Demonstrations in East Germany: Neo-Nationalistic Uprising or Rightful Rebellion? – Merlin Hoss, Germany

It is Monday, the 15th of December. 15,000 people are demonstrating in the silent rebellion in Dresden. In the next week, there are going to be 2,500 more demonstrators. In January, the numbers will grow to over 25,000. But who are they, and what does this growing mass want?

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A demonstration in Dresden (source: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Hiekel)

The organisation that coordinates these gatherings, called “evening-walks”, is called PEGIDA, which means “Patriotic Europeans against the rising of the Islam in the occident” (freely interpreted). As the name suggests, they fear that through the increasing immigration from people of the oriental countries, the German economy, culture and social politics are going to break down. They also criticise that many immigrants are criminals and disturb daily life in Germany. This is a fear which is not only common in Germany, but in occidental countries all over the world. But we as Germans often feel more responsible for other nations and peoples on earth because of our history. Because our nation committed genocide in the first and, particularly, the second world war, we, as Germans, feel more responsible for other nations and the people of our Earth. This is the reason why some would say that German immigrations laws are more liberal and social than others.

The Patriotic Europeans started their initiative on October 11th 2014, though only 350 people joined them at the first demonstration on the 20th of October. They wanted to fight against another demonstration that fought for the solidarity with Kurdish troops that fight against the Islamic State. But in short time, many like-minded people joined the protests and had new demands that many people in the world judged to be neo-nationalistic and discriminating. In the position paper of PEGIDA, it says they want a zero tolerance treatment of immigrants who are criminals, the preservation of the Christian-Jewish culture, more workers in the refugee-care and are against arm shipment. Personally, I criticise it, however, I accept these demands as they are fully democratic and do not go against human rights.

But, if it is all perfectly well, what is the issue with these people then?
In the rows of the protesters are people who want more than the demands of the position paper. If you watch interviews with protesters, you will see that many of them have major or minor social problems, and furthermore, they do not accept that refugees get more social and financial support. For example, here in Germany, many elderly people living in poverty because they do not get enough pension. Also, many participants who want more kindergartens are built, rather than refugee camps. They believe that the Germans should get more support than refugees, but the organisation PEGIDA does not want to publicly say these demands because they fear that the public thinks that they are discriminating, which is partly true.

There are also many of people who think that there are too many immigrants, especially Muslims in Germany. This is interesting because in Saxony, where the PEGIDA protests started, only 0.1% of the population is Muslim. It is also interesting that the demands of a lot of protestors need a lot of financial support, such as the building of kindergartens and the fight against seniors in poverty, but if you look at the position paper, it is the other way around. There, you read demands that consist of supporting refugees financially and not a single word about helping Germans with social problems, so everything is a bit of a paradox.

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A PEGIDA rally in Dresden (source: The Guardian)

But there are also some dangerous nationalists in the rows of the protest like Melanie Dittmer, the leader of the protests in the Bonn, another German city (the spark of PEGIDA has grown all throughout Germany). She was once a member of the Young Nationalists and a very radical party called “PRO-NRW”. She said in an interview that for her, the Holocaust was negligible. A politician from Munich named Michael Stürzenberger who said that all Muslims are admonished by their ideology to conform themselves to the society as they are the minority, but let the Islam come to power when they are majority. These two are not the only radicals in the Movement.

With that in mind, we have to pay attention to another major point. The demonstrators say that public media does not report about what they really want and that the journalists edit their interviews so it looks like they are discriminating. Whether the media does that or not is a point that you can discuss about for hours. Nowadays, demonstrators do not often talk with journalists anymore because the organizers of PEGIDA have told them not to. A German satire program called the Heute Show worked against this by dressing as journalists from “Russia Today Germany” and the television station ARD published all their raw and unedited material of their interviews with PEGIDA followers. This was a big sign to the organizers and I hope it will help to get them into more discussions and maybe work more with the nationalists in demonstration.

The protest is called the Quiet Rebellion because many of the protestants just walk quietly with others. That is problematical because the real radicals of the movement feel supported by the vast majority, but this majority does not actually support them. If radicals all over Germany think that the population is on their side, there will most likely be an uprising of the radical right wing, which would be horrible. There are so many different people with different opinions in the cover of the protest, and for me, that is the main problem.

After this movement grew larger, many people raised their voices in Germany. In many classes, we talked about it in school and and it is everywhere in the media, as the topic and opinions on it were and still are the focus. The biggest political parties criticized PEGIDA, except for the relatively new party AFD (Alternative For Germany) that still has inner conflicts about the topic, as many in the party want to ally with the protesters as they have similar political opinions. I think that this is populist and dangerous because through this act, they will probably get more votes through the demonstrators but there are also right-radical people in the rows of them and the AFD supports them now. However, most people in Germany criticizes PEGIDA and there are now counter-demonstrations in bigger cities. The counter movement has a lot of names but one of them that I thought is really creative is TEGIDA: Tolerant Europeans Against the Rising of Fools in the Occident.

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A counter-protest against PEGIDA (source: picture-alliance/dpa/O. Berg)

Lastly, I would like to share a story that I just could not leave out. Lutz Bachmann, former leader and organizer of PEGIDA, has committed many crimes in his life, such as assault, 16 burglaries and possession of cocaine. Because he did not want to go to prison, he escaped to South Africa, so basically, he was a refugee himself. Today, he is released on parole and demands a second chance for himself, but he wants a “zero-tolerance” treatment of those immigrants who committed crimes.

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Lutz Bacchman (source: Stefan Hässler)

Overall, I see the main problem with PEGIDA is the rising of the right wing and the fact that the people in the protests do not know which radicals are going with them. Nobody can estimate what consequences this will have.

But besides this, I think Germany, in comparison to others, is a very wealthy country with a lot of resources. Because of that and of our history, we should feel even more responsible for immigrants and refugees. Furthermore, we forgot the positive aspects about immigration; we get to know about other cultures and hear new stories, even if those are not interested. Most immigrants settle perfectly well in our society and these are more people who pay their taxes. In addition, Germany has a low birth rate so we need more young people in our society! So I personally say: “Welcome to Germany”.

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