A far-right populist group in Germany is surging despite condemnation from Chancellor Angela Merkel and much of the mainstream media. The PEGIDA movement, which organized a rally in Dresden this week, opposes the “Islamization” of Europe.
PEGIDA, which stands for Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West, began as a Facebook group in Dresden and since then has grown into a movement the BBC says has attracted about 15,000 protesters on Monday. The coalition achieved numbers of almost 10,000 on December 8th in the same city.
In response to that protest, Merkel issued a public statement through a spokesperson condemning the protest “in the strongest terms.” “There is no place in Germany for Islamophobia or anti-Semitism, hatred of foreigners or racism,” the statement continued.
Unlike European neo-Nazi groups like Greece’s Golden Dawn, PEGIDA explicitly embraces what it calls “Judeo-Christian Western culture”–inclusive of European Jews–and in its list of demands, calls only for the rejection of what it describes as “parallel societies/parallel legal systems in our midst, such as Sharia Law, Sharia Police, and Sharia Courts, etc.” Its members insist they will only protest peacefully and wish to see an end to jihadist recruitment, religiously-motivated violence against women, and other problematic Islamist behavior in Germany.
The movement is growing just as Germany officials note that the threat of an Islamist attack “has never been as high as now” in the nation, given the number of German nationals who have fled the nation to join the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, and the influx of refugees from that region.
Nonetheless, leftists in Germany are describing the group as “xenophobic” and “Nazis in pinstripes.” Many who oppose the group highlight its founder Lutz Bachmann’s lack of political background and what the UK Telegraph calls “a lengthy criminal record of his own, including convictions for burglary and drug-dealing.” It also notes the group’s loud calls for “peace with Russia,” a nation whose president, Vladimir Putin, has denied multiple acts of imperialist war against Ukraine, Georgia, and aggression in the Baltics, as well as posing a chronic threat to the North American Treaty Organization, of which Germany is a part.
The movement appears to have a strong population from which to cull supporters, however, as the increasingly large influx of immigrants and refugees from the Middle East appears to have heightened German rejection of Islam. A poll conducted in August found that 52% of Germans disagree that “Islam is now a part of Germany.”