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The German Interior Ministry believes that PEGIDA-related demos around the country were "controlled and influenced" by far-right organizations. This undermines claims they represent a mainstream people's movement.
In an answer to an official parliamentary question submitted by Left party Bundestag member Ulla Jelpke, the ministry said that Germany's domestic intelligence agencies - both federal and regional - had found that far-right groups - including the National Democratic Party (NPD), PRO-NRW, and "Die Rechte" - helped organize and support so-called 'GIDA demonstrations in six German states: Berlin, North Rhine-Westphalia, Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Bavaria.
"A far-right influence on individual events happens via the participation of far-right extremists, the far-right background of ... event organizers or managers, or their cooperation with far-right extremists," the ministry said. The ministry also noted a neo-Nazi background to some speakers as well as certain symbols and gestures seen at the demos.
"The support includes everything from simply advertising to participation in the demos up to event registration or organization, as well as participation through speeches," the ministry said.
What about PEGIDA?
But a notable absence from the states listed by the ministry was Saxony, home of the original PEGIDA (an acronym for "Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West), which at its height has seen 20,000 people gathering at its weekly Monday night demonstrations in the regional capital, Dresden.
"That of course has something to do with the fact that local authorities are apparently not collecting information from that scene," Jelpke told DW. "And that the intelligence agencies simply tolerate them. These agencies only look at the extremists - the NPD, Die Rechte - those prepared to act violently. But at the middle of society, where the real inciters are active - they don't look there, and they trivialize them."
The other 'GIDA demos around Germany (THÜGIDA in Thuringia, MAGIDA in Saxony-Anhalt, DÜGIDA in Düsseldorf in North Rhine-Westphalia etc) appropriated the same suffix as PEGIDA in an attempt to capitalize on the original success - though they have rarely gathered more than a few hundred people, and were not organized by the same group.
PEGIDA is not GIDA
However, Hans Vorländer, a Dresden-based political scientist who specializes in far-right studies, stresses that the two shouldn't be mixed together. "We already knew that the 'GIDA offshoots were organized by far-right extremists and radicals - that was true in Bonn, of LEGIDA in Leipzig, in Munich," he told DW. "The organizers of PEGIDA - like [Lutz] Bachmann - don't come from neo-Nazi circles."
It's not clear why the off-shoots failed to catch on in the same way as PEGIDA, though Vorländer speculates that "people's reluctance" is much greater if well-known local far-right figures are seen to be organizing the protests.
Nevertheless, this distinction has not stopped many politicians calling for greater scrutiny of the PEGIDA movements as well as its off-shoots. Burkhard Lischka, interior policy spokesman for the Social Democratic Party (SPD), told Thursday's edition of the "Mitteldeutsche Zeitung" that "the domestic security agencies should finally be called on to carry out a thorough surveillance of these individual groups."
Jelpke's original parliamentary question challenged the government to back up a statement by Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere in October, when he called those that organize the PEGIDA rallies "hardcore far-right extremists." In that case, Jelpke and several other opposition politicians argued, the movement should come under more scrutiny from the domestic intelligence agency. In its answer, the ministry flatly declined to offer a position. "If the government just says that it has no answer to this question, then it's really distancing itself from the minister," Jelpke said.
On the other hand, Jelpke argued that "fighting racists" is not something that should be left to Germany's intelligence agencies. "Firstly, they work in secret, and also, a lot of projects that deal with racism - ones that offer counselling and do research - they publish a lot more information and insights than the agency has," she said.