German Chancellor Angela Merkel issued a warning against political movement PEGIDA, saying they “have prejudice, coldness, even hatred in their hearts”, during her annual New Year’s speech at the chancellery in Berlin on Wednesday.
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Patriotische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes (PEGIDA, in English: “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the Occident” [i.e., the West]) is a German political movement based in Dresden. It has been organizing public demonstrations since October 2014, against what it considers to be the Islamization of Europe.
The trigger were violent clashes in Hamburg and Celle between Kurds and Salafists, as well as demonstrations of Kurds (together with anti-fascists) against the war in Syria and for military assistance to anti-ISIS forces. PEGIDA was founded in Dresden by a twelve-member group. PEGIDA began drawing public attention when its mass rallies started to reach large numbers of people. Among 7,500 participants on December 1, the police counted 80 to 120 people from the hooligan scene and 25 from the right-wing environment. The demonstrations grew to 10,000 people on December 7 and reached 15,000 people on December 15. During weekly demonstrations, PEGIDA carries banners with slogans including “For the preservation of our culture”, “Against religious fanaticism” and “Against religious wars on German soil”.
Commentators have attributed the success of PEGIDA to widespread dissatisfaction with European immigration policies amidst an increasing alienation toward the political elites and the mainstream media.
In December 2014, PEGIDA published a manifesto. In this manifesto PEGIDA advocates for the protection of Germany’s Judeo-Christian culture and for tolerance toward assimilated and politically moderate Muslims. It calls Islamism a misogynist and violent ideology. PEGIDA believes that war refugees should be welcomed in Germany. It considers the current facilities for the housing of immigrants to be inadequate and partly inhumane. It advocates for a more decentralized distribution of facilities and a fairer allocation of immigrants among the countries of the European Union. It wants to model German immigration policies after those of the Netherlands and Switzerland and wants to facilitate integration of foreigners into German society. Current laws should be strictly enforced, the police should be given additional funding, and criminal refugees and immigrants should be promptly expelled. In addition, PEGIDA opposes constraints on political speech imposed by gender mainstreaming or political correctness.
Numerous protests against PEGIDA and affiliated movements in cities across Germany have drawn up to 12,000 demonstrators.
Chancellor Angela Merkel criticized PEGIDA, saying that while everyone had the right to voice their opinion freely, there was no place in Germany for agitation against immigrants. The Federal Minister of the Interior Thomas de Maizière said that among the participants of the mass rallies were many ordinary people who expressed their concerns about the challenges of today’s society. Bernd Lucke, the leader of the political party Alternative for Germany, considered most of the positions of PEGIDA to be legitimate. According to Lucke, the people taking part in these demonstrations did not feel that their concerns were being understood by politicians.
Josef Schuster, chairman of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, voiced his opposition to the group, saying that the possibility of an Islamic conquest of Germany would be as “absurd” as a resurrection of the Nazi regime. PEGIDA has also been criticized by Lutheran clergy, including Bishop of Hamburg Kirsten Fehrs.