A family member in their 20s has recently returned from a first trip to Berlin. It's just over 30 years since I was first there, and of course approaching 30 years since the wall was opened up. We have had interesting conversations, comparing impressions and experiences, but it has also got me thinking about that most momentous of period of change across Europe.
My 1988 visit to Berlin and to German Democratic Republic (East Germany) was one of a number of times when I had joined Quaker groups crossing the iron curtain, meeting a mix of 'official' peace committees and the like (government sponsored and managed outfits) but also ordinary people. People-to-people visits in both directions were a significant area of peace action for Quakers and others in that cold-war era, affirming a common humanity in spite of all the geo-political obstacles put in our way.
That was then. As we approach – at the time of writing – continued uncertainty about the timing or even completion of the UK's exit from the European Union, what about our relationship now with other parts of Europe and our own constituent parts? As Quakers, one point of continuity is a hope and vision of a Europe that expresses our values of peace, tolerance, cooperation, fairness etc. Whilst the EU has enabled some of these to be given practical expression, it has not always been perfect and Quakers have taken a positive role in creative and critical engagement.
Whatever the political relationship between the EU and the UK, our Quaker values will be the same. If we do leave, we will need to think again about how to not let international barriers get in the way of bonds of friendship and common humanity, of collaboration towards a new vision of peace, human rights and common security. We will still be part of the wider European family of nations through the Council of Europe, for instance. If we do remain in the EU, what might be our particular British Quaker role in supporting the advocacy by QCEA, maintaining and developing our vision and our hopes for a compassionate Europe?
Equally, whether we leave or stay, there are now social and political walls throughout our land that have been both the soil from which Brexit has grown, but also a consequence of the discourse (or lack of ) around it. Can we put energy into people-to-people work in our own localities, between our constituent parts of the UK, as well as across the continent? What can we do to bring about a vision of just and compassionate society within this country, however our own countries decide to organise and relate to each other?