I was thrilled to stand on O’Connell Street on Saturday 6 February as part of a large coalition of people, Irish and migrants alike, who congregated in front of the GPO to say no to racism and Islamophobia, and to counter Pegida Ireland’s plans to hold its inaugural meeting.
Pegida stands for ‘Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West’ (in German: Patriotische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes). It was established in October 2014 in Germany, where thousands of neo-Nazi fascists have since marched in opposition to Muslim migrants, though the ‘Islamisation’ of the west is a figment of the racists’ imagination: Muslims remain a small, persecuted minority throughout the region.
Like all far-right groups, including Identity Ireland, Pegida presents itself as defending European values and providing a legitimate opposition to migration. However, the German term ‘Abendlandes’ derives from The Downfall of the Occident, a 1918 book penned by Oswald Spengler, whose racist ideas about the division of history into discrete cultures fed Nazi racial superiority that led to the extermination of millions.
The European far right regards Europe’s refugee crisis as an opportunity to publicise its anti-immigrant message. During the last months of 2015 there were 208 rallies in Germany, up from 95 a year earlier. And Pegida members set fire to refugee hostels, instilling fear in the million or so migrants who have reached Germany mostly from the war-torn Middle East. Racist rallies were also held in in Amsterdam, Prague, Birmingham, and in Calais, home to thousands of migrants fleeing war and poverty.
Wherever they go, Pegida members – holding flags and chanting nationalist chants – attack counter-demonstrators who support migrants. They attack centres where provisions for refugees are collected, throw stones and bottles. And they often complain that by preventing them from marching, they are deprived of freedom of speech and right of protest against what they see as legitimate targets.
Since the 1930s, when the precursors of Fine Gael, the Blueshirts– described by Look Left magazine as ‘the most serious fascist movement to emerge in Ireland’ – had 48,000 members across the Free State, and apart from some insignificant attempts by tiny groups such as the Immigration Control Platform and Identity Ireland, Ireland has not had a significant extreme right-wing political party. Judging from the Government’s restrictive migration policies and the ongoing incarceration of asylum seekers in direct provision hostels, as well as Ireland’s reluctance to play its part in admitting refugees from Syria, some say that Ireland does not really need an extreme right party. Yet the establishment of Pegida Ireland was a step too far. This was why the anti-Pegida coalition, led by groups such as Anti-Racism Network Ireland and the European Network Against Racism among many others, decided to mount a counter-rally.
We were guided by several important principles, among them the need to hold the space of the 1916 Rising for inclusion and against racial hatred. Thus, most of the rally’s speakers were members of ethnic minorities and migrant communities, all of whom expressed their sense of belonging to an inclusive republic that they and their children call home.
Although we invited all political parties to endorse this inclusivity, only representatives of minority parties spoke, while the Government parties preferred absence. In the presence of many supporters, the largely peaceful rally claimed the streets of Dublin as our own, and yet again, managed to prevent the extreme right from setting up its stall on the 1916 scene.
Ronit Lentin is a retired associate professor of Sociology at Trinity College Dublin. Her column appears regularly in Metro Éireann