The famous Cologne cathedral planned to switch off its lights on Monday evening as a sign of protest against “anti-Islam” marchers assembling in the German city. Demonstrations staged by a populist movement dubbed “Pegida” — the German acronym for Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamicization of the West — have shaken Germany for the past month, drawing big crowds in a handful of cities and condemnation from the country’s Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Critics say the movement is a vehicle for far-right hate and neo-fascism. The weekly marches are emulating pro-democracy protests that took place in East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall and Soviet Union. But they are animated by far different beliefs.
Pegida supporters claim to represent a considerable spectrum of German society, fearful about the consequences of an influx of refugees and asylum seekers, many of whom are Muslim. They say they are anti-extremist, but others point to the prevalence of hate groups among Pegida’s ranks and say the movement is nothing more than dressed-up, “pinstriped Nazis.”
In a New Year address, Merkel urged her compatriots to reject Pegidabecause “their hearts are cold and often full of prejudice.” The center-right leader’s comments have been largely backed by the rest of the country’s political and business elites, who dislike the xenophobic image of Germany conveyed by Pegida’s marches.