Peaceful, but menacing
A new movement with a barely hidden message of hate unsettles Germany
We don't need no Muslims here
CALLING themselves Pegida, or “patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the Occident”, since October they have marched through Dresden every Monday. Their numbers are growing: on December 15th 15,000 protested. Their slogans of xenophobic paranoia (“No sharia in Europe!”) seem bizarre in Saxony, where only 2% of the population is foreign and fewer than 1% are Muslim.
The marchers make no attempt to explain their demands. Convinced of a conspiracy of political correctness, they do not speak to the press. Few bear any signs of neo-Nazism. They have eschewed violence. What they share is broad anxiety about asylum-seekers (200,000 in 2014) and immigrants.
The instigator is Lutz Bachmann, owner of an ad agency who once fled to South Africa to avoid being locked up for dealing drugs. He has imitators in other cities: Bonn has a Bogida march, Würzburg a Wügida. But eastern Germany, especially Dresden, is the movement's base. Counter-demonstrations have sprung up, but their numbers in Dresden (about 5,600 this week) are dwarfed by Pegida's. Chancellor Angela Merkel accused Pegida of “agitation and defamation”; Heiko Maas, the justice minister, called it a “disgrace for Germany”.
But the CSU, a centre-right party in Bavaria that governs with Mrs Merkel, was more nuanced. Calling Pegida a disgrace amounted to “a massive denigration of peaceful protesters,” said a spokesman. The CSU had made news by saying that foreigners should be forced to speak German even “in the family”, though it later backtracked. The leader of the new anti-euro party, Alternative for Germany, Bernd Lucke, said he considered Pegida's demands “legitimate”.
Germany remains a tolerant place, one reason why some 465,000 migrants arrived last year, making it the world's second most popular destination after America. But Pegida is a reminder that many, especially in eastern Germany, harbour resentments that can be exploited. “We are the people,” the marchers in Dresden shouted. It was the phrase East Germans used in 1989 in protest against their communist overlords. To outsiders, the cry now sounds chilling.