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Leipzig ready to stand against PEGIDA

Kate BradyJanuary 21, 2015

After PEGIDA's most recent Dresden protest was cancelled following a terror threat, tens of thousands of supporters plan to take to the streets of nearby Leipzig. Counter movements have vowed to block the way.

Demonstrationen in Leipzig gegen die Pegida-Bewegung
At the last protests in Leipzig, LEGIDA's opponents drew by far the larger crowdImage: picture-alliance/dpa

"LEGIDA," the Leipzig offshoot of anti-Islamization movement PEGIDA expects some 30,000 to 40,000 protesters to march through the eastern German city on Wednesday. Organizers of the demonstration, however, have said the goal is "at least 60,000." Unlike in Saxony's capital, Dresden, on Monday, no ban on public assembly has been enforced.

"There is no concrete [terror] threat, such as the one in Dresden," Sayony's Interior Ministry said. On Monday, PEGIDA's Dresden march was called off following a death threat against the movement's leader Lutz Bachmann.

Challenge for national security

In response to LEGIDA's rally on Wednesday evening, some 19 counter-demonstrations, such as sit-ins, have been organized, which could bring the numbers of people on the streets up to 100,000. Leipzig police are now preparing for one of its biggest patrol operations since German reunification with up to 4,000 officers.

In Dresden, which has become the central hub for PEGIDA, around 1,600 police officers were deployed at the city's most recent marches. Last Monday's protest saw record figures of 25,000 PEGIDA supporters marching against what they call the "Islamization of the West."

Pegida / Legida / Leipzig
'For the homeland, peace and a German mainstream culture - against religious fanaticism, Islamization and mulitculturality,' reads the bannerImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Johnny Butzmann, founder of anti-LEGIDA movement "LEGIDA? Läuft nicht," told Deutsche Welle that he fears more people will come to Leipzig from Dresden following Monday's cancellation. With numbers set to rise from both sides, observers fear that clashes may erupt between LEGIDA members and demonstrators from the leftist scene and police. Last week around 4,800 PEGIDA members were met by more than 30,000 counter-demonstrators.

Not on the historic route

Contrary to plans made by LEGIDA organizers, the route for Wednesday's LEGIDA march has already been set by the city's public order office and will not follow the path of the historic Monday Demonstrations which took place in 1989 in former East Germany.

The city said that the condition had been put in place on the premise of potential dangers and the expected crowds of people. Leipzig' Social Democrat mayor, Burkhard Jung, said that the decision "does not disproportionally affect" the fundamental right to freedom of speech, adding that it was a very light measure in comparison to a complete ban. LEGIDA, however, voiced its opposition to the decision via its Facebook page.

On Tuesday evening, citizens of former East Germany attempted to begin discussions with LEGIDA, with some 100 participants attending a forum at the city's Open University. Saxony's state government and the city of Dresden have also invited the public to a similar forum on Wednesday, which Saxony's state premier, conservative Christian Democrat Stanislaw Tillich, also plans on attending.

Anti-Pegida-Proteste in Leipzig
Leipzig is again likely to field large numbers of counter-demonstratorsImage: picture-alliance/dpa

"LEGIDA and PEGIDA are racist movements. Racism is ultimately deadly and holding discussions with them belittles that," Butzmann told DW.

He also described the appearance of PEGIDA co-founder Kathrin Oertel on Gunther Jauch's talk show ARD-Talk this week as "dire."

"We've just got to clearly say that we don't allow PEGIDA," Butzmann said.

Learn from mistakes

Asked what he thought was a solution to the weekly PEGIDA marches, Butzmann said: "In Dresden, the chance, to a certain extent, has been missed and PEGIDA has been allowed to gather in huge numbers and become a mass movement.

"The stigma of racism has become smaller. We don't want to make the same mistakes in Leipzig. Therefore direct from the start, we've said: LEGIDA isn't marching here."

The law student at the University of Leipzig added, however, that "it's important to not just go out onto the streets against PEGIDA, but against everything that has made it possible for racism to become so strong in Saxony."

"Although many people are against PEGIDA at the moment, at the same time inhumane mass accommodation for refugees continues to be built in Leipzig and that just doesn't go hand in hand."