German Far Right Protests Against Islamisation, Countered By ' Refugees Are Welcome' Slogans
Participants hold German national flags during a demonstration called by anti-immigration group PEGI
NEW DELHI: On Monday over 17,000 people joined the latest in a string of demonstrations organised by Patriotic Europeans Against Islamisation of the West in Dresden, eastern Germany, indicating the rise of the far-right in the country. They were countered by at least 4500 counter demonstrators who marched through the streets raising the slogan “Dresden Nazi-free” and reiterating that there is no place for racism and xenophobia in the country that witnessed the Holocaust.
Pegida supporters however, insist that they are not Nazis, but patriots protesting against Germany’s broken immigration and asylum system. The group has grown rapidly since its emergence in October, with this latest protest on Monday seeing the biggest crowds yet, upto 17,000 from a previous high of 15,000 last week.
The verdict is clear. Far-right groups are mushrooming across Germany, gaining numbers and support. On the other side, counter-protests are also seeing a rise. The biggest anti-Pegida protest thus far was in the city of Munich, drawing 12,000 people under the banner “Make space – Refugees are welcome”.
At Monday’s protest in Dresden, as Pegida supporters gathered outside the historic Semperoper concert hall for their pre-Christmas recital, the management of the concert hall made its distaste clear. The lights were turned off and flags reading “open your eyes”, “open your hearts”, and “human dignity is sacrosanct” were flown.
Making this fight against right-wing extremism that has engulfed Germany easier is a new smartphone/tablet app.
Gegen Nazis (Against Nazis) is a free app that informs people where and when right-wing extremist demonstrations and counter-protests are taking place. “It also lets you know where there are planned protests against these demonstrations so users can show their faces in solidarity with refugees, against racism and against anti-Semitism," says Jessica Zeller, project manager at Berlin Against Nazis, as quoted by The Global Post.
The app is a collaboration between Berlin's city government and the Association for Democratic Culture in Berlin. It shows the right-wing demonstrators in brown -- the colour most associated with Nazism, whilst counter protest routes are shown in orange.
In addition to Pegida, one of the app’s main targets is the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD), Germany’s largest neo-Nazi organization that has five lawmakers in the parliament of the eastern state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.
The right-wing ideology in Germany has been given a boost by the recent wave of Islamophobia that has engulfed parts of the west. In Germany, this has been exacerbated by the huge jump in refugees from the Middle East -- up 154 percent from last year to 200,000 migrants in 2014.
Further, fear of westerners joining jihadi groups like the Islamic State has fuelled an anti-Islamic sentiment, with up to 550 Germans believed to be serving with the militant group in Iraq and Syria.
As tensions increase, so does the violence. Clashes first broke out between far-right protesters and fundamentalist Muslims known as Salafists in Cologne in October. Other incidents of clashes between anti-Islam protesters and police have been reported since.
The situation even prompted Chancellor Angela Merkel to criticize the anti-Muslim rhetoric. "Of course there's freedom to demonstrate in Germany… But it's no place for agitation and mud-slinging against people who come to us from other countries,” the German chancellor said.
Other political figures have condemned the anti-Islamic protests as well. Justice Minister Heiko Maas told the Süddeutsche Zeitung that the country was living through “a new level of escalation in agitation against migrants and refugees” adding that Pegida was “a shame for Germany.”
However, a survey published by Spiegel last week indicates that a majority -- 65 percent -- of Germans think that mainstream politicians and political parties are not listening to the concerns of ordinary people about immigration and asylum.
If Germany is to counter this wave of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism that is clearly on the rise, lawmakers will have to find a way to connect with the ordinary citizens -- many of whom have turned to right-wing parties and protests not because of ideology but because of a feeling of lack of political accountability.