Europe wakes up – Rally in Berlin for victims in Paris

by our Berlin correspondent Tobias Koch

Against the background of the recent cruel attacks in France, people suddenly find themselves standing next to each other united in their will to defend their free society against anybody who attempts to harm it. The pictures of a large number of heads of states from the march in Paris have already become a symbol for the idea of open societies. Even though you may very well criticize the heads of states for not actually leading the march in Paris, or for some heads of states being hypocrites, the symbol needs to be acknowledged. Could there be a much stronger picture than of heads of states despite their at times existential issues standing together hand in hand signalling what they ultimately want to achieve? After all any of the present representatives will be judged upon their symbolical statement in Paris on the 11th of January 2015.

Worldwide condolences have brought even more impressive numbers of people on the streets showing solidarity with the victims and committing to the free world they want to live in. Landmarks like London Bridge or Brandenburg Gate were illuminated in the colours of the French tricolour and have definitely sparked the impulse of creating huge and powerful historical equations. However the large number of people on the streets, illuminated buildings and digital and analogue hash-tags simply are a symbol for the fact that our presence and future also demand responsible actions and a responsible society.

These past days’ gatherings are a good example for such a responsible society. People of any background have found their way to each other – wonderfully symbolised yesterday by the people in in Berlin. It was a powerful experience to stand in the middle of 10.000 people on the Parisian Square in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin listening to the impressive recitation of verses from the 5th and 49th Surah of the Qur’an. In front of Germany’s symbol for unity and freedom Imam Abdelhak El Kouani demonstrated what German officials have repeatedly said in the past days: Islam belongs to Germany.

However it is not all as perfect as it seems. In the middle of yesterday’s gathering in Berlin there were also voices that screamed out loudly, trying to (legitimately) draw the public’s attention to certain issues. They didn’t manage to do so, as the vast majority was there for the common purpose of showing solidarity. Yet society also needs to listen to these voices, just as much as to the people who stayed at home and have their own story to tell.

The speeches given at the Parisian Square were full of great, important and symbolical words. The evening could even be considered a lesson in practical democracy. Even if small nuances in sketching out the roadmap could be conceived, the speeches’ central message was the same: We want to live together in an open, tolerant and respectful society. The more important message however was the fact that all the representatives of the manifold institutions on stage were together in their attempt to deliver their message, respectfully acknowledging their differences.

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