Promoting social harmony in Europe

10 February 2004

STRASBOURG, France — An exhibition on social harmony at the main building of the European Parliament was officially inaugurated at a reception here on 10 February.

Titled "The Baha'i International Community: Promoting Unity in Diversity throughout Europe for over a Century," the display will grace the first floor gallery of the Winston Churchill Building until 12 February 2004.

More than 150 people -- including some 30 members of the Parliament -- attended the reception, which featured an address by Baroness Sarah Ludford, a member of the European Parliament from the United Kingdom who sponsored the exhibition.

There are well-established Baha'i communities -- headed by national-level governing councils -- in all 15 member nations of the European Union, as well as in the ten acceding nations.

"I believe this little-known religion of global reach is of interest to people like ourselves who work in an international context in this expanding and enlarging European Parliament," said Baroness Ludford.

She said that Baha'u'llah, the founder of the Baha'i Faith, "warned of the dangers of unconstrained nationalism and called for a system of global governance, which has led Baha'is to be particular supporters of the United Nations."

"He would have applauded the success of the European Union in ensuring collective security and protecting human rights," said Baroness Ludford, who is not a Baha'i.

The exhibition was created by the Baha'i International Community to welcome the 10 new states that will join the European Union on 1 May 2004.

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Baroness Ludford (center) with Ronald Mayer, the ambassador of Luxembourg to the Council of Europe and the European Parliament (left) and Ulrich Bohner, chief executive of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe (right). Photo by European Parliament.

It specifically showcases the contributions that Baha'i communities in Europe have made towards promoting unity among diverse peoples.

Also addressing the reception was Dr. Laszlo Farkas, a representative of the national governing council of the Baha'is of Hungary, which is one of the 10 new countries joining the EU.

"For us, the unification of different cultures and peoples is a natural process," said Dr. Farkas. "Baha'is both in Europe and in the whole world are working for this unified human family."

Other dignitaries at the reception included several judges from the European Court of Human Rights, representatives of the Council of Europe, members of the European Commission, and a number of ambassadors and diplomats. As well, a number of prominent personalities from the Strasbourg region were present.

Composed of 17 panels, the display tells the story, through words and photographs, of how the Baha'i communities of Europe have sought to promote peace, cross-cultural integration, religious tolerance, and business ethics through a variety of concrete projects and actions.

"The idea of social harmony, which this exhibition seeks to promote, is of critical importance as the European Union becomes larger," said Lucien Crevel, chairman of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of France, one of the 37 national Baha'i governing councils in Europe.

"Over the years, the Baha'i communities of Europe have sought to engender and encourage social harmony and progress, through a wide range of activities. It is this experience, which the exhibition seeks to highlight, that we hope will be helpful to the Parliament, and its members," said Mr. Crevel.

The exhibition, for example, takes note of projects like The Institute for Social Cohesion, which was established in 2001 by the Baha'i community of the United Kingdom to promote cross-cultural harmony.

It also highlights the Baha'i International Community's innovative collaboration with the Stability Pact for Eastern Europe (formerly known as the Royaumont Process) to strengthen stability and interethnic communication in Southeastern Europe.

And it discusses projects in some of the new member-states, such as the Mesed (Story-telling Mothers) of Hungary, which empowers women to work for greater social harmony.

"Baha'is are convinced of the necessity of international collaboration and support the principles underlying the European Union," said Christine Samandari, representative of the Baha'i International Community, noting that the Baha'i Faith was first established in Europe in 1898.

Baha'is reside in more than 6,000 localities throughout Europe, and they have established some 976 locally elected governing councils, which administer their communities at the local level. As noted, they have national governing councils in 37 European countries.