"Whether we want it or not, the world is watching Germany with great attention," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Sunday in an interview with the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.
It is that scrutiny that makes "it all the more important that we say clearly and strongly that PEGIDA does not speak in Germany's name," Steinmeier told the paper, referencing the anti-Islamization protest group "Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West" that have taken to holding weekly marches in the eastern city of Dresden since October.
Shortly before the group's 13th rally, Social Democrat (SPD) Steinmeier rejected the possibility of entering into a dialogue with PEGIDA leaders, saying he would always speak to concerned citizens, but not to "self-styled officials," as he called the group's organizers in his Bild interview.
The right-wing umbrella organization's "xenophobic and racist slogans and placards" are ruining Germany's image abroad, the minister warned.
PEGIDA is using immigrants as scapegoats
Steinmeier said PEGIDA's strategy was one of exploiting discontent with the system by focusing on a convenient target. Using immigrants and asylum seekers as scapegoats, Steinmeier said, was easier than engaging with "complex subjects like insufficient infrastructure or the ageing of the population."
The group's organizers maintain that they are not racist nor xenophobic, and merely oppose the spread of radical Islam and seek stronger immigration regulations.
PEGIDA marched on Sunday afternoon starting from Dresden's famous Semperoper, while a counter-demonstration took place in front of the nearby cathedral. The last march was canceled due to death threats and the leadership of PEGIDA is in disarray after its founder Lutz Bachmann resigned when a photo of him posing as Adolf Hitler surfaced on the Internet.
A larger anti-xenophobia concert, with the slogan "Open and Colorful - Dresden for Everyone" is planned for Monday in Dresden's city center. The headliner is legendary musician Herbert Grönemeyer, the man behind two of Germany's top-five best-selling albums of all time.
es/nm (AFP, dpa)