A demonstration organised by a new right-wing movement in Germany against the “Islamisation” of Europe on January 12 drew 25,000 people in Dresden ― the largest such march yet.
However, anti-racist counter-rallies drew 100,000 people across Germany the same night, and 35,000 in Dresden just two-days earlier to reject the racists.
Since October last year, Germany has become increasingly polarised by weekly marches against “Islamicisation by the new right-wing movement Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident (PEGIDA).
Its first march attracted only 300 supporters, but PEGIDA has held rallies in Dresden every Monday since. Numbers swelled to 18,000 on January 5. On January 12, in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in France, they reached a record 25,000.
PEGIDA was founded in October after an anti-Islam march in Dresden organised by 41-year-old Lutz Bachmann via Facebook. Bachmann refuses to speak to the media, communicating only through his Facebook page.
As well as attracting a variety of conservative and Islamophobic elements of German society, PEGIDA operates as an umbrella for far right groups, including the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD).
PEGIDA claims it is neither racist nor right wing, but Ralf Jaeger, SPD interior minister for North Rhine-Westphalia, has dubbed the protesters “neo-Nazis in pinstripes”. The protests are widely viewed as thinly-concealed expressions of blatant xenophobia.
PEGIDA has banned neo-Nazi symbols and slogans from its rallies, and rejected any open association with neo-Nazi groups, but it has received glowing praise from German fascist groups. Leading members of the NPD are often seen at PEGIDA rallies.
The banners and speeches at PEGIDA rallies also undermine their claims to moderation. As well as “We are the People”, many are openly xenophobic. Protesters carry banners reading “Courage to be German”, “Freedom for Christians”, “Keep Germany for the Germans” and “Potatoes rather than doner kebabs”.
Key among PEGIDA's demands is an immediate halt to immigration into Europe. Its list of causes includes protecting Germany’s “Judeo-Christian values” from “Islamisation”, and stopping “criminal immigrants”, “religious fanaticism”, “political correctness” and “gender mainstreaming”.
Some protesters also echo the conspiracy theory that “Muslims are plotting to infect our food chain with their excrement”. Many claim that Muslim migration will inevitably lead to terrorist acts in Germany like those in France.
In fact, Bachmann has already tried to take advantage of the tragedy in Paris. At Monday's march, he said the attacks “justify” the existence of PEGIDA, and its anti-immigration and anti-Muslim demands.
PEGIDA clones have sprung up across Germany ― LEGIDA in Leipzig, BOGIDA in Bonn, and BÄRGIDA in Berlin, for example. They have also begun to appear elsewhere in Spain, Austria, Switzerland and Sweden.
The size of PEGIDA marches outside Dresden have remained small ― usually only in the hundreds ― and the newer groups have so far failed to take serious root. Rather, the Monday marches have turned Dresden into a Mecca for Germany’s Islamophobes, who have taken to travelling from across the country to join in.
Meanwhile, colourful counter-protests have also grown across Germany, vastly outnumbering the efforts of anti-Islam protesters. Placards and banners at such events condemn racism and bigotry, welcome refugees and celebrate multiculturalism.
On January 10, more than 35,000 anti-PEGIDA protesters marched in Dresden. On January 12, anti-PEGIDA rallies drew 30,000 in Leipzig, 20,000 in Munich and 19,000 in Hanover.
PEGIDA supporters have so far been outnumbered on the streets, but their rising numbers are causing serious concern, especially among Germany’s 4 million Muslims ― mostly Turks ― who make up 5% of the population.
Disturbing evidence has emerged linking PEGIDA supporters with a brutal knife attack on migrant youths shortly after a PEGIDA protest in Dresden on December 20. A group of 50 masked and armed PEGIDA supporters stormed the city’s Galeria shopping mall and attacked a group of 30 migrant youths.
Neo-Nazi and anti-immigrant graffiti and swastikas have also been daubed on Mosques in Nuremberg and elsewhere. The Turkish-Islamic Union Sueleymaniye Mosque in Dormagen has been attacked twice in recent weeks. Its walls were painted with swastikas and slogans including “Germany belongs to the Germans”, “You will be sent to concentration camps” and “Long live Hitler”.
PEGIDA’s anti-Islam rhetoric seems to strike a chord with many Germans. A recent poll published by Stern magazine found that 13% of Germans would attend an anti-Muslim march if it were held nearby. It found 29% believed that the marches were justified because of the impact Islam was having on life in Germany.
Germany has one of the highest refugee intakes in Europe, but it is ironic that the strongest protests against the supposed “Islamisation” of Germany are taking place in Dresden.
Dresden has one of the lowest immigrant populations, with only 2.5% of the population having been born outside of Germany, and where only 0.1% is Muslim.
A January 8 Bertelsmann Stiftung study on Muslims in Germany found that in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, home to one-third of Germany’s Muslims, 46% of the population view Islam as a threat, while in Saxony ― with its miniscule Muslim population ― 70% do.
Using her New Years address to the nation, German Chancellor Angela Merkel criticised the PEGIDA rallies, urging Germans to stay away from them.
[Abridged from Duroyan Fertl's Hintadupfing blog.]