Over the past several months, we’ve warned repeatedly that Europe’s escalating migrant crisis threatens to set off a dangerous bout of scapegoating xenophobia.
Germany’s open door policy to asylum seekers has effectively been forced on other countries by decree, a move which could very well engender intense and possibly dangerous feelings of nationalism among citizens who disagree with Berlin’s approach to the crisis. We’ve already seen Hungary resort to razor wire fences, water cannons, and tear gas to keep migrants out and Budapest’s move to close its border with Croatia and Serbia has set off a Balkan border battle wherein no one can quite figure out the most efficient way to get the refugees to Germany without allowing their countries to be used as migrant superhighways.
Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is beginning to feel the heat at home. Recall the following from AFP:
Germany's Angela Merkel is used to owning the room when she speaks to her party faithful, but the mood turned hostile when she defended her open-door refugee policy this week.
In a heated atmosphere, some of the 1,000-odd members at the meeting warned of a "national disaster" and demanded shuttering the borders as Germany expects up to one million migrants this year.
"Stop the refugee chaos -- save German culture + values -- dethrone Merkel," read a banner at the congress late Wednesday in the eastern state of Saxony, the home base for the anti-foreigner PEGIDA movement.
As Reuters notes, PEGIDA (which stands for Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West,) almost “fizzled out” earlier this year when the group’s leader Lutz Bachmann posted the following picture of himself on Facebook with the caption “He’s Back”:
Now, thanks to the refugee crisis, PEGIDA is apparently “back” as well, as attendance at the group’s Monday night “gatherings” swells amid the influx of Syrian asylum seekers. Here’s Reuters:
The German anti-Islam movement PEGIDA staged its biggest rally in months on Monday, sparked into fresh life on its first anniversary by anger at the government's decision to take in hundreds of thousands of migrants from the Middle East.
But it has swelled again as Germany implements Chancellor Angela Merkel's decision to accept a tide of refugees that could exceed a million this year, as she argues that Germany can not only cope but, with its aging population, will benefit in the long term.
Police declined to estimate the number of protesters but media put it at 15-20,000, somewhat below a peak of around 25,000 in January. Around 14,000 counter-demonstrators urged people to welcome refugees rather than whip up opposition.
PEGIDA supporters waved the national flag and carried posters bearing slogans such as "Hell comes with fake refugees" and "Every people should have its country, not every people a piece of Germany".
Gathering outside Dresden's historic opera house, the Semperoper, PEGIDA supporters chanted "Deport! Deport!" and "Merkel must go!".
"We're just normal people who are scared of what's coming," said 37-year-old Patrick, a car mechanic. "As a German citizen who pays taxes, you feel like you're being taken for a ride."
And Bachmann was there on Monday, not dressed as Hitler. Here’s what he had to say to the crowd which reportedly handed him bouquets of flowers:
"Politicians attack and defame us and the lowest tricks are used to keep our mouths shut. We are threatened with death, there are attacks on our vehicles and houses and we are dragged through the mud, but we are still here ... And we will triumph!"
While it's not entirely clear what "triumph" means in this context, you can get a clue or two by simply taking a look at the following homemade sign which showed up at last Monday's rally in Dresden:
More from Deutsche Welle:
The anti-"Islamization" movement PEGIDA marked its first birthday with a significant resurgence - and what many observers saw as a new radicalization. The new influx of refugees over the summer and a significant backlash against Merkel's decision to open the borders to Syrians has apparently given the racist elements in the PEGIDA movement new confidence.
Police put the attendance at Monday's PEGIDA rally at between 15,000 and 20,000 people, with an equal number of counterdemonstrators, making this the largest turnout since the movement's previous high point in February. But there was also a new aggression in the crowds: a Saxony police statement said the two sides threw "objects and fireworks" at one another, and said there were several attacks on officers themselves, who deployed pepper spray.
The media's attention was particularly drawn to a 25-minute speech by the German-Turkish writer Akif Pirincci, otherwise known for a cat-based crime fiction series and a libertarian blog called "The Axis of Good," which has often been accused of racism.
Pirincci's extraordinary and occasionally vulgar ramble, all read from notes, included references to refugees as "invaders," politicians as "gauleiters against their own people," Muslims "who pump infidels with their Muslim juice" and a threat that Germany would become a "Muslim garbage dump."
After the crowd responded with shouts of "resistance, resistance," Pirincci said, "Of course there are other alternatives - but the concentration camps are unfortunately out of action at the moment."
You read that correctly, the man who stood up in front of 10-15,000 people and delivered a 25-minute rant complete with the suggestion that Germany should fire back up the concentration camps writes cat detective novels in his spare time...
In any event, this is precisely what we meant when we said that feelings of intense nationalism could well lead directly to dangerous bouts of scapegoating xenophobia, and don't expect anyone at a PEGIDA rally to be persuaded by the argument that the influx of Syrian refugees may help Germany overcome the economic hurdles it will soon face from challenging demographic shifts.
We'll leave you with a quote from Hungary's Viktor Orban and some visuals from Monday's rally.
“Spiritually, Islam was never part of Europe. It's the rulebook of another world.”
First chant by the protesters: "Merkel muss weg" ("Merkel has to go") pic.twitter.com/Td5uor5As7— Thomas Sparrow (@Thomas_Sparrow) October 19, 2015