Anti-racist campaigners in Germany have pushed the Islamophobic Pegida movement into crisis. Five of Pegida’s leading members have now resigned, saying that they were worried the organisation was being taken over by fascists.
They plan to set up a splinter organisation called the Movement for Direct Democracy in Europe. Pegida had a meteoric rise over the past few months with demonstrations for “European” values.
Pegida first appeared as a street movement that organised demonstrations blaming refugees—and specifically Muslims—for Germany’s social and economic problems.
Pegida demonstrations began in the eastern city Dresden, drawing 25,000 to its largest rally.
They grew rapidly from an initial protest of 1000 people in October. The demonstrations were able to tap into widespread anti-Muslim sentiment that has been promoted by the major parties. The rise of an organised Islamophobic movement would be a serious threat. But outside of Dresden, anti-racist counter protests have consistently outnumbered it.
Phil Butland is a socialist who lives in Berlin. He explained that, “With the exception of Dresden and maybe Leipzig, counter-mobilisations meant that those locals who had been to the early demonstrations stopped going, leaving a Nazi core.”
Pegida was forced to cancel more and more of its protests. Its current crisis began when its first leader, Lutz Bachmann, was forced to resign. He was pictured on his Facebook page posing as Adolf Hitler. The others on the leadership committee claim they hadn’t realised his far right beliefs.
But even inside the organisation many accepted that its sister organisation in Leipzig, Legida, was a far right grouping. And Leipzig was the one place outside their stronghold in Dresden where they believe that they have real grassroots support.
Yet 30,000 anti-fascists countered their 5000-strong demonstration. Each subsequent Pegida march has been smaller, while the anti-fascist protests have grown. Recently 30,000 anti-fascists demonstrated in Dresden, while the most recent Pegida march there drew only 2000 people.
Dirk Stegemann from the anti-Nazi VVN group said, “Pegida emerged as a symptom of bad developments in wider current policies. Neither racism nor social chauvinism will disappear if Pegida and its offshoots disappear. But in any case we shouldn’t be too hasty to predict their disappearance.”
He added, “On top of this, the question remains as to whether playing down the Pegida problem has not already caused a shift to the right. The fact that right wing and racist attacks have doubled speaks for itself.”
Phil said, “It’s too early to tell if Pegida is finished as an organisation, but the ground on which it grows is still fertile.”
By Ken Olende
Socialist Worker UK