Angela Merkel urged Germans yesterday to reject a growing anti-Islam protest movement, warning that its leaders had “hatred in their hearts”.
The chancellor showed the deep concern among Berlin’s political establishment at the weekly marches through Dresden organised by Pegida (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West). The movement is spreading to other German cities.
Her strongly worded address, broadcast on national television last night, criticised Russia for its actions in Ukraine and called for Germans to welcome refugees from the war in Syria.
The Pegida movement in the eastern city of Dresden began in October with a few hundred demonstrators, but 17,000 people turned out on ten days ago for the latest Monday night march. It has adopted a slogan used before the fall of the Iron Curtain against the repressive communist regime of East Germany.
“Today many people are again shouting on Mondays, ‘We are the people’. But in fact they mean, You do not belong – because of the colour of your skin or your religion,” Mrs Merkel said in her message. “So I say to everyone who goes to such demonstrations: do not follow those who are appealing to you. Because too often there is prejudice, coldness, even hatred in their hearts.”
The protest was started by Lutz Bachmann, 41, from Dresden, who has no political background. He claimed to be trying to alert the political class to the potential of mass immigration to foster xenophobia.
Mr Bachmann said: “Because of a misjudged asylum policy, the French and the Dutch are voting for radical rightwing parties, and these parties are becoming stronger all the time. It is said that we are Nazis. That is exactly what we are against.”
Mrs Merkel’s answer in her new year’s address was to emphasise that refugees from trouble spots around the globe were welcome in Germany.
“It goes without saying that we will help them and accommodate people who are looking for refuge,” she added. The rapid ageing of the German population was a national challenge, she said, calling immigration “a gain for all of us”.
See also “‘They have hatred in their hearts’: Angela Merkel delivers stinging attack on Germany’s growing anti-Islamic protesters”, Independent, 31 December 2014