French Government Denies Xenophobic Pegida Movement a Platform in Calais

By Annie Glasser

Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West (Pegida) is a growing xenophobic extreme right-wing political movement. It emerged in Germany in 2014, exploiting the volatile political climate to gain support for its anti-migrant, anti-Islam views at an unprecedented rate. It capitalizes on the refugee crisis in Europe, especially negative public opinion on Chancellor Merkel’s humane policy in Germany.

After the New Year’s Eve assaults in Cologne, Pegida staged a demonstration to protest the one million refugees and migrants who arrived in Germany in 2015, some of whom were allegedly perpetrators of the attacks. According to police estimates approximately 1,700 Pegida members participated in the demonstration, which turned violent. The police used water cannons to disperse crowds.

In a subsequent protest, more than 1,500 members of the Pegida chapter in Leipzig, Germany took to the streets on January 11 to protest the Cologne assaults and to mark the one-year anniversary of their chapter’s founding. Pegida has successfully mobilized in many German states and is looking to extend its reach.

On January 23 Pegida and its counterparts in fourteen other countries met in the Czech Republic and identified February 6 as the “Day of European Patriots.” To mark this day, Pegida and other far-right extremist groups will hold protests in Dresden, Warsaw, Prague, and other European cities to warn against the possibility of Europe being “conquered by Islam.”

Pegida strategically planned its France February 6 protest in Calais, where many refugees have been stranded in horrific conditions. From the northwestern city, many refugees and migrants attempt to cross the Channel to the United Kingdom to seek asylum or find work. Blocked from entering, many have set up camp outside of Calais, in what has been racistly termed “the Jungle.”

Though Pegida is gaining momentum, others are stepping up in opposition. Most Pegida demonstrations have been met with counter-demonstrations. On the January 11 march in Leipzig about 2,800 peaceful protesters formed a chain around the city center to disrupt the hateful and potentially harmful actions of their neighbors. Some confrontations between Pegida protestors and counter-protestors have grown hostile. On January 25, anti-Pegida protestors attacked Pegida members with smoke bombs and set fire to at least ten cars belonging to members of the intolerant movement.

In anticipation of the widely promoted February 6 march in Calais, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve banned all public gatherings in the prefecture of Calais that might threaten national peace and security. The ban is justified by credible concerns that a Pegida protest in Calais would result in violent conflict between the far-right and far-left movements in France. In response, Pegida leaders created a petition and publicly stated their disregard for the ban.

In Human Rights First’s recent report, Breaking the Cycle of Violence: Countering Antisemitism and Extremism in France, we recommended that the French government respond to growing antisemitism and xenophobia by maintaining appropriate security measures to protect minority populations. By banning the Pegida march, the French government shows its commitment to promoting peace. The ban sends a clear message that France will not entertain racism, hate speech, or further incitement of the “clash of civilizations” narrative that is plaguing Europe.

The United States should commend France for its actions in Calais and promote them as an example to other countries where Pegida plans to extend its reach. The United States should seek further opportunities to support France in its efforts to combat antisemitism and extremism by sending messages of inclusivity and tolerance, and strengthening civil society.

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Published on February 5, 2016

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