The enduring legacy of the “Velvet Revolution”

The enduring legacy of the “Velvet Revolution”

Together for Europe 2018 – Prague

Prague, capital of the Czech Republic, a country at the very heart of European culture and history, with pay host from 15th-17th November 2018 to the annual meeting of the Friends of Together for Europe.

The great history of Central Europe, in particular of the Czech nation will serve as a backdrop for a new stage in the journey of Together for Europe, which promotes dialogue between divergent cultural and political identities.

In November 2017 the European meeting of Friends of Together for Europe took place in Vienna, a bridge between Eastern and Western Europe. This year, we will have the opportunity to take another step to the very heart of Central Eastern Europe – Prague, with a singular desire to face challenges, prejudices and fears which weigh on the collective conscience of EU member states and beyond. Through the life of the Gospel, nourished and enlightened by the presence of Christ in the Christian communities, we wish to witness to the fact that the path towards Europe as a House of Nations and a Family of Peoples is not a utopia.

The enduring legacy of the “Velvet Revolution”

On 17th November, the Czech Republic commemorates the anniversary of the “Velvet Revolution” (so called due to its peaceful nature) which transformed the Czech Republic into a co-protagonist for the ongoing process of European reunification. The presence of the Friends of Together for Europe in Prague on this very day, urges us to renew our shared commitment: to bring to a post-secular culture the spirit of Christian Humanism, and in so doing contribute to building a more united Europe.

The renowned Czech Philosopher and Theologian Tomas Halik, friend of the late Vaclav Havel, Jaroslav Sebek of the Historical Czech Academy of Science, and Pavel Fischer an emerging Czech politician, together with leaders and representatives of different Movements, Communities and Associations will be present. Their contributions will reinforce the daring objective of this meeting: to recall a Europe of hope and promise, a Europe which stems from a rich heritage of ethnic, social and cultural diversity and calls out for communion and dialogue.

In this way, the Prague event will become a fundamental phase of Together for Europe which continues its commitment for a more united, brotherly and just Europe. It will also be a unique opportunity to prepare together for the upcoming elections for the European Parliament. The meeting will conclude with an open evening, in which Movements and Communities from different churches and which are present in the Czech Republic will be represented.

Address: Mariapolis Centre, Mladoboleslavská 667, 190 17 Prague 9 – Vinoř, Czech Republic – Tel. +420 286 007 711; Email: cmpraha@espol.cz;  www.centrummariapoli.cz

Beatriz Lauenroth

Foto: Canva

 

Vienna Cathedral at the Centre of Europe

Vienna Cathedral at the Centre of Europe

An ardent ecumenical prayer service. On the 9th November, 2017, Vienna Cathedral – dedicated to St Stephen – became the focal point for Europe.

Visible, inviting, and European – this is how this “Ecumenical Evening Prayer for Europe” came across in the cathedral church of Vienna, the Stephansdom.

Members of the ecumenical network Together for Europe at the heart of the Austrian capital city, at the vigil of their annual Congress. They came from countries such as Portugal, Russia, England, and Greece.

Their aim: unity and reconciliation among various Christian denominations and cultures, as well as solidarity and integration within Europe.

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn lead an ecumenical group of representatives of various Churches: hundreds of people gathered under the “Lettner” Cross which is a significant memorial of the victims of the two world wars. “People today do not expect us to rule, but to serve,” the Cardinal emphasized in his speech. The solemn prayer for a TOGETHERNESS of cultures and generations and for peace resounded powerfully.

“This moment of prayer was a multilingual, visible, and European sign of hope,” said one of the participants, “and it gives us hope for the future.”

Video Ecumenical Prayer Vienna (German)>

At the reception that followed the celebration, Thomas Hennefeld, Superintendent of the Reformed Church of Austria and President of the Ecumenical Council of Churches in Austria, and Joerg Wojahn, Head of the European Commission Representation in Austria,  underlined that Christian values are the basis for a united Europe. “We need everybody,” exclaimed the representative of the EU.

After November 9, 1938 (the Night of Broken Glass) and November 9, 1989 (fall of the Berlin wall), couldn’t November 9, 2017, day of the ecumenical prayer, be a significant step on the road of Together for Europe and a sign for Europe?

Beatriz Lauenroth;  Photo: Annemarie Baumgarten

 

 

Decades of surprise

Decades of surprise

‘Behind the iron curtain’ was a metaphorical attribution given to those countries that from the end of the Second World War until 1989 were part of the communist bloc. The ‘iron’ curtain in question represented the ideological split which divided Europe in two halves, an ideological split physically represented by the Berlin Wall.

When for research purposes I visited Prague, in former Czechoslovakia, the memory of Jan Palach was very much alive with many university students considering him a hero: on 16th January 1969 Jan Palach set himself on fire to draw the attention of the world to the exasperation in which his nation lived. My impression was that in the capital city of Czechoslovakia two parallel worlds coexisted: one official and visible, and another hidden but ever so present.

I had a similar experience living in Hungary in the 1980s. At that time, only a censored and sanitized version of news from Eastern European countries reached the West… Not much was known about Hungary outside the events of 1956. Initially I travelled to Budapest on a research scholarship into children’s literature, but my stay developed into a chain of surprising events and considering the political and historical context – small miracles.

Thanks to the translations I became known for, I received an award which allowed me to remain in Hungary as a lecturer at the Janus Pannonius University of Pecs. In a context of politics manipulated by interests and ideology, the ability to incorporate any kind of positive message into teaching required a sense of personal responsibility and freedom.

On one of my train journeys, while waiting at one of the endless border custom checks, I spotted a bird jumping on the barbed wire fence dividing the two countries. This sight prompted me to ponder how long those barriers would remain and I drew some hope from Giambattista Vico, a philosopher from Naples, Italy, who spoke about the fact that things which are outside their natural order do not remain so.[1]

In 1989, immediately after the fall of the Berlin Wall I happened to conduct a sociological study on the change of toponyms of the streets and squares of Budapest and on destiny of statues left in that country by communist realism. These were eventually to be transferred to a specially designated garden which served as a sort of a ‘historical ZOO’ where parents would bring their children on Sundays… Some of the Soviet red star sculptures would have to wait for years to be taken down owing of their sheer size and weight.

After 16 years in Hungary, and after visiting other former Warsaw pact countries such as Slovakia or Poland, and places such as Auschwitz I understood better the reason of my being and I have become more and more grateful to God for the possibility to help make Europe and the entire world a family.

I also feel how right Victor Hugo was in in his famous [mis]quote : Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.[2]

by Tanino Minuta

[1] Giambattista Vico, Opere Vol. I, Tipografia della Sibilla, Naples, 1834, p. 12. [free translation]

[2] http://nuovoeutile.it/222-frammenti-sulla-creativita-a-cura-di-annamaria-testa/ [http://www.quotecounterquote.com/2011/02/nothing-is-more-powerful-than-idea.html]

 

 

Studying, living, and teaching history

Studying, living, and teaching history

9 November 1989: an unforgettable date in recent history marking the fall of the Berlin Wall. In the evening of that same day I was too transfixed in my chair in front of the TV to notice an unexpected event the import of which my own young generation at the time could not possibly grasp.

I had studied (and held a degree in) modern history. I studied all about the Cold War and the building of the Berlin Wall, which in those November days was being reversed to rubble. A few months later we were to learn from the press the stories of the peoples of Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland and Romania who, by means of more or less peaceful revolutions, were freeing themselves from seven decades of Soviet burden.

I could never have dreamt on that November day, that the stories and images from the media would have become incarnated for me, in real people whom I was about to meet, as only a short month later I descended in Keleti Railway Station in Budapest, brought by train from Rome crossing Slovenia and Croatia. I was offered the post of Italian language and history teacher in a secondary school in the Hungarian capital. A small group of people with big smiles and a bunch of flowers welcomed me in the smoky atmosphere of the station. This was my first encounter with a country in Eastern Europe: the cordial encounter with these normal people who soon became a family to me, in distinct contrast to the atmosphere of sadness and distrust that still prevailed, with unambiguous signs of ‘control’ (groups of Soviet soldiers discharged onto footpaths by imposing military trucks). This despite the fact that a Hungarian Republic had been proclaimed in October 1989. It would take more than two years for the last soldier donning the red Soviet star to leave the country for good.

The first months of ‘freedom’ were a transition phase both politically and socially: whilst the democratic government was making its first steps and had to cope with many unknowns (and strikes!), a variety of products, some from abroad slowly filtered into the shops. Daily life was still complicated, at least for me, coming from the West. I was used to a certain style of cooking, but it was impossible to find the same ingredients on the market. One day in 1990, the taxi and the public transport drivers blocked all bridges over the Danube in protest against the increase in the price of petrol. In a flash there were endless queues outside shops selling bread and soon all shops were empty. «it’s like in ‘56» – people would say, meaning: there was nothing left to eat. People were unable to reconcile these conditions with a belief that the worst had already passed never to return.

Only when I began to teach did I fully appreciate the different social history in which I was now living, where all historical references were seen from the perspective of Moscow and revolved around the concept of class struggle. I found myself having to explain to my ingenuous students, things which until then I had taken for granted. Among the most obvious was an episode just prior to Christmas in 1990. In order to practice Italian conversation, we spoke about Italian Christmas traditions. I described enthusiastically images of the Nativity and the crib present in those days in every Italian family. After I spoke for about half an hour, a girl with dark hair put up her hand at the back of the class and asked: «Professor, but who is this Jesus?».

by Maria Bruna Romito