German and other European governments should better carefully watch a new and fast-growing grassroots movement that attracts an increasing number of supporters by criticizing the government in Berlin for ignoring growing concern among the Europeans about being overrun by Muslims and other immigrants. This became more than obvious when the movement that calls itself PEGIDA, or Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West, attracted a record 15,000 marchers on Monday (15 December) in the eastern city of Dresden. Drawing its main support from the far right of the political spectrum, as well as some ordinary Germans alarmed by a growing influx of refugees, many fleeing conflict in the Middle East, the rallies organized by PEGIDA have spread rapidly across Germany’s major cities since the first social-media appeal was issued in Dresden some two months ago. The rapid ascendency of the movement is also a growing concern for the German political establishment and rightfully so because “The politicians in Germany have lost touch with the people and that’s why they can’t comprehend what’s happening here,” as Lutz Bachmann, the 41-year-old gravel-voiced leader of the movement, told marchers from a makeshift stage in downtown Dresden.
Mr Bachmann started PEGIDA in about two months ago to protest plans to build 14 new centers for roughly 2000 refugees in the Saxony region’s largest city. The number of asylum-seekers in Germany has soared to 200,000 this year due in part to an influx of Syrians. The 15,000 marchers on Monday carried banners reading slogans such as “Courage for the truth”, “Stop immigrants abusing our social welfare system” and “We miss our country”. The country’s leading politicians denounced the movement’s agenda and objectives. Chancellor Angela Merkel has condemned all forms of xenophobia while Germany’s Justice Minister Heiko Maas, for example, has even called the movement a disgrace for the country. Although Germany needs more immigrants to address a looming demographic crisis due to having one of the lowest birth rates in Europe, the country’s governing coalition also clearly wants to avoid alienating voters who might ordinarily support her conservatives. In any case, German political scientists have pointed out that the fierceness of the PEGIDA movement has taken the country’s political establishment by surprise.