Ten conferences from 2005 to 2019
from Amsterdam to Brussels
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”.
In 2018 the conference went on its way to Tbilisi in Georgia. Again we gathered around the questions: What might be the specific contribution of the culture of a nation to the development of Europe? What is Europe? is it a geographical concept? or a cultural-spiritual ideal? Such questions can arise in a country which, according to traditional geography, does not belong to Europe but has contributed already in “prehistoric time” to the development of European culture and was imbued by Christianity earlier than in all other European countries.
A group of friends from Tbilisi, coordinated by Nodar Belkania, had prepared the conference in a wonderful way. The organization, the meals, accomodation of the guests – all worked perfectly.
The content of the talks can be outlined in just a few words. Other than in former conferences the polarity of East and West was not touched upon. Nodar Belkania gave in his introductory talk an outline of the spiritual history of Georgia in such a way, that one got the impression: the highlights of Georgian culture have not been affected by the national element. Openness towards the influences arising on all sides merged into a specific cultural space which was in close contact to the world regions of Europe and the Middle East. The special relationship to Russia, beginning in the 19th century was of great importance for both countries. Otar Kvrivishvili, architect, showed in his contribution medieval highlights of ecclesiastic architecture as expression of deep christianity – Georgia was christianized already at the beginning of the 4th century. Wonderful examples of this architecture were the aim of the excursions before and after the conference. Gia Bughadze, painter and scientist of fine arts, showed in his contribution astonishing connections between the Greek-Spanish painter El Greco and the Georgian painter Pirosmani. Nargizi Tiszlarishvili, priest of the Christian Community in Tbilisi, told us in a moving way how deep had always been her love for her country, Georgia, how beautiful it was for her, and how she had then in a way lost orientation when destiny took her abroad to Germany. The enlargement of her world view, the detachment from the ties to her own nation lead her to a new much wider experience of the world. When one is going back into the one’s own folk one can experience anew what one has received from the national background and what are the tasks given to the individual human being by the Folk Soul. Rati Amaglobeli, in Georgia a well known young poet, contributed a story from the Georgian poet Vasha Pshavela: The path of a man from a Caucasus tribe from his being uprooted from the traditions of his tribe to being banished because his conscience did not allow him to continue in a certain tradition. That is the paht from being part of a group to individualization which is successful only on the bases of a Christian impulse. – These were the contributions from the Georgian speakers.
Gerald Häfner made the link from the contributions above described to general questions of social, economic and cultural developments in Europe. Friedrich Glasl emphasized questions of the development of the individual human as well as of the small and large social groups in organizations and states. Paul Mackay in the last contribution spoke about the cooperation of man with the Hierarchy of the Angels, with the Folk Spirit and with the present working Spirit of Time, Michael.
Two special events may be mentioned. On the second evening a group of young actors performed Goethe’s Faust in Georgian under the direction of Valerian Gorgoshidze – the powerful Georgian language, the inventive direction and the full devotion of the young folk left a deep impression on all of us. On the following evening another group of six young people performed Georgian folk songs from different areas of the country.
Three excursions were offered before and after the conference: first a tour through the old city of Tbilisi, second a visit to Saguramo, the estate of the famous Ilja Chavchavadze, to Djvari and Mtskheta, and third a full day excursion to two important old churches – Samthavisi and Atenis Sioni – and to the ruins of the very old city of Uplistsikhe.
Gratefully and full of new impulses the participants returned to their own countries. The next conference takes plae in Brussels from August 23-25, 2019.
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.
Europe and the European Union
The 10th conference «The Soul of Europe» took place from August 21 to 23, 2019 in Brussels in the centre of the EU Institutions. For years the conferences moved through East-Central European countries. A swing from the East to the West started in 2018 with Tbilisi in Georgia, moving in 2019 to Brussels in Belgium, then in 2020 it will be Yekaterinburg in the Urals and in 2021 probably London.
Brussels left many interesting impressions: a perfect conference organisation, approx. 150 participants, high quality speeches, challenging eurythmy performance by the Ihoch3 Eurythmy Ensemble and many working and conversation groups on different themes. In connection with the conference one could experience the institutions, the functioning and the problems of the European Union. Mario Damen explained during an excursion the organs of the EU and the process of decision making guided through the European parliament, this great club consisting of over 700 participants and a huge army of interpreters and translators, trying to overcome the consequences of the Tower of Babel. Gerald Häfner and Paul Mackay showed the essential shortages and the faulty design of the EU. The decision making depends very much on the governments, the influence of the citizens is insignificant, the civil society is not included in an appropriate way, the big stakeholders have too much influence. The money system is not at all socially healthy. Alexander Gerber and Michaela Glöckler nevertheless could report about some achievements of lobbying of the Demeter movement and the Anthroposophic Medicine.
A definite problem however can be clearly seen in Western Europe and particularly in the «Europe» of Brussels. One can observe the frequently fully unconscious tendency to identify the European Union with Europe. But the EU is not Europe. Even if we leave out Norway and Switzerland, Russia and the Ukraine should be also considered essential parts belonging to Europe. Just a symptomatic bagatelle: The statistics about some agricultural facts with the title «…. in Europe» give data only of the EU countries whereas it is particularly the comparison with the other European countries which would be of utmost interest.
But more than half of the lectures went far beyond the problems of the EU and asked such questions as: What is the «Soul of Europe». I pick just a few motives. How can the idea of Europe incarnate? How do I become a European? What’s the meaning of being a witness to European history? Europe is neither the Europe of the institutions nor Europe as an idea. It lives in the encounter of the two, where form and potentiality meet. Christine Gruwez spoke exhaustively about this duality. Andrej Zhiltsov described structures within Europe as result of a long history of the East-West schism of the church. Christiane Haid spoke about homelessness and the consciousness soul. Stephan Kirste and Jaap Sijmons referred to some philosophic aspects leading to the development of the concept of Europe.
As a summary: a rich, many-sided conference with a lot of answers to questions living in every real European.
Lahti, September 3, 2019