Germany Puts Migrant Protests in the Dark

Buildings plunged into darkness in backlash against Pegida followers. Pegida opponents on Twitter have been urging for \"Darkness wherever there is Pegida\", writes Justin Huggler

Published: 09th January 2015 06:08 AM  |   Last Updated: 09th January 2015 06:08 AM   |  A+A-

The lights went out all over Germany on Monday night as famous landmarks were plunged into darkness as part of a growing protest against anti-immigrant demonstrations that have gripped the country in recent weeks.

As the protesters tried to take their campaign against what they say is the ‘Islamisation of Europe’ by immigrants to Berlin, they were heavily outnumbered by counter-protesters. Authorities switched off the floodlights at the famous Brandenburg Gate in a mark of disapproval.

The lights were also extinguished at the city's iconic TV Tower, as part of a coordinated campaign by opponents of the protests to greet them with darkness wherever they tried to gather.

In Cologne, where also protesters were heavily outnumbered, floodlights were switched off at the immense cathedral that dominates the city skyline and is Germany's most visited tourist attraction. Bridges across the Rhine were darkened.

Thousands of protesters still gathered defiantly in Dresden, the city that has been the centre of their movement, under the banner of Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West (Pegida). But police estimated that just 10,000 Pegida supporters rallied in Dresden – significantly lower than the 17,500 in the last weekly demonstration before Christmas.

Pegida supporters were looking increasingly isolated as thousands marched in counter protests in cities across the country including Hamburg and Munich.

In Stuttgart, where there was not even a planned Pegida protest, there were reports of 8,000 people demonstrating against the movement.

Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, who has been facing a political crisis over the Pegida protests, used her New Year message to urge her countrymen not to join the marches, saying, "Do not follow those who have called the rallies. Because all too often they have prejudice, coldness, even hatred in their hearts."

Merkel issued another call hours before the protests were due to begin on Monday, saying, "We have to show the flag and say that Right-wing extremism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism can nowhere find a place in our society."

The protests, which were organised by Lutz Bachmann, a Dresden man with no previous political background, took Merkel and other political leaders by surprise.

The first protest in October was attended by just a few hundred people, but the movement quickly snowballed. Adopting the slogan of the demonstrators who brought down the East German communist regime 25 years ago, Wir sind das Volk (We are the people), supporters of Pegida have sought to distance themselves from Germany's established far-Right. Their leaders have singled out Muslim immigrants in their speeches, but the movement has increasingly broadened into one against immigrants from all backgrounds.

A particular target of the protesters' anger has been what they call "economic refugees", or asylum seekers they say are not genuine political refugees, but just seeking a better standard of living in Germany.

Merkel and other political leaders have denounced them as racist and xenophobic, and accused them of seeking to make political capital out of the misfortune of those fleeing wars and persecution.

Monday's protest was the first after an extended Christmas break and was supposed to be the moment Pegida took the movement nationwide, with demonstrations in the capital and in Cologne.

But like previous efforts to spread the movement beyond Dresden, it was unsuccessful. The protesters were heavily outnumbered in both Berlin and Cologne, and in Berlin counter protesters blocked their route and prevented them from carrying out their march, despite requests from the police to disperse.

Even in their heartland of Dresden, buildings went dark in counter protest as Volkswagen switched off all the lights at a massive factory in the city.

The idea of darkening buildings began in Dresden, where authorities turned off the lights at the Semper opera house last month to prevent Pegida followers using it as a backdrop. Church authorities followed the tactic with the Cologne cathedral, denouncing the Pegida marches as un-Christian. The idea quickly spread on Twitter, with opponents of the marches urging "Darkness wherever there is Pegida".


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