Following the January 2015 attacks in Paris, the people of France were brought together with religious and world leaders to condemn the actions of those who carried out the violence, which killed 17 people. In the aftermath, there has been a rise in the number of attacks in Europe and they have been exploited through anti-Islam protests.
In Germany these protests have been predominantly led by the PEGIDA group. Their name roughly translates as 'Patriotic Europeans against Islamisation of the West' (Patriotische Europaer Gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes).
The group has a short history. On 10 October 2014 Lutz Bachmann posted a video on YouTube, showing a rally in Dresden in support of Kurdish fighters against ISIS. Soon afterwards he set up a Facebook group opposing the "Islamisation of the West." This quickly began to attract comments opposing the "advancing Islamisation of our country," as well as against ISIS, the Kurdish PKK, al-Qaeda and others.
In only three months PEGIDA marches have grown from 300 to over 25,000 people.
By 20 October 2014, Bachmann had gathered enough support for his first march in Dresden. Only 300 people turned up, but by 5 January 2015 this had grown to 18,000. When the group met for the twelfth time on 12 January 2015 an estimated 25,000 took part.
In November 2014 an event was held at a town near Dresden where the bestselling author and former politician, Thilo Sarrazin, was appearing. Sarrazin's 2010 book, Deutschland schafft sich ab ("Germany is Doing Away With Itself") sold over 1.5 million copies. In the book Sarrazin advocates a restrictive immigration policy for Germany, better integration and attacks the supposed demands on Europe by the Muslim community. The event was well attended, including by many of those who supported Bachmann's Facebook group, but was also met with demonstrations.
PEGIDA states its aims as refusing "...to allow the spread of activities by groups such as [ISIS] and al-Qaeda in Europe..." and to ensure that all "German children can grow up in a cosmopolitan and friendly nation."
The group has a nineteen-point manifesto in which it claims to defend "Judeo-Christian" values and to oppose "preachers of hate, regardless of what religion" and "radicalism, whether religiously or politically motivated." It states that it is also against "anti-women political ideology that emphasises violence" but "not against integrated Muslims living here."
There have been many counter demonstrations to PEGIDA, attracting large crowds.
Many of the PEGIDA marches have seen echoes of the protests which took place in 1989 in East Germany with "Wir sind das Volk" ("We are the people", the slogan of the East German civil rights movement) being chanted. There have been further demonstrations in other German cities, but not on the scale of those in Dresden. There have also been counter-demonstrations in Dresden and other cities, which have often attracted larger crowds than the PEGIDA marches.
At the march on 12 January 2015, at which a minute's silence was held for victims of "religious fanaticism," Lutz Bachmann spoke to the crowd, stating that PEGIDA was against all types of violence. Bachmann also reiterated some of the points set out in their manifesto produced at the end of 2014, including:
- A law to regulate immigration;
- An obligation to integrate;
- The expulsion of "Islamists and religious fanatics";
- The end of "war-mongering against Russia" and a peaceful co-existence with Europe;
- More resources for security forces.
The group has been particularly vocal on refugee numbers in Germany, and has stated that they want the country to stem immigration. On 19 October 2015, as many as 20,000 people attended a rally over the European migrant crisis. An estimated one million people sought asylum in Germany in 2015, far higher than any other European nation. Recent figures from the UN Refugee Agency show the rise in the number of Syrian refugee seeking asylum in the Europe. In the first quarter of 2016, the highest number of first time asylum applicatnts was registered in Germany, with 61 per cent of the total applicatants in the EU Member States.
Immigration, integration and 'anti-Islam' sentiments form part of the PEGIDA agenda.
However, socio-economic conditions are faring well, with GDP per capita at $46,000 - comparing favourably with other European nations - and unemployment currently standing at four per cent. The religious demographics of Germany show that 70 per cent of the population of 81 million are affiliated to Christianity, 25 per cent do not practice a religion and five per cent are Muslim.
The leader of PEGIDA has accused the media of misrepresenting what the group stands for, and says that German politicians are ignoring their calls. Many politicians, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, criticised PEGIDA, asking people not to take part in the group's marches. On 13 January 2015, German politicians, including Chancellor Merkel, and religious leaders of different faiths attended a protest against the Paris attacks, organised by the Central Council of Muslims in Germany.
After pictures emerged of Lutz Bachmann posing as Adolf Hitler, Bachmann resigned as leader of the group at the end of January 2015, along with a number of other spokespersons. Since then Bachmann has been reinstated as leader after it was reported that the pictures had been doctored. Further demonstrations have been held since the resignations but numbers attending have fallen.
In June 2016, Lutz Bachmann set up a new party called the Popular Party for Freedom and Direct Democracy (FDDV). Bachmann, convicted and fined in May 2016 for inciting racial hatred by branding refugees "scum" and "cattle," insisted he did not intend to stand for the leadership. He asserted the new party would not seek to overshadow the Alternative for Germany (AfD), but rather support them in the upcoming elections scheduled for 2017.
Offshoots of PEGIDA have emerged worldwide in countries such as Norway, Denmark, Spain, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Canada, and Sweden with either failed attempts at marches or small-scale demonstrations taking place. However, none of the offshoots has witnessed support rivalling the figures in Dresden.