These weekly PEGIDA rallies continue to grow despite calls from the German government to stay home. 40,000 angry Germans take to the streets in growing backlash after Charlie Hebdo massacre.
UK Daily Mail (h/t AJ) Snug in her bright woolly hat and fur-lined pink boots, the three-year-old girl was perched on her father’s shoulders last night, waving a German flag. Her older brother, aged six, stood proudly beside them.
They had no idea why so many people were holding black placards bearing white crosses and strange French names, and slogans such as: ‘Yesterday Paris, tomorrow Berlin!’ Nor why they had to be silent for a full minute as a mark of respect for innocent people who had died.
Yet their father, a computer game representative who would only give his first name – Jens – was determined his children should march with him as the great populist backlash against radical Islam shifted from Paris to the eastern-most fringes of Europe.
‘I brought them to show that you don’t have to be a racist to be worried about the dangers of immigration and religious fanatics,’ he told me, as the throngs swelled around him. ‘The politicians and the Press say the organisers of this march, and everyone who attends it, are bigots, but it isn’t true. I am an ordinary family man, and I have many Muslim friends. But enough is enough.’
In this city on the banks of the Elbe, people had been staging protests against the perceived dangers of mass immigration, particularly from Muslim countries, long before last week’s terrorist atrocities in France. Rallied by a grassroots organisation called Pegida – Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West – they have been marching here, in ever greater numbers, every Monday since last October.
Likened to both Ukip and the right-wing Tea Party in America, they have a 19-point manifesto with a raft of grievances. For example, they are opposed to Germany’s membership of the EU, want a return to the Deutschemark, and believe mainstream politicians ignore them.
But their most pressing complaint is that their traditional Teutonic values and culture are being swept away on the biggest tide of immigration since the Sixties, when Turks arrived in their tens of thousands to rebuild post-war Germany.
Still petrified by the merest hint of nationalist sentiment 70 years after the fall of the Third Reich, most politicians and media outlets have sought to besmirch and ridicule Pegida at every turn, depicting them as neo-Nazi thugs and xenophobes.
The liberal intelligentsia and even church leaders have followed suit, staging counter-demonstrations and even turning off the lights of major landmarks such as Cologne Cathedral and the Brandenburg Gate to register their opposition to the movement.