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Stop Pegida

7 February 2015

The British press have, in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, woken up to the growing Islamophobic movement in Germany. Peter Main investigates

The German Pegida movement is probably the most organised expression of Islamophobia in Europe. The name itself comes from the initials of its name in German, Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West, and that alone sums up the distorted ideas upon which it is based. Europeans have no single country to be patriotic about, and the idea that “the West” is about to be subject to Islam is about as bizarre as it is possible to imagine.

What it really means, of course, is “White people against immigrants”.

The movement began as a Facebook page, underlining that it is not only progressive forces that can make use of social media. It was established by Lutz Bachmann in Dresden, in what was East Germany. The location is significant; like many other regions in the East, Dresden has remained relatively poorer than the West. As a result, it is not an area with a large immigrant population, but it certainly has its share of deprivation, which is the material basis for widespread discontent.

Pegida has been able to harness that, in particular, by playing on themes that were developed in the period before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Is first public demonstration only attracted a couple of hundred but its anti-establishment slogan, “We are the People”, was the motto of 1989, and its Monday evening marches echoed those that began in Leipzig that year and rapidly spread to all the cities of the German Democratic Republic.

A similar development is clearly Pegida’s aim. Attempts have been made to hold marches in many other cities, Berlin, Cologne, Leipzig, for example, but these have not reached anything approaching those in Dresden where on 12 January some 25,000 marched.

Far right

The importance of Pegida is not to be found in its far-fetched claims of “Islamisation” but in its creation of at least the beginnings of a right wing mass movement, fuelled by the undoubted grievances of hundreds of thousands who suffer the consequences of austerity policies even in the richest country in the EU. It is a movement within which the organised forces of the extreme right can grow. That means not only the Alliance for Germany, comparable to Ukip, but also the neo-Nazis of the National Democratic Party and the street fighters of “The Fist of the East”.

The killing of Khaled Idris Bahray, a young Eritrean refugee in Nuremberg, on the night of the last Pegida march in that city is a chilling reminder of the forces that are encouraged in the wake of such mobilisations; two days before, a swastika was painted on his front door.

Much has been made of Angela Merkel’s explicit attack on the movement in her New Year speech, in which she accused its leaders of being motivated by hate. This is Germany’s official line, emphasising a degree of sympathy for the plight of the marchers, but urging them not to be duped by racists and fascists. In reality, it is a concession to the racists and will only encourage them to denounce the politicians, who pretend to care for the “poor Germans” but whose policies create the problem in the first place.

The only effective response to the rise of the right is to combine direct action to prevent the fascist elements from establishing themselves and to protect vulnerable communities with mobilisations of the main working class organisations against the impoverishing policies of the government and the bosses.

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