Greetings from QVI

The last few weeks have been full of “political drama” the likes of which Austria has not seen since the Second World War. Two men, whose background and worldview could not have been more different, had equally strong aspirations of becoming the next President of Austria. The race was fierce and the outcome close to a “whodunit”. The independent candidate, but backed by the Green party, won with 50,3% of the votes, whereas the representative of the far-right party lost with 49,7%. As you can imagine, the country is divided very significantly and the sense of disillusionment with the political establishment runs deep.

This represents the current situation in much of Europe very well. In fact, there is an overwhelming sense of everything heretofore considered solid and trusted as now being in transition. No secure haven is to be found. The sociologist Zygmunt Bauman speaks of a “period of interregnum”: the old is no longer there, the new has not yet arrived.

“Close the doors, pull up the drawbridge”

Taking the social temperature throughout Europe right now, it seems that “fear rules supremely”. Some have even likened Europe today to the 1930s, sensing a “pre-war” atmosphere.

Although the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels are etched deeply in the collective memory, they may soon become overshadowed by more recent events, as the likelihood of an attack forcing the crash of EgyptAir flight 804 last week, en route from Paris to Cairo, seems to suggest. Many ask, “When and where will they hit again?”.

As a European society we are facing a major lack of hope, growing distrust, and the fear of the unknown future, all of which is leading many back to their tribalism and the seemingly safe environments of their nationalistic bulwarks. “Close the doors, pull up the drawbridge” is the advice of the populists. Exacerbated by the lack of trust in democratic institutions, the so-called “New Right” is taking Europe by storm.

Where are we going?

Indeed, Austria is just one example of where the right-wing solutions are welcomed by the people who feel betrayed and left behind by the traditional political parties. Other examples of this growing concern are seen in Hungary, Poland, Croatia, Slovakia, Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Greece, France, Germany and outside of the EU, Russia and Turkey. The political landscape is changing rapidly everywhere one looks.
So this begs the question: what will this lead to? Where are we going? Quo Vadis Europe? This question is of course at the center of our activities at the Quo Vadis Institute and the inquiry into the causes underlying the current crises.

Brexit, Grexit,… exit?

There is a possibility that the UK might leave the EU (so called “Brexit”) following the referendum to be held there on June 23rd, as the proponents on both sides of the debate seem equally passionate for their cause. Should that happen, it could eventually lead to the break up of the European Union in which the UK is not only a strong member, but maintains a symbolic role of balancing out the other players.

The financial woes (Grexit calling again?) are by no means over, and the continuing influx of refugees from the Middle East and North Africa (over a million into Germany in the last year alone) may just have begun. The risky deal between the EU and Turkey to absorb some of the refugees in exchange for visa-free travel for Turkish citizens is very fragile and threatens to break down easily due to major discrepancies such as freedom of speech, human rights and other democratic values.

Thus, we might ask: is the center going to hold or will this lead to a collapse of the EU? Or, even if the EU remains, what sort of union will it become? Might we lose the Euro as a common currency in the process? Is the Schengen Treaty, guaranteeing the unrestricted movement of peoples within the borders, still a feasible option, in light of the terrorist attacks and the refugee movements?

Yes, there are plenty of difficult questions as well as bad news, which we are bombarded with every day.

Good News!

There is good news, though, happening all over the continent, which rarely, if ever, makes the headlines.

For example: this past week as Christians have been celebrating the events of the Pentecost, close to 50,000 people in Germany met at a multitude of mostly open-air events, proclaiming the hope they have experienced and now represent. In Salzburg, some 7,000 young people came to take part in the Pentecost rally where the Gospel was preached in and around the cathedral and the old town with an expectation of the Holy Spirit to move and heal the land.

There is a sense that God is doing something amidst the rubble of democracy and dashed hopes. Clearly, this is hoping against hope (Rom 4:18). Not merely hope in renewed political processes, or new people at the head of the parties, but rather expressing trust that God will show up and heal the rifts among the peoples of Europe.

Our recent stories

  • We have just come back from a gathering in Switzerland, where emerging thought leaders from 15 different countries and walks of life met to pray together and discuss potential solutions to the fear and lack of hope so prevalent among us. We met in a historical place, the Castle of Caux, where the reconciliation talks between Germany and France took place right after the Great War. There was a sense of unity and boldness which itself spread hope – not a utopian kind, however, but based on a presence of the One holding the world in his hand. We asked ourselves: how do we introduce the Father to the fatherless and to those in Europe who are “spiritually orphaned”? How do we embrace the calling to be Ambassadors of Hope? There was a firm commitment to pray for and continue to encourage each other as the participants went their separate ways into the challenging secular environments in which they work.
  • Last Friday we participated in a gathering of societal leaders in Vienna who looked at how we can instill hope in and through our spheres of influence. How can we learn from the involvement of the fathers of the European Union, who were men of faith and deep moral convictions, lessons for today’s challenges?
  • On an even more local level, churches around Salzburg are active in addressing the short and long-term needs of the refugees around us. We have helped organize a meeting of those responsible for coordinating the logistics of help, exploring who does what and asking how we can support each other’s efforts.

In the midst of doom and gloom around us, there is a possibility of spreading hope, not in political expediency, but rather in Christ, the hope of nations.
We at QVI feel very strongly that we are here “for such a time as this” to help thought leaders in different professional guilds face the challenges of a fragmented and largely hopeless Europe, and consider it a great privilege to be involved in the lives of many by helping to navigate the deep waters amidst a thick fog.

Would you consider standing with us at this time?

Yours, Andrzej Turkanik

Director, Quo Vadis Institute


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