2021, Council of Europe

The Work of the Council of Europe

John and Diane Murray both used to work for the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. In the May Briefing Meeting they describe the work of the Council. The response to the Briefing is given by David Blackman, who worked in the European Parliament and had many contacts with the Council of Europe. A recording is available on the Briefing Videos page.

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2019, Hungary

Christian Illiberalism in Hungary in a Historical Perspective (and) How the Fidesz Government in Hungary is Co-opting the Churches

Christian Illiberalism in Hungary in a Historical Perspective

Nora Berend


How the Fidesz Government in Hungary is Co-opting the Churches

Alexander Faludy

Discussion notes follow

(Summary of both presentations compiled by Philip Walters – 9 May 2019)

Christian Illiberalism in Hungary in a Historical Perspective

Nora Berend

A recently-established government-controlled research institute in Hungary has the Orwellian title Veritas. Its remit is to rewrite the history of Hungary from a national perspective. Its director has stated that the deportation of Jews from Hungary to Nazi-occupied territory in 1941 was not motivated by antisemitism but was a police action to remove illegal immigrants. A new museum called Sorsok Háza (House of Fates) was built to show that Hungarians tried to save the Jews during the war; because of significant protests, its opening has been delayed. A crucial issue being debated in Hungary is the place of the Holocaust in Hungarian history. One main theme of the official narrative is that Jews were not persecuted until Hungary was occupied by the Nazis in 1944.

The government designated 2014 as the commemorative year of the Holocaust. Many events were criticised and boycotted by the main Jewish umbrella organisation Mazsihisz. Government spokesmen distinguished between ‘Hungarian patriots’ and ‘Jewish co-citizens’. While claiming that the Holocaust was the work of the Nazis from Germany, the current Hungarian government is at the same time implicitly scapegoating the Jews as causing the problems: an official statement accused those boycotting the commemoration of undermining centuries of Jewish-Hungarian cooperation in the Carpathian basin. Another statement argued that Hungarians resisted communism because it was based on lies, and also that those now claiming that the present government was falsifying history were lying; thus the statement implicitly bolstered the persistent idea in Hungary that communism was created and implemented by the Jews.

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2019, Israel

How can we talk about the State of Israel and its Policies without being accused of Antisemitism?

How can we talk about the State of Israel and its Policies without being accused of Antisemitism?

Edie Friedman
17 January 2019


I would like to approach this difficult and vexed subject by dividing the talk into three sections:

  • Some introductory remarks about being Jewish which affect Jewish attitudes towards Israel and other wider social issues
  • What to avoid when talking about Israel and Jewish people
  • Some suggestions to help with the debate.

This presentation is not about the Israel-Palestine conflict but about how to talk about it.

But first a word about JCORE, the organisation I work for. JCORE provides a Jewish voice on race and asylum issues. We work in three main areas: Race Equality Education, Refugee and Asylum (both campaigning and practical support) and Black-Asian-Jewish Dialogue.

I will be presenting a Jewish perspective rather than the Jewish perspective. I use the term ‘Jewish’ to include both those who subscribe to the Jewish religion (Judaism) and those who see themselves as Jewish in terms of their ethnicity and their identification with the Jewish people. Many Jews, though by no means all, identify with both the religion and the ethnicity, but secularism is a very significant tendency within the Jewish world.

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2019, Populism

Populism: What does it mean for Europe, our Societies and our Minds?

Populism: What does it mean for Europe, our Societies and our Minds?

Heather Grabbe

What is populism?

According to the political theorist Margaret Canovan,

if the notion of populism did not exist, no social scientist would deliberately invent it; the term is far too ambiguous for that. (Canovan, 1981)

Nevertheless, a number of features have been identified and definitions attempted. The Dutch political scientist Cas Mudde writes:

Populism considers society to be ultimately separated into two homogeneous and antagonistic groups – the “pure people” versus the “corrupt elite”, and which argues that politics should be an expression of the volonté générale (general will) of the people. (Mudde,2007)

Populism has been seen as a political phenomenon neither good nor bad in itself, although at the same time it has been termed “the dark side of democracy”. It reflects a feeling that the elite is not working in the interests of the population. However, the “general will” of the people is a sparse definition, telling one nothing about how structures of government are to function.

Populism typically has several features. These include: scapegoating (for example of immigrants); nostalgia (every US politician has said “Let’s make America great”; Trump differs in that he says “Let’s make America great again”); the need to restructure politics. However, populism is a very thin ideology; it can be right-wing or left-wing; mainly it is a kind of drama. How can we recognise a populist drama? It involves three fingers of blame.

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Whither (Whether) Brexit? – a Compilation

Whither (Whether) Brexit?


Faith in Europe, the Referendum and the Implications of Brexit
Philip Walters

In or Out?

Jim Memory (Gloucester Cathedral, 20 June 2016)

Whither Brexit? The Prospects for Britain and Europe

(Briefing Meeting, 18 January 2018)

John Arnold – Churches & Brexit
Win Burton – ‘Soul for Europe’
Richard Seebohm – Launchpad not burden
David Blackman – Christian Values and the EU
Keith Best – The Value of the EU
Keith Archer – Thoughts about Brexit
Keith Jenkins – Reflecting on Brexit
Brendan Donnelly – Comments and Conclusions

Editorial: Faith in Europe involvement since 2014

In the autumn of 2014 the Committee of Faith in Europe (FiE) started discussing what strategy FiE should adopt to raise awareness among faith communities and the public more generally about the issues involved in the debate on the future of the United Kingdom in the European Union. Our discussions became more focused after David Cameron was reelected as Prime Minister in May 2015 and began renegotiating the terms of the UK’s EU membership.

After the date of the Referendum was announced in February 2016, FiE had conversations with the European Movement (EM), and we decided that we would cooperate with the project ‘Communities for Europe’ which was being coordinated by Anuja Prashar of the EM. The aim of the project was to encourage and coordinate Referendum-related meetings in all parts of the UK organised by local communities (ethnic, women’s, LGBT, and also faith) and to provide resources and speakers for them. Several members of FiE were at the launch of this project on 16 March 2016. John Arnold, one of the Vice-Presidents of Faith in Europe, was one of the keynote speakers, in his personal capacity, and his contribution has been widely appreciated. We are publishing it in this issue of Faith in Europe Briefings, in the form in which John presented it at our latest Briefing Meeting in January 2018.

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The Heritage of the Reformation – Martin Bucer

The Heritage of the Reformation

Martin Bucer

John Arnold
19 October 2017

The Reformation did not come at the Catholic Church from outside. On the contrary, all the early Reformers except Calvin were Catholic priests and humanists, devoted to the church to which they had dedicated their lives. Since ordination they had said Mass regularly in Latin and fulfilled all the obligations of their high calling. I would like to say something today about the one who in his own day had the widest European influence, from Strasbourg to Stockholm and even as far as Cambridge, Martin Bucer, Fellow of St John’s College and Regius Professor of Divinity. When he died in 1551, he was buried with honour in Great St Mary’s Church; but in 1556 his body was exhumed and burnt, together with his writings, in the marketplace. Devoted students gathered up handfuls of dust and ashes; and then, in 1560, his remains were reinterred just inside the chancel on the right hand side, with the noble and unique inscription ‘secundo funere honorante‘ (honouring with a second funeral). It is worth a visit, even a pilgrimage; and I would like to give him a five-fold salute.

First, Bucer was the best educated of the Reformers. As a boy at a Latin grammar school in Alsace, he imbibed the Christian humanism of Erasmus; he became a teenage Dominican, not from vocation to the religious life but for a good grounding in the broad and deep natural theology of Aquinas; and he retained the best of what he had gained from both these places of learning and took it with him to university in Heidelberg and into the rest of his ministry and his ceaseless pursuit of agreement and reconciliation.

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The Heritage of the Reformation – The Continuing Hope of the Reformation

The Heritage of the Reformation

The Continuing Hope of the Reformation

Keith Clements
19 October 2017

‘The depth of every present is its power to transform the past into a future.’ So declared one of the most eminent Protestant theologians of the twentieth century, Paul Tillich (1951, p.214). By the same token, we may say, the shallowness of any present is its inability to see anything in the past but itself, or reflections of its contemporary situation. So it is with the Reformation, and the way it is being talked about in some quarters today: a melee of competing fundamentalisms (an anachronistic term), forerunners of the Taliban. No matter that Luther taught people to sing more widely than ever before, and in music alone prompted one of the greatest cultural enrichments that Europe has ever known. Or that Calvin, arch-demon in the canon of secular liberalism, infamously burner of a heretic, was in fact a humanist of his time. Calvin believed strongly in education of the populace including – unlike the Taliban – education for women. Or, there are those who welcome the English Reformation as the prototype of Brexit. No matter that the English Reformation was part of a Europe-wide movement and greatly dependent on it; I once heard Professor Geoffrey Dickens saying there was evidence that within days of their appearance in Wittenberg, Luther’s 95 theses were being discussed by his Augustinian confrères here in Cambridge. William Tyndale’s English translation of the New Testament was indeed a cornerstone of the English Reformation. But it is highly likely that during his labours he went to see Luther at Wittenberg, and in the end his first edition could not be printed in England but only in Worms and then smuggled into London. Or let us think of that rolling seminar of reformational thinking that linked Basel, Strasbourg, Geneva and Frankfurt with Cambridge and Oxford, of which Martin Bucer – of whom John Arnold is reminding us today – was but one embodiment.

In a climate where theology and faith are public embarrassments, all such thinking fails to see what was central to the Reformation: an issue of faith and theology, which our contemporary secularist historiography (not to speak of journalism) is unable to take seriously. At heart was the question: how can we be saved? If that is not a question acceptable to today’s mind, perhaps Luther’s related question is nearer: how can we be righteous? Our contemporary culture is filled with discussion and debate on this.

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The Heritage of the Reformation – What Remains of the Reformation Today?

The Heritage of the Reformation

What Remains of the Reformation Today

John Morrill
19 October 2017

The Michaelhouse Centre, attached to Great St Mary’s Church, is a movingly appropriate place to discuss this subject. John Fisher was Master of Michaelhouse when it was a college (this was from 1497 to 1505); the Dutch humanist Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536) preached here; the great reformer Martin Bucer, an exile from Strasbourg and Professor in the University of Cambridge in the reign of Edward VI, is buried in Great St Mary’s next door. It is germane to our theme that under Mary I his coffin was dug up and his remains and his books burned in the market square, also adjacent to Michaelhouse. Yet Bucer is also important because Bucer was an irenic figure: from the start of the Reformation he pleaded with Protestant groups to stop quarrelling about details. Both the need for tolerance (not the same as toleration) and the legacies of distrust are the themes of this address. From the Roman Catholic perspective, of great importance is the Second Vatican Council decree on ecumenism, Unitatis redintegratio. Section 1 begins with the statement that

The restoration of unity among all Christians is one of the principal concerns of the Second Vatican Council.

Section 3 states that

…some and even very many of the significant elements and endowments which together go to build up and give life to the Church itself, can exist outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church: the written word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, and visible elements too. All of these, which come from Christ and lead back to Christ, belong by right to the one Church of Christ. The brethren divided from us also use many liturgical actions of the Christian religion. These most certainly can truly engender a life of grace in ways that vary according to the condition of each Church or Community. These liturgical actions must be regarded as capable of giving access to the community of salvation.

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Muslim writers in Germany Today

Muslim writers in Germany Today

Margaret Littler
20 July 2017

Islam in Germany

On 3 October 2010 the then President of the Federal Republic of Germany, Christian Wulff, gave a speech in Bremen as part of nationwide festivities marking 20 years since German unification in October 1990. His speech included the following statement:

First and foremost, we need to adopt a clear stance: an understanding that for Germany, belonging is not restricted to a passport, a family history, or a religion…Christianity doubtless belongs in Germany. Judaism doubtless belongs in Germany. That is our Judeo-Christian history. But by now, Islam also belongs in Germany.

Almost 50 years after the first Turkish ‘guest workers’ arrived in West Germany (1961) to fuel the post-war economic miracle, this was still a highly controversial statement.[1] In the same year German economist and politician Thilo Sarrazin published a polemical bestseller, Deutschland schafft sich ab (Germany is Doing Away with Itself), warning of the consequences of Muslim immigration, and predicting that if current rates of immigration continued Germans would eventually become a minority in their own country, the churches would become museums and German culture would be lost for ever. But, as many have pointed out, Sarrazin’s fantasy of a culturally homogeneous German nation is blind to centuries of German engagement with Islam, from the eighteenth-century philosopher Immanuel Kant to the Romantics, from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe to the German philologists and linguists who opened up Oriental languages and cultures to the world (?enocak 2011, pp.32-33).

[1] For some detail on the debate see: http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/ the-world-from-berlin-integration-is-the-second german- unification-a-721119.html.

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Germany, Brexit and the Future of the European Union

Germany, Brexit and the Future of the European Union

Charles Lees & Philip Walters
20 July 2017

Politics and Society in Germany

The Federal Republic of Germany comprises the eleven states of the former West Germany and the five states of the former East Germany. Its political system has two important features: parliamentary federalism and mixed-member proportional representation (MMP). A federal parliamentary republic is a federation of states with a government that is more or less dependent on the confidence of parliaments at both the national and subnational levels. MMP is a mixed electoral system in which voters have two votes: one to decide the representative for their single-seat constituency, and one for a political party’s ‘list’ of candidates. Seats in the legislature are filled firstly by the successful constituency candidates, and secondly by party candidates on the basis of the percentage of nationwide votes that each party receives. MMP differs from parallel voting in that the nationwide seats are allocated to political parties in a compensatory manner in order to achieve proportional election results. Under MMP, two parties that each receive 25% of the votes may both end up with 25% of the seats, even if one party wins more constituencies than the other.

The political system that developed in Germany after the Second World War was a three-party central-tending triangular dynamic involving the CDU/CSU, the SPD and the FDP, which were been more or less equal in political influence if not seats. This political system was somewhat upset after 1983 when the Greens became significant, and in 1990 with the emergence of the left-leaning PDS (the direct successor to the East German SED and later to become the Left Party) after the reincorporation of the GDR. Over the last 20 years Germany has become much more of a cosmopolitan and multicultural society. The 2011 census gave the population of Germany as 80.2 million. About 74 million (92.3%) were German citizens, of whom 9.9 million (12.3%) were of immigrant background. About 6 million (7.7%) were foreign nationals. The figures for religious belief were: none 33.5%; Roman Catholic 29.5%; Protestant 27.9%; Muslim 5%; other Christian 3.3%; other religion 0.8%. Social cleavages persist to differing degrees in Germany along ethnic, onfessional, class and geographical lines, accompanied by a cultural divide between citizens with libertarian or authoritarian value orientations. Nevertheless the German political culture is still basically consensual, as opposed to the UK’s adversarial political culture. A stable party system, a relatively consensual parliamentary culture, coalition government and multi-level governance, in the context of a social market economy, make up what has been called Germany’s ‘efficient secret’ (Smith 1994).

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