DRESDEN: Thousands marched against hate and racism in the eastern German of city Dresden on Saturday, a week before state elections when far-right party AfD is projected to make huge gains.
Under the banner “indivisible”, a broad coalition of artists, unionists and politicians gathered to urge voters to reject exclusion, which they argue is championed by right-wing extremists.
The three-hour march began in a relaxed atmosphere under the warm summer sun from 1200 GMT in the picturesque baroque city, one of the most popular tourism destinations in the former communist east.
But Dresden is also the cradle of the Islamophobic movement Pegida, and the state of Saxony is a stronghold of the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany party.
Many at the protest held aloft signs that read: “No place for Nazis” and “Racism is not an alternative”.
One of the marchers, 27-year-old Berlin teacher Janna Rakowski, said she wanted “to show the people of Dresden that they are not alone in the fight against racism.
“We want to show our solidarity in this particular situation before the elections in Saxony,” she said.
A spokeswoman for the organisers, Susann Riske, said: “We want to do something against the current political climate and support those who oppose hatred and violence every day.” Greta Schmidt, a 66-year-old retiree from Dresden, held up a sign reading “Grandmas against the extreme right”.
“The people are very dissatisfied... the big parties have sabotaged their chances,” she said.
Before the march started, organisers said they expected at least 10,000 people to turn up at the protest, while about 70 kilometres (40 miles) away, the co-leader of the AfD Alexander Gauland is due to address a rally in the city of Chemnitz.
An AfD candidate in the Saxony election, Nico Koehler, on Saturday denied his party is racist, calling such charges “propaganda designed to get left-wing parties into the state assembly”.
He also called on other parties to enter into dialogue with the AfD.
“Democracy starts with interpersonal dialogue... even with those you consider the enemy,” he said at a campaign stall in Chemnitz. New polls show the AfD party running neck and neck with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU party in Saxony.
Published in Dawn, August 25th, 2019