A European union
Summer gathering’s theme foretold peace prize
When Mennonites from across Europe gathered May 17-20 in Switzerland for the Mennonite European Regional Conference, there was little visible evidence the event foreshadowed a far glitzier affair up north in Oslo, Norway.
On Oct. 12, the Nobel Committee announced the European Union as recipient of the organization’s esteemed peace prize. The committee heralded the EU “for bringing peace to a continent that tore itself apart in two world wars.”
To be sure, the announcement encountered an abundance of derision from across a European political spectrum that makes the American scene look positively uniform.
Multiple EU bureaucrats immediately offered to accept the award and endure the spotlight, reinforcing the endless bickering in Brussels and Strasbourg. Europe can’t even decide on one place to host its union.
Eurozone troubles — highlighted by economic power Germany throwing its weight around as poor Greece, Spain and Ireland beg France to intervene — inspire less-than-subtle parallels to geopolitical maneuvering of the 20th century’s first half.
Extremism and nationalism are on the rise, Nobel panel chair Thorbjorn Jagland told the New York Times. “There is a real danger that Europe will start disintegrating,” he said. “Therefore, we should focus again on the fundamental aims of the organization.”
The comment echoed President Obama’s 2009 peace prize and its symbolism of aspiration rather than achievement — a hopeful carrot dangled in the direction of future good deeds.
Though representing far fewer countries, European Mennonites have their own union. They and their recent gathering’s theme, “Hands Reaching Across Borders,” go beyond the European governments’ achievement of managing not to blow each other up as of late.
Swiss Mennonites eschew their country’s fierce tradition of neutrality and independence, mingling regularly with downhill Mennonites and hosting the continent’s seminary.
The Germans and French cluster peacefully on a historically contested border. The Dutch leave wartime animosity with Germany in the past, buried but not forgotten. Younger Mennonites, who have known only cellphones, discount airlines and high-speed trains, live on a smaller and more intimate continent.
While the EU is defined by money — its first machinations came in 1951 as the free-trade European Coal and Steel Community — the Mennonite Union has focused on nurturing a community of believers seeking to defy the forces of division, both internal and external. Dozens of countries and dozens of languages could easily compartmentalize Anabaptism. English-speaking Americans need no assistance there.
But with Babel-like lingual efforts, grace and an emphasis on long-range planning, European Mennonites manage to occasionally get together and talk to each other. That deserves a prize.
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