On 5 January, 20,000 people demonstrated in Cologne, Germany, against a planned assembly by the “patriotic” anti-Muslim group Pegida. Pegida mobilised few people and decided to cancel its rally.
Pegida, “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West”, a movement with some parallels to the English Defence League, nevertheless mobilised 18,000 on the same day in Dresden, where the counterdemonstration was only 4,000 strong.
Pegida had its first demonstration on 20 October in Dresden, organised by a small group of people round one Lutz Bachmann, owner of a PR agency, a butcher’s son, with a criminal record for burglary, drunk-driving, and cocaine dealing, but no known political past.
Bachmann has said that he was spurred to it by his anger at seeing a demonstration in Dresden by supporters of the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party.
The PKK is anti-Islamist, and was appealing for support in its battle in Syria against Daesh (ISIS, or “Islamic state”). There are few Muslims, and fewer Islamists, in Dresden; but one of Pegida’s early slogans was "Against religious wars on German soil”.
A group called “Hooligans against Salafists” also fed into Pegida, as have older right-wing groups. Pegida has been backed by some leaders of the new conservative anti-euro party Alternative für Deutschland, although it is described by Nigel Farage as “a bit academic”,.
The demonstrations are always organised on Mondays, to evoke the memory of the Monday demonstrations in East Germany in 1989 which brought down the Stalinist regime. Unlike many EDL rallies, they are non-violent. In some cities they attract a wider range of people than EDL events ever have done.
Pegida slogans have included protection of “the identity of our Judeo-Christian Western culture”, and that it should be “normal” to “express love of our fatherland openly”.
A “position paper” of 19 demands published on 10 December (but, not apparently, discussed at any meeting) shows a wish to moderate Pegida’s profile, putting as its first demand “for the admission of refugees from wars and from political or religious persecution”.
Many conservative and mainstream figures have come out against Pegida.
The Cologne counter-demonstration was supported by the city’s Catholic cathedral turning off its floodlights. The Volkswagen factory in Dresden has made the same gesture against Pegida.
The conservative newspaper Bild-Zeitung has published a display of 80 celebrities stating their opposition to Pegida.