EU should take action on Pegida racism
By Sarah Isal
Germany’s “anti-Islamisation” Pegida movement is a worrying phenomenon, which is quickly taking on a European dimension.
It has brought thousands onto the streets every Monday in German cities since October 2014 and has grown in popularity since the terrorist attacks in Paris on 7 and 9 January.
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Despite attempts to distance itself from affiliations with far-right groups, it has previously joined forces with neo-Nazi elements.
These efforts to conceal its real nature highlight the dangerous tendency of xenophobic and racist movements to try to become more mainstream.
In Germany, its two main leaders are linked to far-right groups - one of them was even obliged to resign over pictures of himself posing as Hitler.
The French version of the movement was launched by the extreme-right ideologist, Renaud Camus.
In Spain, the movement is supported by the Falange group, among other far-right factions.
In Austria, the far-right party, the FPO, has supported similar demonstrations. The country’s first Pegida rally is be held on 2 February.
In Belgium, it was launched by the far-right Vlaams Belang party.
The Belgian branch planned to hold a demonstration in Antwerp on 24 January. It was cancelled due to security fears. But it plans to hold another one in Verviers on 7 March.
In January, Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian offshoots started staging rallies in major cities.
It has also spread to the United Kingdom and to Switzerland.
Pegida says it is against the “Islamisation” of Europe and the protection of European values.
But it’s clear that its real target is the European Muslim population as a whole - the presence of Islam on European soil is inextricably linked to the presence of Muslims.
Some of its Belgian supporters have already called for the deportation of Muslims.
The popularity of Pegida shows the strong position that xenophobic and Islamophobic parties and movements have attained in European society.
We can no longer afford to be complacent about this trend.
The discourse developed by Pegida is in clear breach of EU legislation prohibiting incitement to racism - the EU framework decision on combating racism and xenophobia.
This legislation establishes standards for all member states to punish by criminal penalties all cases of incitement to violence and hatred against a group defined by “race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin”.
It covers verbal incitement, the dissemination of such incitement by means of tracts, pictures or other material, as well as aiding or abetting such conduct.
When a group, no matter how popular, crosses this line, public authorities have a legal responsibility to take action.
National authorities must make sure that there are systematic prosecutions.
The European Commission also has a direct responsibility to check whether this is being done.
Wherever this is not the case, it has the power and the duty to undertake corrective action for European standards to be enforced.
This trend should also set alarm bells ringing for mainstream parties and for society at large.
It is comforting to see that mainstream leaders in Germany have unanimously and strongly condemned the movement and that counter-demonstrations have mobilised thousands of citizens, who outnumber the Pegida demonstrators.
It is now time for displays of solidarity to translate into concrete measures in Europe.
In the current situation, exacerbated by the Paris attacks, political leaders should work on bringing communities together to ensure everyone feels part of European society.
They should also connect the dots between politics, economics, growing inequalities and the increase of hatred and violence in our societies, and put in place effective policies for social inclusion.
Sarah Isal is chair of the European Network Against Racism, an NGO umbrella group