As new racist organisations target Muslims and immigrants, socialist MP Christine Buchholz outlines the tasks and the challenges for the anti-fascist and anti-racist movement in Germany
The far-right in Germany is undergoing a process of regroupment, both in parliament and on the streets. To the right of the ruling conservative party, the CDU, is the Alternative for Germany (Alternative für Deutschland, AfD). This is the German version of Ukip. The AfD has won more than 12 percent of the votes in some states following a racist election campaign which targeted Muslims. The party also gained a number of MEPs in the Euro elections.
Meanwhile, the fascists have been attempting to take to the streets. In October Hooligans Against Salafists (HoGeSa) mobilised some 5,000 hardcore racists and Nazis to march through the city of Cologne chanting anti-Muslim slogans. In the eastern city of Dresden, which has one of the smallest immigrant populations in Germany, Pegida (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West) has held huge weekly demonstrations.
Pegida is attempting to appear less like Nazis and more as “concerned citizens”. The organisation is appealing to people’s sense of dissatisfaction with the political system and draw support among those people who are unhappy with their social circumstances.
It wants to turn this dissatisfaction into a movement that targets refugees. At its height it was able to attract up to 25,000 people to its Cologne demonstrations and it has organised similar demonstrations in other cities in Germany.
However, even though it has been able to mobilise huge numbers, Pegida failed to turn the shock over the Charlie Hebdo killings to its advantage. This is because the anti-racist movement was able to mobilise counter-demonstrations on the basis that we could not surrender the streets to Pegida. We organised a broad alliance that marched in support of an open and inclusive society. On the day after the Charlie Hebdo shootings there was a huge demonstration of over 100,000 protesting against racism and for tolerance. Over 35,000 marched in Dresden against Pegida.
Six days after the shootings the Muslim and Turkish communities organised an event at the Brandenburg Gate and unravelled a big banner saying “Islam belongs in Germany”. This was a great success for our movement, as Muslims did not hide away but instead came out to denounce racism.
These mass demonstrations created a split inside the Pegida movement. Their demonstrations shrank as fast as they had grown. Nazis based in the eastern city of Leipzig launched an offshoot called Legida (Leipzig against the Islamisation of the West) and attempted to hold demonstrations. Similar groups were formed in other cities. Meanwhile the founder of Pegida, Lutz Bachmann, was forced to resign after posting a picture of himself on Facebook with a Hitler moustache and the caption “He is back”. It was accompanied by a stream of racist abuse at immigrants, who he described as “animals”, “scumbags” and “trash”.
The other side of the split formed an organisation called Direct Democracy for Europe. Its first demonstration was a flop, attracting only 500 people. It was important that we were able to split the hardcore racists inside Pegida from its more populist right wing supporters.
However, it is also important to stress that the threat of racism has not disappeared with the decline of Pegida. Those demonstrations represented just the tip of the iceberg, as there is widespread anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant racism. Pegida acted as a propellant for the radicalisation of this racism. Violent attacks on Muslims and refugees have risen by over 130 percent since the marches began.
The problem in our country is not Islam, but racism. Less that 1 percent of the population of Dresden is Muslim. But they were too afraid to come out of their homes every time Pegida held its marches. People said that many of the refugees stopped talking in Arabic as they were terrified they would be identified as Arabs.
We know that the ruling class use racism to cover their policies, such as the intervention in Iraq. These wars can only make the problem worse and radicalise another generation of Muslims. The economic crisis which we are all facing also provides the ground in which this racism can flourish. So racism serves its purpose both at home and internationally to legitimise their military interventions.
We will continue our mobilisations against Pegida and its imitators wherever they appear. On 28 February we organised a demonstration of refugees in Dresden to build on the defeat suffered by Pegida. We want to reclaim our streets and show that we are not the ones who have to be afraid.
Christine Buchholz is an MP for the German radical left party, Die Linke.