Do not think the peace of the world an ideal impossible to attain! Nothing is impossible to the Divine Benevolence of God. If you desire with all your heart, friendship with every race on earth, your thought, spiritual and positive, will spread; it will become the desire of others, growing stronger and stronger, until it reaches the minds of all men. Do not despair! Work steadily. Sincerity and love will conquer hate. How many seemingly impossible events are coming to pass in these days! `Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í writings
In 1984 my husband and I decided to drive to Turkey from the UK – I wanted to see the Blue Mosque. We also thought it would be a chance to see something of Eastern Europe, which was difficult to enter for western tourists.
We planned to visit Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and, we hoped, Czechoslovakia and Albania. I was particularly interested to go to Hungary, as my father’s family came from there. We were asked to visit the one or two Bahá’ís who lived in each of these countries, cautiously talk about the Bahá’í Faith to people we met and say some prayers in those countries where there were no Bahá’ís and where it was impossible to talk about the Bahá’í Faith.
It was difficult to get visas, however. Visas were not generally given to `independent travellers’, that is, people not travelling with a recognized group and not entering the country via an airport. Eventually we were able to receive visas for everywhere except Albania (absolutely impossible) and Czechoslovakia (virtually impossible).
We had a number of unexpected adventures on that trip: we ran out of money, we could not buy petrol in Romania, we had great difficulty getting a hotel room in Bucharest, we were not allowed to buy food or get water in Bulgaria, we were the centre of (unwelcome) attention in our blue, right-hand drive Honda Civic automatic in Edirne. And we could not enter Czechoslovakia.
We got very close. We were in Vienna, just over the border. We even went to the border to see if they would let us in. We had thought to drive through Bratislava and then enter Hungary from Czechoslovakia. But we were turned back. Impossible for us without a visa to enter the country. Impossible to get a visa. We had to take another route into Hungary.
Last night I flew into Bratislava from Stansted airport on a very cheap and very packed Ryanair flight. No visa required (no ticket, either, just a boarding pass printed out on my computer). Czechoslovakia is no more – Bratislava is the capital of the independent Slovak Republic — Slovakia. Slovakia is, like its northern neighbour the Czech Republic, part of the EU now. Today, 17 November, they are celebrating the 18th anniversary of the peaceful student demonstration that launched the Velvet Revolution which culminated in the stepping down of the communist government less than a month later. In 1984 that seemed an impossibility.
At about the same time EBBF was founded. Taking its inspiration from the Bahá’í teachings, EBBF (European Bahá’í Business Forum) is a non-profit professional association of women and men practising and promoting ethical and moral values in business and spirituality in the workplace. In 1984, putting the words `business’, `ethics’, `moral’, `values’, `spirituality’, `women’ and `men’ in the same sentence seemed an impossibility.
This weekend, the EBBF governing board — elected by a membership living in over 60 countries — is meeting in the beautiful snow-covered countryside around Bratislava. Tonight we dined with some of the wonderful local people, including members of the Bratislava local assembly, the governing body of the Bahá’í community here.
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