectful of our many diversities, on the European continent? What are the common values that can bring us together? Such questions highlight the concerns, the uncertainties, the suspicions, the fears that permeate our diverse communities across the length and breadth of Europe.

Those fears are not difficult to understand when we consider the history of Europe over the lifespan of people still alive today.
First World War violence killed nearly 18 million European people. Many more were wounded or bereaved. The Second World War, seen by many as a continuation of the first, was even more deadly. Out of the 57 million individuals dead, some 46 million were European.

The last 60 years, whilst less violent, have continued to bring death, injury and fear from Azerbaijan in the East, through Serbia and Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia and Slovenia to Northern Ireland in the West. During the 1990's over 270,000 people in Europe were killed in these or other conflicts, nearly two million displaced. Today, violence continues to affect our lives. Spain mourns nearly 200 citizens murdered in the 2004 Madrid train bombings. Despite the Good Friday Peace Agreement, the IRA culture of violence and intimidation continues, with their infamous offer to shoot alleged murderers. Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia appear endemic.

Europe stretches from Portugal in the West to Russia in the East, embracing nearly 800 million people. There are 49 independent states in Europe, those in the East embracing part of Asia. Twenty-five states currently belong to the European Community of the European Union, whilst Romania, Croatia, Bulgaria and Turkey are potential future members. The European Union alone has some 20 official languages plus many regional and minority tongues. Regions of Europe are also differentiated by what are sometimes referred to as 'faultlines': territorial; racial; political; economic; cultural; religious.

In January of this year world leaders, religious leaders and people across Europe paused. They paused to share with survivors and their families in a commemoration of the people of Europe who suffered and died in the most heinous crime human beings have ever committed against humanity.

It is now 60 years since the liberation of Auschwitz, a symbol of the Shoah, the catastrophe, the Holocaust, the whole-burnt. During the Nazi attempt to exterminate the Jewish people, six million Jewish children, women and men were murdered in genocide of incomprehensible brutality, at the very heart of 'Christian' Europe. Other people were also killed, including Roma, Polish people, prisoners of war and conscience, Jehovah's Witnesses, disabled people, and homosexuals.

Commemoration is a reminder of where prejudice and discrimination can lead, but it is clearly not enough. We must strive to prevent such atrocities in the future. To prevent violent conflict, we must venture beyond remembering, to an understanding that violence is not a necessary human condition. Conflict itself is inevitable and, if it does not deteriorate into violence, can be beneficial to individuals and to society as a whole. Indeed, Catherine Guisan-Dickinson reminds us that 'strong disagreements are not only unavoidable, but could make life worth living' (For A Change Dec 2000/Jan 2001).

Without disagreement, the status quo would remain irrespective of injustices in the world. Remember, the person least tolerant of disagreement, ever, was quite possibly Stalin. Disagreement should not be avoided. On the contrary, it should be welcomed, valued and resolved by peaceful means.

It is here, in the challenge of transforming conflict by peaceful means, that a heart for Europe will be found. Despite many claims, it is not to be found in a territorial region, a racial community, a political party, an economic state or even in a particular culture or religion. Each of these, it is true, contributes towards a soul for Europe. The diversity of peoples, the manifold qualities, the high aspirations create a soul manifest in the rrichness of Europe's stunningtopography; breathtaking flora; delightful fauna; stimulating anthropology; unfolding history; wealth of resources; beautiful architecture; inspiring art, writings, music, poetry, spirituality and beliefs.

The heart of Europe, however, will only be realized through striving towards justice and peace for individuals, for communities, for states, for Europe and for the whole of humanity. The transformation of conflict by peaceful means is the very heart of continental Europe.

Peacemaking, however, is never easy. Susan Koscis (For A Change, Feb/Mar 2005) claims that 'making peace is moment to moment, conversation by conversation, and one of the hardest things to do in life'. This process may be better considered as peacebuilding.

Building a culture of peace at the heart of Grass covers the bridge linking the two halves of Hungary's capital on 1May 2004 to celebrate its entry to the European Union.

Europe can become a reality through simple and yet profound steps taken by individuals. These steps are at the heart of narrowing the gap between ideals and practice for each of us, members of all the world's great faiths and of none.

  • First, by revisiting our own faith's sacred writings, or our ethical norms, each one of us can, through knowledge, seek to understand how our own current practice of justice, peace and harmony matches our faith or beliefs.

  • Second, through word, we can share how our life and experience compare with our beliefs. Listening to our fellow Europeans allows us to develop different perspectives on our current practice of peacebuilding and to deepen our faith.

  • Third, privately, through mind, in prayer, meditation and deep reflection upon this diversity of perspectives, we can open ourselves to new ideas on how we can help transform our conflicts, peacefully. The pure thought of ideas is silent. This is Gadamer's 'dialogue of the soul with itself'.

  • Next, through decision-making, we can allow the dignity and truth of faith and belief differences to enrich and empower our own faith or belief, transforming our selves and our determination towards helping to build peace.

  • Then, returning to dialogue, communities of difference can, through selecting creative actions together, make a difference for peace within their own communities, for people across Europe and, indeed, throughout the world.

  • Finally, groups of Europeans working together, heart and soul, will through creative action help generate a culture of peace that will 'crack the silence' of the peace-loving majority at the heart of Europe, bringing a movement that will work for restorative justice, sustainable peace and creative harmony.

    This July, people from across Europe will gather in Caux, Switzerland, to seek understanding, sharing, reflection, transformation, discussion and action that can reach deep into the heart and soul of Europe and help transform our hope for justice, peace and harmony. Together, we can turn ideals into practice that will find peace at the heart of Europe.

    As the conference invitation states, 'Beyond political structures, geography, history and culture press us to learn to live together, to discover the other as a partner, to forge an active tolerance that builds community in diversity. Black and white, immigrant and native, Jew, Christian and Muslim, secularist and believer-all have a part in creating a heart and a soul for Europe.'(www.caux.ch)

    Dr Brian Walker is Chair of Religions for Peace (UK),
    He supports Hope and Homes for Children, providing a family and a
    future for young victims of war and disaster in Europe and Africa, www.hopeandhomes.org

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