Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Neo-Nazis No-Show Their Annual March in Dresden. Is Pegida to Blame?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Neo-Nazis No-Show Their Annual March in Dresden. Is Pegida to Blame?

Article excerpt

Every year on Feb. 13, locals link arms to form a human chain across the Elbe River and Dresden's old town. The gesture is part symbol of remembrance of the World War II bombings that left the once-pristine city in ruins - and part act of defiance against a coinciding neo-Nazi march.

This year there was still a chain - but no visible neo-Nazis, in their first no-show in the nearly 10-year-long marching tradition.

Instead, a mishmash of picketers protesting the extremists' possible presence spread across in front of Dresden's famous Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady), as prominent politicians spoke in solemn commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the British and American bombings.

Observers say that in fact, the neo-Nazis' absence may be due in part to the rise of a group that many accuse of harboring the same sort of hatreds that the neo-Nazis do: Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West, or Pegida. Whether by drawing support from the neo-Nazis or by raising the public's resistance to the messages, Pegida seems to have thrown the neo-Nazis' annual march off stride.

"Maybe it would be too stressful [for the neo-Nazis] to show up," says local Maria Rohr, who watched a smaller podium devoted to anti- Islamophobe speeches behind the official event. "They knew the opposition would be great this year and probably wanted to march on a calmer day, when their views wouldn't be drowned out."

Overlapping movementsSince the late 1990s, Dresden has earned a notorious reputation, thanks to annual neo-Nazi marches on the Feb. 13 anniversary of the city's firebombing by Allied forces in 1945. That notoriety was further enhanced in recent months as Pegida emerged in the city. The movement, nominally against radical Islam but accused of harboring broad anti-immigrant sentiments, grew from a Facebook page created in October 2014 into a protest group that drew tens of thousands to weekly marches held as recently as last month.

Although the two groups are often cast in a similar light, their messages and constituencies overlap but differ.

Pegida draws support from people with a broad swathe of ideologies - including neo-Nazis - and taps into German frustrations about a range of issues, ranging from reforming Germany's immigration policy to relations between Russia and Germany, said Dresden city spokesperson Kai Schulz. "A lot of people within Pegida are just normal people."

A study published at the beginning of February by Dr. Hans Vorlander, a professor at Dresden's Technical University, described the average Pegida member as a man between the ages of 25 and 49, is undereducated, lives in Saxony, served in the Bundeswehr, Germany's Army, and is self-employed.

But there are neo-Nazis embedded within Pegida. About one-third of Pegida members sport right-wing ideologies, while the rest are simply "disenchanted with the current political situation," says another Technical University professor, Werner Patzelt, who sent students to survey members of Pegida as they marched through the city. …

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