How has this “anti-Islamisation” movement managed to mobilise huge crowds in less than three months?by Catrin Nye / January 23, 2015 / Leave a comment
The noisiest bit of the Pegida march is the brief moment, at a Dresden tram intersection, at which demonstrators meet their opposition, something the German police have blocked along most of the route. Here, an argument is raging between Dresden’s young and old. I’m in the city to make a documentary for BBC Radio 4, but members of the counter-protest tell me they’re embarrassed that foreign media are here, that it’s “shameful that Nazis” are back on the streets of Germany.
Pegida was formed last October by Lutz Bachmann, the 41-year-old former cook, who has just stepped down as leader after a picture of him posing as Adolf Hitler went viral. First, a Facebook page was set up, then Bachmann and his supporters started marching in Dresden with just a few hundred people. Within three months, 25,000 people were flocking to the Pegida banner.
Bachmann insists the movement is not against Islam itself but the “Islamisation of Germany and radical Islam—I have many Muslim friends,” he tells me when I interview him prior to his resignation. “A lot of people have fears about Islamisation”, says Bachmann, “But here in Saxony (the state) or especially in Dresden, we don’t have these problems yet. But…we see what happens in France, in Belgium, in the Netherlands, and we don’t want to wait until this happens here.”
Over the last decade, many European countries have seen a rise in anti-Muslim populism, but Germany seemed somewhat inoculated—a combination perhaps of history and economics. But that’s not the case any more. The Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris have clearly galvanised the movement; the march after the killings was the biggest yet with banners reading “Yesterday Paris, tomorrow Berlin.” While their most recent protest in Leipzig drew a crowd of around 15,000.
But, it’s more than just a reaction to the tragic events in France that is fuelling the growth of Pegida. At the march I attended, I heard people complaining about, in quick succession—immigration, the euro, the Greek bailout, terrorism, the biased media and Syrians. And of course the “Islamisation” of Germany; though it’s often…