By Stephen Brown*
Some 3,000 people answered a call by Berlin’s Protestant church to march for “openness and tolerance” as a response to a demonstration in the German capital by extreme rightwing groups.
“We stand for the values of our constitution against attempts to divide our society,” Bishop Markus Dröge of the Evangelical Church in Berlin-Brandenburg-Silesian Oberlausitz (EKBO) told a rallying audience at the end of the march on 7 May.
“Human dignity is inviolable,” said Dröge. “It prohibits any denigration of people because of their culture, ethnicity, religion, language or skin colour.”
The march was organized following increasing support for rightwing groups in Germany amid arguments about the integration of hundreds of thousands mainly Muslim refugees who have arrived in the country during the past year.
People gathered at the Brandenburg Gate to the sounds of hymns played by a trombone band. They then set out on the march, walking past the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe to the closing rally in front of the church built at the beginning of the 18th century for Protestant refugees fleeing persecution in France.
It was the first time the Berlin church had organized such a march. Announcing the event, the church said it could not “look on in silence” as extreme rightwing groups marched through Berlin’s government district.
“Together with a variety of groups and democratic parties, we call on you to demonstrate peacefully for tolerance and openness in a spirit of Christian love for our neighbours,” the announcement stated.
Bishop Dröge was joined at the closing rally by political and trade union leaders, as well as representatives of Jewish and Muslim groups.
He denounced attempts to misuse the Christian faith for nationalistic ends as a “contradiction in terms.”
While it is legitimate for people to raise concerns and worries, Dröge said, “fears and anxiety can never and must never be used to exclude people, to propagate slogans that denigrate human beings and thereby undermine the values of our constitution.”
Margot Kässmann, the former head of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) and now the EKD’s ambassador for the 2017 Reformation anniversary, denounced claims by rightwing groups that they are defending western Christian civilization.
“Refugees are welcome,” she said. “This is our clear message today.”
Christians reject all attempts to trample people underfoot, Kässmann said: “Here we stand; we can do no other.”
Police put the number of rightwing demonstrators at about 1,000; a counter-demonstration under the slogan “Berlin Nazi-free” gathered about 4,500 people.
*Stephen Brown is a freelance journalist