The far-right group Pegida (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West) failed to stage a mass march in the streets of Edinburgh on Saturday, after only four supporters turned up.
Unite Against Facism (UAF) and other activists, meanwhile, gathered around 200 anti-Pegida protestors outside the Scottish Parliament to oppose the radical group. After waiting for around an hour, the UAF speaker announced to the demonstrators that the Pegida supporters had “been kicked out of a pub” and were no longer going ahead with the march, to the cheers of the crowd.
The events in Edinburgh coincided with UN Day Against Racism, which saw tens of thousands of people attending anti-racism marches across the UK and the world. London, Cardiff and Glasgow hosted large events, with the Glasgow march attracted 2,500 people.
Pegida, which was founded in Germany last year and drew 25,000 supporters to a recent rally in Dresden, staged a 400-strong demonstration in Newcastle in February. They hoped Edinburgh would be their second foothold in the UK.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has described Pegida leaders as having “prejudice, coldness, and even hatred in their hearts.” Pegida demonstrators in Germany, meanwhile, have adopted the slogan “We are the people.”
There was an extensive police presence on the Royal Mile and outside the Parliament at Holyrood on Saturday afternoon. Extra police officers were drafted from Newcastle, bringing the total to about 100. Speakers at the anti-fascist rally claimed the Pegida supporters had been “scared off” by the police presence and the size of the counter-demonstration.
Demonstrators listened to speakers including University of Edinburgh lecturer Dr Talat Ahmed, who declared: “We know that the kind of filthy racism that’s peddled in the newspaper and on the media and on documentaries will not disappear overnight and therefore we will have to be constantly mobilising our numbers as anti-racist anti-fascist forces, to ensure that the racist and Nazi scum of Pegida and others will never be passed. No pasarán.”
Ahmed’s speech was followed by chants of “No pasarán” among the demonstrators.
Greg Eichhorn, who is studying for a Masters in International Political Theory at the University of Edinburgh, told The Student: “I was in Glasgow this morning at the recognised anti-fascist march, and I think Pegida anticipated there not being a response [to their march in Edinburgh]. So we came with a bus of about 45 people from Glasgow. […] 2,500 was the rough tally [of people there], which was double what there were last year, and they were also saying there were double the number of trade union signs. So I guess there are more ‘recognised’ [groups].”
Strathclyde University student Amber Jamieson said: “I think it’s been really impressive, we should be really proud how many people are coming together to fight what the mainstream claim is what everyone is feeling. I think 2015 is definitely going to be a good year for political momentum. Yeah, it’s going to be a good year.”
Dr Tom Webster, a history lecturer at the University of Edinburgh, reacted to the news that the Pegida march had collapsed by telling The Student: “It’s good that they don’t get a public platform. […] The fact that they’ve not turned out with sufficient numbers to make the police think ‘okay, we need to be accommodating to them’ is a good sign. The main worry was, the SDL [Scottish Defence League] has more or less discredited itself – Pegida is a new face for them, and not everybody knows just how neo-Nazi Pegida are. Well, if that doesn’t seem to have worked either, it’s good news.”
One Edinburgh local told The Student that he felt protective of the city: “Because I was born and brought up in Edinburgh, I resent that the offspring of a racist German organisation are coming here, devastating my city. Because, you know, I think Edinburgh’s a good city – a cosmopolitan city. So letting anything like [their] kind of racism spread will spoil Edinburgh. […] All sorts of people come to Edinburgh. So racism here, it’s poisonous.”
Another local said: “British people can go into other countries and expect to be totally accepted because they’re British, but with other people coming to this country they think ‘No, it needs to be all white.’ We’re going back to the days of Hitler again. And if it’s allowed to continue, where’s it going to end up? Another war? It just can’t be allowed to continue.”
She then explained to The Student why resisting Pegida is so personal to her: “My ex-husband was Muslim. I have a mixed-race son, so I have a vested interest in this, and I want to do something so that I’m showing my son that it’s the right thing to do, to stand up.
“It’s okay to sit on the sidelines and say ‘I don’t agree with this’, but nothing will happen if you just continue on to the next story You’re not doing anything. You’re disagreeing but you’re not making a point, you’re not making a stand.
“That’s what I’m trying to teach [my son]. He didn’t want me to come here today, he really didn’t. He was very panicky to be honest, because he doesn’t want anything to happen to me. But he understands why I’m doing it. And I want him, as he grows up to be a man, to be proud of who he is. He’s got my culture, and he’s got his dad’s culture. And that’s fantastic.”
Humza Yousaf, the Scottish Government’s Minister for External Affairs and International Development, said: “Scotland completely rejects this type of bigotry, so it is no surprise that this dismal event was a complete wash out and in total contrast to the well-attended and positive anti-racism rally I spoke at in Glasgow at the same time.
“The language of division and discrimination is simply not welcome in Scotland – whether it comes from Pegida, from UKIP or from anywhere else.”
Graeme Walker, a prominent member of the SDL, said the Pegida march had been disorganised. He told The Sunday Herald that 40 people “at a push” had met in a bar beside Waverley Station, but had then dispersed.
Walker said: “At the end of the day, Pegida has some value, but it needs organisation. In Germany, 25,000 people marched in the pouring rain. There were mixed messages in terms of where people had to meet. They should have put out a lot more information.”
Police Scotland’s Edinburgh City Commander, Chief Superintendent Mark Williams, made a statement shortly after the events in Edinburgh: “A significant police presence was put in place to facilitate today’s demonstrations and I’d like to thank the public for remaining patient. I would also like to thank those who took part for conducting themselves in a peaceful manner. The day passed without incident and there were no arrests made.”
Image credit: Gavin Dewar