SHAFAQNA – Thousands of Germans are expected to take to the streets today to protest against what they describe as the country’s “Islamisation”, the latest in a string of demonstrations that have triggered alarm among the country’s politicians.
Growing numbers are joining protests each Monday in several cities, with 10,000 regularly attending the largest, known as Pegida (Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West), in Dresden.
As immigration threatens to become a hot political issue in Germany, the marchers have revived an old East German tradition of the “Monday protests”, which used to gather to protest against the Communist regime.
Politicians in Berlin are becoming concerned by discontent with the liberal immigration system; Germany has become the world’s second-largest importer of migrants behind the US, with 400,000 settlers in 2012.
Angela Merkel, the chancellor, condemned the marches and arson attacks on buildings in Bavaria which were due to house aslyum seekers. One was daubed with swastikas. Her spokeswoman said that there was no place in Germany for hatred of Muslims nor any religious or racial group.
Mrs Merkel and her coalition government of the centre-right and centre-left parties say that Germany, whose population is ageing and shrinking, needs immigrant workers to avoid a shortage of skilled labour.
Thomas de Maizière, the interior minister in Mrs Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party (CDU), accused the organisers of the Pegida marches of twisting the facts.
“There is no risk of Islamisation of German society,” he said, pointing out that Dresden had low levels of immigration in comparison with west German cities.
He said that not all the marchers were racists and they included some who were “expressing their fears about the challenges of the times”. Heiko Maas, the justice minister from the Social Democratic party (SPD), said: “We cannot be silent if a xenophobic atmosphere is being built on the backs of people who have lost everything and come to us for help.”
Officials in western Germany are warning, however, that they are struggling to cope with the largest number of asylum seekers in Europe.
A survey by TNS for Der Spiegel magazine showed that 65 per cent of Germans believed that the government was not taking the levels of immigration and asylum seekers seriously. TNS found that 34 per cent thought Germany was becoming “increasingly Islamised”; 57 per cent disagreed.
Immigration and integration issues have shot up the political agenda, with the CDU debating and dismissing the possibility of a French-style burqa ban. The Christian Social Union, the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, proposed and then retracted a debate about immigrants speaking German at home.
The Pegida phenomenon has grown in recent weeks and follows the “Hooligans against Salafists” demo of football supporters against Islamists that took place in Cologne in the summer.
Another Pegida march is expected in Dresden tonight, with as many counter-demonstrators expected as anti-migrant marchers. Similar demonstrations have sprung up across Germany.
In a strongly worded editorial, Deutsche Welle, the publicly funded German broadcaster, said: “When 10,000 people take to the streets in Dresden to protest the alleged Islamisation of the west, something has gone terribly wrong in Germany. Far-right extremists and demagogues with false messages have been successful in planting vague fears in the midst of society. And they have also provided a misguided answer — ‘Out with foreigners’ — to numerous difficult questions.”