Until now, the right-wing PEGIDA group has limited itself just to Germany. But the xenophobic movement wants to widen its reach, with demonstrations planned in 14 different countries for the beginning of February. EURACTIV’s partner Tagesspiegel reports.
At the weekend, Lutz Bachmann, the Dresden-based group’s founder, spoke in Roztoky, a small Czech town near Prague, alongside one of the movement’s leading figures, Tatjana Festerling. On the table in front of them was a copy of TIME magazine, in which PEGIDA recently appeared as a feature.
The point of the meeting, which was attended by anti-Islam groups from Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Italy, Netherlands, Poland and Slovakia, was to coordinate protests against the “Islamisation of Europe” on 6 February. Festerling announced that the demonstrations would be carried out in 14 different countries. “The fight against the Islamisation of Europe is our common goal,” she said.
All of the conference participants signed a memorandum which stated that, “We will not leave Europe to our enemies.” They proclaimed their willingness to defend themselves against political Islam, Islamists and their European collaborators, and would possibly put their own lives on the line to reach their goal, as the previous generation had done. The global elites had only promoted “unemployment, corruption, chaos an moral collapse”. Festerling added on her website that “the peoples of Europe” would oppose these policies through “two possibilities: submission or rebellion”.
The Czech meeting was organised by the xenophobic and anti-European group, Block Against Islam. The movement’s leader, Martin Konvicka, labelled European refugee policy as “stupid and suicidal”. Usvit or Dawn – National Coalition, a right-wing populist Czech party, also participated in the event.
Usvit belongs to the far right of the Czech political spectrum and in 2013, gained 14 seats in the parliamentary election. German media cited their deputy-leader, Jan Zilvar, as saying, “It [Islam] threatens our values and to introduce the Koran. I don’t want to see Prague Castle blown up by Muslims.”
The fact that PEGIDA has gone to the Czechs is no coincidence. President Miloš Zeman flirts ever closer with anti-Islamic speech and statements. His predecessor, Václav Klaus, has committed himself to speak at an event organised by the Alternative For Germany (AFD) party in Stuttgart. The majority of Czechs are against the country accepting civil war refugees, and a study released last week showed that only 2% of the population would be in favour of them staying permanently in the Central European republic.
“Their aim of making Dresden and Saxony the starting-point of a pan-European movement, should, for the time being, be considered a failure,” said Hans Vorländer and other political scientists in their book on PEGIDA, published in January. But now, it seems like the group wants to double their efforts in launching a pan-European network.
Earlier this month, Bachmann was in the Belgian port of Antwerp at an anti-Islam rally, at the invitation of the Flemish right-wing group Vlaams Belang. A few days later, he was the guest of the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) where he received praise from the radical party’s leader, Heinz-Christian Strache.
The FPÖ chief suggested to his guests that PEGIDA and the AFD collaborate, a proposal that Bachmann and Festerling immediately leapt upon. AFD leader Frauke Petry was a little more reserved in regard to the issue.
In Switzerland, French Front National founder Jean-Marie Le Pen hopes to speak in Basel on 3 February, where he would share a stage with, among others, the National Democratic Party’s number two man, Karl Richter.
The 87-year old “welcomed” the invitation to speak and hopes that his health will allow him to travel to Switzerland and “give a good performance”. It was reported that AFD leader Petry would also be speaking, but this was subsequently denied by the party. Basel police have in the meantime banned the February rally, a decision which PEGIDA has refused to accept.
In regard to the Europe-wide PEGIDA protests, journalist Günther Lachmann had published details of the plan in mid-January, in both the Geolitico portal and Die Welt am Sonntag. He wrote that, “PEGIDA is no longer just a German phenomenon.” According to Lachmann, the movement has grown to the stage where “those who no longer feel represented by the established parties” have another outlet.
PEGIDA, or Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident, was founded in Dresden in October 2014 and has organised large-scale protests against Muslims, refugees, politicians and the media. Demonstrators have regularly vented their frustrations against the media and journalists have been attacked in the past.
This article was also published by EURACTIV Germany.