GERMANY

Fears over growing ‘hatred’ of Islam in Germany

More than 17,000 people attended the PEGIDA demonstration in Dresden on December 22
More than 17,000 people attended the PEGIDA demonstration in Dresden on December 22 Hendrik Schmidt, DPA/AFP

Thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets of Germany in recent weeks to protest the “Islamisation of the West”, shocking the country and drawing condemnation from Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Advertising

Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West (PEGIDA) started weekly protests in the eastern city of Dresden in October, and the movement has been growing steadily ever since with regular Monday demonstrations.

On December 22, 17,500 took to the streets of Dresden chanting “We are the people”, a slogan borrowed from 1989 protests in the same city that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Worryingly for Germany’s leaders, a Forsa opinion for “Stern” magazine last week revealed that one in eight Germans would join an anti-Muslim march if PEGIDA organised one in their home town.

In an unusually strong-worded New Year’s day address, Merkel said: “Today many people are again shouting on Mondays: 'We are the people'. But in fact they mean: You do not belong - because of the colour of your skin or your religion.”

"So I say to everyone who goes to such demonstrations: Do not follow those who are appealing to you! Because too often there is prejudice, coldness, even hatred, in their hearts."

Pensioners ‘cannot afford Christmas cake’

PEGIDA is supported by a motley array of extreme right and neo-Nazi groups, football hooligans and notably the anti-euro (although not anti-EU) Alternative for Germany (AfD) movement.

PEDIGA is led by Lutz Bachmann, a 41-year-old photographer and graphic designer who said in October he was appalled to see TV reports of Kurds and Muslim groups fighting on the streets of Hamburg.

Bachmann used his network of far-right contacts to organise anti-Islam protests in response. The first of these took place in Dresden on October 20, a relatively small demonstration that attracted around 500 protesters.

Dresden is an odd location for the first protest, as the city itself has a rather small immigrant and refugee population. Just 2.5 percent of the 530,000 residents are foreign.

Bachmann has taken his new platform to vocally voice his opposition to foreigners in Germany, stating that the burden on the welfare state is leaving pensioners “unable to afford a slice of Christmas cake”.

Bachmann’s opponents have been keen to highlight his chequered past – PEGIDA’s leader has been imprisoned on a number of occasions for burglary, theft, and dealing cocaine.

But he dismisses his criminal record as a series of “minor offences”

And national immigration figures have made an impression on this eastern city which is no stranger to far-right politics since reunification in the early 1990s.

OECD figures published in December demonstrate that Germany received 400,000 immigrants in 2012, a figure that makes Germany Europe’s biggest immigrant destination.

All this feeds into the hands of PEGIDA, and the protest movement has spread rapidly to other German cities.

Germany reacts to the reactionaries

But many in Germany are staging their own protests against this resurgence of far-right politics.

On December 22, while thousands demonstrated under the PEGIDA flag in Dresden, thousands more took to the streets of other German cities – including 12,000 in Munich – against racism and Islamophobia.

And a demonstration scheduled for Monday January 5 will see one of Germany’s most famous landmarks, Cologne Cathedral, plunged into darkness in protest at a planned PEGIDA march through the city due to end with a rally next to the cathedral.

Cathedral Dean Norbert Feldhoff told Reuters: “PEGIDA is made up of an astonishingly broad mix of people, ranging from those in the middle of society to racists and the extreme right-wing.

“By switching off the floodlighting we want to make those on the march stop and think. It is a challenge: consider who you are marching alongside.”

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning