Germany’s mainstream political parties have denounced an anti-Islam demonstration that has drawn 18,000 people to the streets of Dresden, while fringe politicians have urged the public to engage with the protesters’ concerns.
Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told Germany’s mass circulation tabloid Bild on Tuesday that the so-called Pegida group – which protests what it sees as ‘Islamisation’ in Europe – ‘does damage to our country, as well as harming our image abroad’.
Former chancellor Helmut Schmidt also criticised the movement, saying that it ‘appeals to hollow prejudices, to xenophobia and intolerance’.
‘Slogans cannot replace facts: Germany needs immigrants,’ Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble was quoted as saying. ‘We must have a heart for refugees in need.’
The politicians were among 80 prominent Germans to put their names under a Bild-backed petition against Pegida. Other celebrities to support it include TV presenter Thomas Gottschalk and former footballer Oliver Bierhoff.
Despite the widespread consensus against the anti-Islam group – which manifested itself in counter demonstrations on Monday in Berlin, Cologne, Stuttgart and Dresden – several fringe politicians called for dialogue with Pegida and engagement with protesters’ concerns.
Bernd Lucke, leader of Germany’s right-wing conservative Alternative for Germany (AfD), said he would meet with Pegida representatives in Dresden on Wednesday.
‘Pegida is a new movement that is hard to assess at this point,’ he said. ‘This is why it is important to engage with it and to exchange opinions.’
Christian Lindner, head of the business-friendly Free Democrats that flunked out of parliament at the last general election, said it would be counterproductive to deny Germany’s problems with integration and that critical engagement with the group was necessary.