Posters with slogans like “Foreigners out!” are absent at the weekly demonstrations by the group “Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West.” Instead, the group known in Germany by its acronym PEGIDA is trying to paint a more friendly picture by drawing on the German flag, slogans like “We are the people” and Monday marches intended to recall the Monday demonstrations that preceded the fall of the East German government.
DW.de PEGIDA’s professionally designed banners are vague: “For the preservation of our culture” – “Against religious fanaticism” – “Against religious wars on German soil.” The organizers distance themselves from right-wing extremism, speak of “Judeo-Christian Western culture” and differentiate between Islam and Islamism, between “war refugees” and “economic refugees,” the latter a reference to perceived “benefits shopping” by Eastern European immigrants.
And yet, it’s possible to read between the lines. For at least some participants, “Islamist” likely means Muslim, and “economic refugee” is conflated with refugees in general. They are fearful of “Islamic State” terror or new refugee homes popping up near their own residences.
The group’s approach has been successful. Though the Dresden-based organization’s first march in October drew just a few hundred, last Monday’s (01.12.2014) brought 7,500.
Other cities, meanwhile, are trying to copy the concept – with mixed results. An anti-Islam demonstration in Chemnitz attracted about 400 people in late November, but an equal number of far left counter-demonstrators also turned up. In Kassel last Monday, 80 demonstrators were stopped in their tracks by 500 pro-Muslim and far left counter-demonstrators. Kassel now has its own “KAGIDA” Facebook page, as do Bonn, Darmstadt and numerous other cities. While it’s easy to set up a Facebook page, it’s not yet clear whether the Dresden concept can be mobilized in other cities.
Dresden’s case is unique: No known neo-nazi bodies preceded PEGIDA. Its organizers were previously of no political import, says Danilo Starosta of Saxony’s cultural affairs office, which monitors the right-wing scene in Dresden. He says those they mobilized were simply in the immediate vicinity.
“These are small business owners and people living hand-to-mouth – the little man and the little woman, if you will,” he told DW. Only in the weeks following the initial demonstrations, he says, did PEGIDA draw the better-organized right wingers.
“They’ve been fought back successfully,” Zick told DW. “Now, a populist, right-wing movement has formed that’s far more difficult to protest against, since they’re less vulnerable to extremist labels. Though a counter-demonstration last Monday succeeded in stopping Dresden’s PEGIDA demonstration, counter-demonstrators were the minority, numbering just a thousand.”
The PEGIDA movement, according to Zick, has the potential to spread nationwide, since the group’s fodder already exists: About one in four in Germany are susceptible to populist anti-Islamization ideas, he says.
h/t Vlad Tepes