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Anti-Americanism hits Germany's streets

Gabriel BorrudJanuary 25, 2015

The latest instance of public xenophobia in Germany concerns the United States. Some 1,000 people congregated in Erfurt this weekend to voice their opposition to "American imperialism." DW takes a look.

Image: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Kahnert

Over 1,000 people gathered this Saturday in Erfurt, the capital of the eastern state of Thuringia, to protest against the "Americanization" of Europe, amid a groundswell of xenophobia in eastern Germany and ongoing social movements in cities around the country directed against what's been called an "Islamization of the occident."

The Erfurt police told DW that the situation in front of the central train station on Saturday was "outright aggressive," as protesters held posters and chanted anti-American slogans abreast with some 600 counterdemonstrators who attempted to break police lines.

One of the main messages one could hear chanted by the mob was, "Ami! Go HOME," which translates roughly as, "Americans! Go HOME." A series of speakers attempted to deliver addresses to the crowd, but their speeches were drowned out by whistling from counterdemonstrators.

Journalists on the ground in Erfurt confirmed to DW that the mood was characterized by an aggressive anti-Americanism, coupled with violence between demonstrators and counterdemonstrators. A brawl nearly broke out at one juncture as counterdemonstrators, mostly young members of the left-wing anti-fascist Antifa group, attempted to block the anti-American protesters.

The Erfurt police told DW that nobody was arrested during the demonstrations, but that three people had been injured. Six criminal complaints were filed on Saturday for assault.

Screenshot YouTube Stephane Simon
Stephane Simon announced earlier this week on YouTube that he was behind PEGADAImage: YouTube/Behemil

Conspiracy theorists and hooligans

The anti-Americanism group is an apparent offshoot from the PEGIDA movement that has been holding weekly demonstrations for three months now. Its self-proclaimed founder, Frenchman Stephane Simon, explained the reasons behind the group's formation in a YouTube video posted this week.

"We will no longer watch on as German and European politicians pull the wool over our eyes," said Simon in a video lecture during which he wrote his main theses on a whiteboard behind him. "We cannot continue to support our governments, under NATO dictates, as they pursue and further nothing other than US interests: With our money, our soldiers, and our weapons."

The group has two names, both acronyms in nomenclatural imitation of the PEGIDA movement. Simon said he and his followers were tired of the concentration on Islamization, referring to this as a mere symptom of the more fundamental influences robbing Germany of its autonomy. PEGADA, namely, the Patriotic Europeans Against the Americanization of the Occident is more fitting. The second name, ENDGAME, or "Engaged Democrats Against the Americanization of Europe," serves to clear up ongoing qualms with the cumbersome concepts of "patriotism" and the "occident," endemic to the first name. What's clear, however, is the new focus on the United States as a motivating factor for social protest.

A number of posts on the group's facebook page purport the explicitly bellicose nature of US administrations past and present. One warns against Washington's involvement in Ukraine as a "push for a Third World War at the expense of Germany and Western Europe in the hopes of engendering a US economic boom," publishing a video that claims to prove that Washington is pushing for a global war to rejuvenate its "dying economy."

Also on the PEGADA Facebook site one can see a number of posts expressing the support of the right-wing, anti-Islamist hooligan group HoGeSa (Hooligans against Salafists). The violent group has distanced itself from the widespread anti-Islamization PEGIDA movement in favor of anti-Americanism, because it also accuses the United States of having played a role in the formation of the "Islamic State" (IS).

Hooligan-Demo in Hannover 15.11.2014
Germany's hooligan scene has offered its support to PEGADAImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Dwindling allegiance?

It is perhaps a statement from the Erfurt police that best summarizes the situation both on Saturday and in general, when one considers the ever-diversifying protest culture that has developed in Germany over the past months.

"We couldn't tell who was protesting for or who was protesting against," said Dominique Schuh, Erfurt station spokesman.

From the perspective of wider German society, however, the motivation for Saturday's demonstration doesn't come out of nowhere. Ever since the revelations of NSA surveillance on Washington's European partners emerged last summer, coupled with Germany's coerced cooperation with sanctions against Russia for its Ukraine policy, anti-Americanism hasn't gone unnoticed in Germany.

The latest study conducted by the forsa polling company suggests that less than half of Germans consider the United States a "reliable partner." Just over one third of the population said they would support their government if it followed US policy with regard to Ukraine and - by extension - Russia.

"Our sense is that the German people continue to believe the Ukraine crisis - and Germany's role in it - serves US interests, and not their own," said Manfred Gülner, of the forsa Institute.