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Violence at LEGIDA protest

Kate BradySeptember 15, 2015

Amid the refugee crisis, violence at the most recent LEGIDA rally in Leipzig has sparked media interest in Germany. DW spoke to Marcel Nowicki, co-founder of the counter movement "NO LEGIDA."

LEGIDA demonstration, Leipzig, September 14, 2015
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/D. Konfe

After largely disappearing from the German media in recent months, demonstrations by PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West) hit Germany's headlines this week after Monday's rally in the eastern German city of Leipzig turned violent.

The city's police reported that some 500 LEGIDA marchers where confronted with a counter movement of around 1,000 people who blocked the route of the rally. The evening became violent, however, after dozens of "hooligans" joined LEGIDA's ranks, with some protesters successfully breaking free from the area secured by police.

Two officers were injured after bottles and fireworks where thrown by right-wing marchers, while a water cannon was also deployed to hold back counter-demonstrators.

Almost a year since PEGIDA began its first demonstrations in the Saxony capital of Dresden, DW spoke to Marcel Nowicki, co-founder of Leipzig's anti-PEGIDA movement "NO LEGIDA," to assess the the current situation.

DW: Over the past 12 months, PEGIDA and its "off-shoot" rallies have driven their cause with slogans, calling for migrants and refugees to leave Germany. Do you think the refugee crisis in Europe could provide LEGIDA with ammunition?

Nowicki: I'm not so sure because the news about refugees and the growing numbers isn't a new topic. What's changed, of course, are the pictures we've seen from Munich. Their notion of "Volkstod" meaning "death of the people" is a right-wing paranoia which has existed for decades and that's what they fear as a result of the increasing number of refugees.

Right-wings protesters in Freital
Many of PEGIDA's protesters come from smaller towns such as Freital and HeidenauImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/J. Meyer

But what I think is actually fueling LEGIDA right now is a sense of victimization. They feel victimized because in contrast to other cities in Saxony, namely Chemnitz and Dresden, LEGIDA is facing strong opposition here. And this opposition isn't only from your typical left-wing activists, but also wider support from the general public. What we're doing simply is that we're annoying them. My impression is that although what we're doing is within the legal boundaries, in their eyes we're paid activists, paid by the government to protest and fight against them.

Police at Monday's demonstration resorted to physical force and water cannons after violence escalated. Why do you think there was such a significant shift from the previous demonstrations which were largely peaceful?

Even though it hasn't been so widely reported, the potential for violence has always been there on LEGIDA's side. The people who caused the escalation yesterday were already there in the past, there's nothing new there.

What's changed, however, is the rhetoric of LEGIDA which is steering towards this escalation: this combination of them victimizing themselves, the idea that they're fighting the state, that they want to get rid of everything that represents our open society. This is what's driving the more violent people.

How well do you think the police and local authorities are coping with the demonstrations while facilities and officers are being stretched to deal with the refugee crisis?

After Germany closed its border to Austria on Sunday, a lot of state troops were sent there to police the border controls. These troops also usually work alongside the police at LEGIDA demonstrations. Therefore the size of the police force on Monday evening was substantially smaller than at previous demonstrations and they couldn't secure the whole area as much as they would have liked to.

Police register refugees in Rosenheim, Bavaria
Germany's police force has been pre-occupied with the huge influx of refugees in recent monthsImage: DW/K. Brady

I'm curious to see how the city and police will react in coming days, given the smaller police force that they may actually restrict LEGIDA in some way or another so that they can gather, but not march for example.

Images have appeared online of members of the disbanded Scenario LOK carrying banners in support of LEGIDA on Monday. How much of a concern is the increase in hooligans?

LEGIDA usually consists of one third of violent people. This has completely changed. In my opinion, at least half, if not more, were visibly violent people. The guys you would swap the side of the street from if they were walking towards you.

The fan club Scenario LOK was previously associated with local football team Lokomotive Leipzig, but the football club banned the right-wing group from the stadium. The football club can't do much more. This is a concern for the police now.

It's coming up to a year since the PEGIDA demonstrations first began in Dresden. Do you think the demonstrations will grow again this fall?

For Leipzig, I don't think we'll see an increase. LEGIDA was never really anchored in Leipzig. The protesters come to Leipzig, but a large part of the people don't actually live there. It's people from the outskirts, from small towns. There's really a marginal group of people who actually live in Leipzig. They don't have any link to the greater population of Leipzig and therefore the protests against them are so strong. But who knows what's going to happen in the coming weeks or months. There's always potential.

What sets apart the attitude towards PEGIDA in Dresden and Leipzig?

Dresden is special in a lot of ways. Dresden has a huge potential to protest against PEGIDA. If you look at PEGIDA, you have to realize that all the news we've heard [of attacks on refugee homes] come from Freital, Meißen, Heidenau - all those small towns around Dresden - that's the home-base of PEGIDA, it's not actually Dresden itself.

Police in front of Dresden's Semperoper in March 2015
Dresden's first "tent city" in front of the opera house came under attack during a PEGIDA demonstration in MarchImage: dpa

There's a much larger amount of Dresden's population which is actually against PEGIDA, but it has to do with the city's mentality, how people see themselves and how they think one should behave. They don't all necessarily feel motivated to protest against PEGIDA. That's the only reason why PEGIDA is so strong there.

What's your impression of Dresden in the current climate?

I've been to Dresden once in recent months. That was when the first "tent city" for refugees was created and demonstrators attacked it with bottles and fireworks. And that was the last time I was in Dresden. To be quite frank, I don't wish to go back.

Marcel Nowicki co-founded "NO LEGIDA" in December 2014. The 33-year-old was born in Leipzig and works as an IT technician.