We are pleased to send you our Newsletter – to all those who encourage us, and support us in so many ways. While Donald knows many of you, you are mostly an invisible community, so it is a pleasure to be in touch with you. We always appreciate your comments, criticisms and suggestions. Please keep in touch with us.
This year has been a time of gatherings and planning.
In May, the Soul of Europe together with the Balkan Institute in Kosovo facilitated a conference on Faith and Reconciliation in Peja/Pec in Kosovo. We had been invited by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to organise this event, following our successful intervention in Peja/Pec, where the Soul of Europe helped to promote positive relations between the Patriarchate and the local municipality. About a hundred and seventy participants from eighteen countries, including six members of our advisory council and our patron Lord Hylton, attended. Reactions to the conference were enthusiastic. The conference was a success for this young republic as it seeks for more recognition throughout the world. A detailed account of the conference can be found on our website: www.soulofeurope.org in our summer newsletter.
One critical comment complained of an excess of Kum Ba Ya; perhaps justified; but to anyone who knows anything about Kosovo and the Balkans it was an achievement for people to meet and discover how they might cooperate. Certainly we will not forget the sight of three Serbian Orthodox Bishops in the main mosque in Peja/Pec. This gathering was a reminder that preparing the ground takes a lot of time and patience, not least because Balkan religion is inextricably involved with politics. We have learnt not to be seduced by the immediate ‘need to make a difference’. At the end of the conference, Bishop Andrej, who is the secretary to the Patriarch’s Cabinet in Belgrade said to Donald:
The doors of the Serbian Orthodox Church are always open to you. You have given us confidence. Please do not abandon us.
The Soul of Europe has received similar comments from muftis and imams, and also from Catholic bishops and priests over the years but this is a first from a Serbian Orthodox Bishop. We are considering how we can take this further.
The next gathering took place in Dortmund in September to launch the 12 Cities Network. Our funders did not fully honour their agreement and this hampered preparations for the launch of the network to campaign against Islamophobia. There were committed delegations of mostly young people from London, Paris, Marl, St Gallen, Tiblisi and Batumi. They are committed to establishing campaigns across Europe. First we need to appoint a coordinator. The impetus for the project is now in the hands of this young generation, working together with older people whose experience might be useful. Intergenerational projects are a sign for the future.
Peter Pelz and Donald Reeves are deeply grateful to Andrew Barr whom we have known since 1978. He has been the Soul of Europe’s chair, and we have valued his friendship and loyalty over the years. We thank him for his work for the Soul of Europe. He will remain a member of our Advisory Council. Ross Ashcroft is our new chair. He is the founder of Motherlode Studio, and is described as Essayist and Renegade Economist. Please watch his documentary The Four Horsemen. The film lifts the lid off the world of international politics and finance. We have also found new trustees: Rizwan Hussain, who was one of the coordinators of the 12 Cities Network, Alastair Boag a teacher and director of the Stahl theatre in Oundle, and Megan Campbell, part of the Motherlode team.
The Soul of Europe visited Georgia at the end of August. We were invited by both Archbishop Malkhaz of the Evangelical Baptist Church and Tariel Nakaidze of the Muslim Union of Georgia. It may seem surprising to find an archbishop as leader of an Evangelical Baptist Church. Much has been written about how this severe Protestant tradition has adapted to a quite different culture. The worship at the Cathedral had the flavour of a reformed orthodoxy. The Archbishop is well known in Georgia. He issued two powerful statements, the first on Islamophobia in Georgia and the second on homophobia – the latter arising out of a demonstration organised by the Georgian Orthodox Church against a small group of people taking part in a global protest about homophobia. (Videos of the events can be found on May 17th Tbilisi.)
We came to see if there were ways in which the Soul of Europe could be useful. Two possibilities emerged: one to support the May 17th Group – who meet on the 17th of each month. If you would like to know more about this, please get in touch with us.
In Nigeria, Pakistan, and the Middle East, Churches are being persecuted. Georgia is one of the few Christian theocracies. The Georgian Orthodox Church has more influence than any political party and persecutes the Muslim communities in Georgia.
We were taken to Chela, a small farming community in a remote corner of Georgia. On August 26th the minaret of the mosque had been removed in a provocative manner with armed police in balaclavas watched by a circling helicopter. Donald writes: ‘I have spoken at many mosques over the last twelve years. I like mosques particularly the small ones. They are invariably cosy, light and airy: inviting places. About sixty men were gathered for Friday prayers. Sitting on the step in front of the mihrab I told them:
God has given us this land for us to care for. Unless we care for the land we will not survive. The land is for all people, and God wants us to live together in peace so we can share what we have been given.
When I finished, the congregation queued up to shake my hand: the old men crying, the young ones holding my eyes.
As we began to write this Newsletter, we received a wonderful surprise. Archbishop Malkhaz sent us this message:
Dearest Friends, Peter and Father Donald, On behalf of the Georgian Muslims and on my own behalf let me thank you both for your friendship and support. Today the minaret was restored to the Mosque in the village of Chela. YOUR VISIT TO THE VILLAGE AND BATUMI PLAYED KEY ROLE in restoring justice. Obviously this is not all. There is a long way before we ever get established as a respectable democracy. Last night when the minaret was being restored to its place the village was attacked by a group of Orthodox fundamentalist priests…Many, many thanks!!!! +Malkhaz
As a result of our visit, we are beginning to plan a top level consultation with the Reconciliation Ministry at Coventry Cathedral later in 2014 – something along the lines we organised for Bosnia politicians and religious leaders at the same place in 2001. Georgia is a flash point for confrontation between the US and Russia; it has not made the transition to democracy easily and there is no relationship between the substantial Muslim communities and the Georgian Orthodox Church. We are meeting in Coventry on January 9th 2014. Please remember us on that day. If you would like to know more about this project please be in touch with us.
The Soul of Europe and Bishop Malkhaz in Georiga meeting Muslim and Orthodox leaders and worshippers at the Chela Mosque. September 2013
Donald continues to give presentations on Bach and Peace-building, the latest at Henton near Wells and at Chichester Cathedral. He says: ‘I have tried to get some reactions to these. I am amazed at the positive comments. Bach and peace clearly go together. The words which keep on recurring are inspired and inspirational. One person who I do not know wrote:
Your commitment to the cause was reinforced by your very courageous and personal playing of Bach. I will admit to being a Bach fan through and through and know how tricky his music can be to perform. Your presentation and message would not have been half as powerful if you had demonstrated the music on CD. We live in a world where all performances are expected to be word and especially note perfect. Yours was pure Donald and the more enjoyable for being your personal homage to the victims you serve in Bosnia. This has been a jewel of a day thanks to your inspiration.
These presentations are not without difficulty, particularly trying to move from one activity to another: speaking at one moment to an audience, and then performing. I am resuming organ lessons.’
In previous newsletters we have mentioned the opportunities provided by the probable referendum in 2017 on the UK relationship with Europe. There is no mention anywhere in the public debate about how its soul is manifested. I presented a paper at the Annual Conference of the European Union Institutes for Culture at the Romanian Embassy in London. The paper will be published on our website. Please read it and, if you would like to take further the ideas in that paper, be in touch with us.
At the end of Alan Bennett’s play The History Boys, the teacher Hector addresses his students, imploring them to pass the parcel. That’s sometimes all you can do. Take it, feel it, and pass it on. Not for me, not for you but for someone, somewhere, one day. Pass it on, boys. That’s the game I want you to learn. Pass it on. For thirteen years we have been peace-builders. When we started we knew nothing of conflict transformation, hardly anything about the Balkans. We learnt as we went along. So we want to say: ‘this is what we have learned’ and make this bundle of experience as widely available as we can. Dust, Peter’s account of our work from the Coventry Consultation onwards will be completed by the end of the year, and the search for publishers will begin. Dust comprises the final trilogy about the Soul of Europe’s work – the others being A Tender Bridge and the white house.
We are exploring the possibility of a TV programme charting Donald’s journey after Piccadilly. We will also produce a short and sharp pamphlet. In these ways the parcel will be passed on. There is need for mentoring for those in the generation to come who are working at peace-building, dialogue and interreligious dialogue. Mentoring is commonplace in sport and business but non-existent in the areas that the Soul of Europe has been involved in. If you know of anyone who would be interested in taking the mentoring idea forward please ask them to be in touch with us. I will be writing a paper about this and it will soon be on our website.
Next year Donald will be 80. He says: ‘When asked how I am, I reply: all right so far. I learnt this from Paul Oestreicher, a couple of years older than me. (Paul and Barbara are great encouragers of our work). I have no intention of retiring.’
If you have read this far you will notice how we say ‘please be in touch with us’. If there is anything in the Newsletter which interests you, please let us know. We hope you will want to support our work. In order to maintain the office, and to ensure that we can do the necessary travelling, we are looking for £7,000 for the next twelve months. One friend has already promised to make a contribution to Donald’s travel expenses. If you are able to make a standing order that would be most welcome.
This comes with our deepest thanks for your support and with warmest greetings for Christmas and very best wishes for 2014.
Donald Reeves and Peter Pelz