The Soul of Europe – Eight Conferences from 2005 to 2017
crossing the continent from Amsterdam to Kiev, Ukraine,
and further on to Tbilisi, Georgia in 2018
This initiative, aimed at investigating the being of Europe, its soul, tasks and problems, was started in 2005 in Amsterdam. The first conference took up the theme of the relationship between citizens and politics, but soon the range of questions expanded to include the perspective of the place where the participants met: What colour or colour shade can the Dutch folk soul give to the Soul of Europe? And what does the Soul of Europe expect from Central Europe and Anthroposophy?
The main focus of the next conferences, the first of which was held in 2007 in Budapest, was the question of how the countries in Eastern and Central Europe came to terms with the radical changes taking place in the years from 1989 to 1991. Did the great hopes connected with these events bring results? What kind of particular problems remained because the old pressure groups from the Soviet period continued to control political life with all the phenomena of corruption, accompanied by unrestrained economic liberalism, and with an enormously growing gap between the rich and the poor? The development of the Eastern and Central European countries proceeded in very different directions. Some managed to make a great step towards civil society with more or less stable economy and integration into the European Union. Others bob up and down because the preconditions for a healthy economy haven’t been met.
The next six conferences moved from Prague (2008) via Gdansk (2010), Varna at the coast of the Black Sea in Bulgaria (2014), Simeria in Romanian Transylvania (2015), Lahti in Finland (2016) to Kiev in Ukraine (2017). Each time a specific program emerged from the co-operation between the Section of Social Sciences at the Goetheanum and the local Anthroposophical Societies. Thus a kind of rainbow was formed by the peculiarities of the countries and the general questions of a common Europe.
In Budapest, where in 1956 the first attempts to extricate from the Soviet hegemony of Moscow failed, the aim of the conference held 51 years later was to bring together people from the West, the Middle and the East. It became clear already at the first meeting in Amsterdam that a real mutual understanding must be based on a thorough knowledge of the differences between East, Middle and West Europe. The iron curtain had established not only a geographical border, but at the same time a deep gap in the mutual understanding of Eastern and Western Europe. In this connection Middle Europe has a specific task.
In Prague, 40 years after the Prague spring, the main focus of the conference were the different forms of society and how true humanity can find its place in them. This was followed by the theme of Threefold Social Order in Gdansk, the place where the Solidarity movement emerged in 1980. Each time, the conferences took up new questions: In Varna, the Bulgarian friends traced the old mystery streams of the Thracians, the Greeks and later the Bogomils, all of them contributing various impulses to the formation of Europe.
In 2014 and 2015 certain things happening in Europe shook seriously the confidence in a continuous development. Crimea was unexpectedly snatched from Ukraine and integrated into Russia. A war, which is still going on, started in eastern Ukraine. Innumerable masses of people fled from the Orient and Africa to Europe. Thus, the main theme of the next conference in Simeria, Rumanian Transylvania, was the question: How can we foster and strengthen the peacebuilding forces? In fact, peacebuilding forces depend on the mutual understanding between human beings of foreign origin, other religion and different culture. The conference in Lahti in 2016 was also concerned with the mutual understanding between human beings. The precondition for such understanding is an enhanced consciousness of what it means to be human.
In 2017 the conference moved further to the East – to Kiev. On the premises of the Kiev Pechersk Lavra, which goes back to the very beginnings of Christianity in the Old Rus, West, Middle and East Europe met in a very special way. The theme of this conference was linked to the questions of the very first meeting in Amsterdam: what specific contribution the people belonging to a given nation, in this case the Ukrainian nation, can make to the development of Europe? Far from reaching conclusive answers, the manifold differences between East, Middle and West were explored in informal lively conversations, furthering the understanding of “the other”.
Now the conference continues its journey to Tibilsi in Georgia. From 9 to 12 July, 2018, we will ask again what contribution a particular part of the world can make to the developments of Europe. At the same time, we will discuss more general questions such as what “Europe” really means and what does it want to achieve. Is “Europe” a geographical concept or a cultural-spiritual ideal? Traditionally, Georgia is not considered as a part of Europe. Nevertheless, Georgia has contributed even back in prehistoric times to the development of the European culture. It was permeated by deep Christianity earlier than all other European countries. Thus, we can ask again: what does the path to Europe mean? As in previous years, excursions will be organized before and after the conference, providing an opportunity for a direct encounter with the country of Georgia.
For a long time, in the consciousness of many Western and Central European countries, Europe extended as far as the Iron Curtain. There was almost no knowledge of what was behind it. It was blocked out. All attention was directed to the foundation of the European Union as an economic union. But from the very beginning, the idea included thoughts about a greater Europe. With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the breakthrough in the countries of East Central Europe, the consciousness of the border in Europe moved a bit further towards East from Estonia to Bulgaria. This led to the enlargement of the EU. But Ukraine and Russia belong also to the spiritual totality of Europe, right to the Urals. The fact is often excluded that these countries, too, carry basic European values. The political antagonism of the US and Russia hinders like a ghost the free view of this truth. Consequently, it becomes difficult to experience these countries as an integral part of Europe, even when one thinks theoretically that the Urals are the boarder of Europe.
On 15 July, 1923 Rudolf Steiner gave a very enlightening lecture on this theme. Marie Steiner published it with the title “The Imagination of Europe”. (GA 225) He described how for a long time there was something like a wall or “wallpaper”, stretching from the Urals to the area of the Volga, to the Caucasus and over the Black Sea right to the Mediterranean Sea. This wall had the task of preventing retarded ahrimanic spirits who lived in the areas eastwards from bringing their influence to Europe. Thus, until medieval times, particularly the forces of thinking could be developed without being disturbed. Later, this wall was torn with the consequence that satyr- and faun-like beings began making their advances towards the West and causing damage. They joined together with luciferic beings coming from the West which carried abstract materialistic ideas and ideals to the East. This gave rise to an ardent liaison between beings without head but with strong will, coming from the East, and beings with brain forces, coming from the West, which brought about the experiments of Bolshevism in Eastern Europe. In 1989, after a period of 72 years – the life span of human beings – Bolshevism seemed to have totally lost its spiritual impulse. But the influence of such dark beings on the social structures in Eastern Europe went on. Economic liberalism as such can lead to a brotherly social and economic order only if respect and appreciation of the other human being are part of it. But what happened in the whole of Eastern Europe was an economic liberalism where the theoretical economic freedom – a luciferic idea – established a combination with the most ruthless egotism. The result is corrupt governments, bureaucracy and oligarchical regimes – structures of ahrimanic power. In a similar way, national ideas combined with “belly” forces from the depths of history, resulting in nationalism, chauvinism and xenophobia – very problematic phenomena, making their way in the last years in many East European countries. And the fusion between the orthodox church with its deep faith and the power structures in some countries is nothing else than a dirty co-operation of high but corrupt ideals with unconscious and subversive affinity to retrogressive cultural forces.
Europe is on the path of finding anew its tasks in the world orchestra – otherwise it will lose itself. “The Soul of Europe” conferences wish to make a contribution on this path.