Wednesday, September 24, 2008


That big racist "Anti- Islam Congress" which was supposed to happen last weekend for Cologne, Germany flopped. When tens of thousands of protesters and the people of Cologne, made it clear they weren't interested in the fascists meeting in the city, the cops finally agreed and said the "Congress" ain't gonna happen.

Police chief Klaus Steffenhagen said, "It would have been excessive to deploy water cannon and special units to fight a way into the square for 300 (right wing) participants."

Some 3,000 police had been brought in and part of the old city sealed off as authorities appealed for peaceful protests against a weekend congress called by the far-right group Pro-Köln (For Cologne).

Der Spiegel reports when radical-right activists from around Europe arrived in Cologne on Saturday for a rally, the city was ready. Thousands of anti-racist protesters flooded the rally site. Protesters of all stripes and all levels of militancy included some who blocked urban trains to keep delegates away and raided a tourist boat shaped like a whale -- called the "Moby Dick" -- where the far-right gathering had been hoping to hold a press conference. A Pro Cologne spokesman said, "Stones, bricks and paint bombs were thrown and the panoramic windows of the Moby Dick were shattered."

After less then an hour the police called the "rightists"press conference off while the more militant members of the crowd flung paint bombs at the racist organizers of the fascist fest and lit fires near barricades in the streets.

Less militant protesters did their job as well. "Conservative Christian Democrats stood with trade unionists, Left-Party members and students; Christian churches stood with Islamic groups; critics of Islam stood with mosque supporters; Carnival clowns stood with hooded anarchists. Taxi drivers refused to help the far-right delegates, hotel owners cancelled their rooms, and bar owners backed up their promise of 'No Kölsch for Nazis'" wrote Der Speigel.

The demonstrators, including thousands more regular citizens let out a jubilant cheer when the mayor of Cologne, Fritz Schramma, told them the right was beaten.

Schramma slammed Pro-Köln as "arsonists and racists" hiding under the cloak of a "citizens' movement.".

Even after the massive crowd dispersed almost 6000 others stuck around for a street concert and some of them scuffled with police or set garbage alight in the city's alleys.

Baton-swinging police surrounded 500 masked leftists at one point and took the names of individuals who had been seen earlier "rioting," throwing stones and firecrackers at officers and trying to snatch away police guns.

Six police were injured, 15 leftists were arrested and 500 were briefly held for identity checks Saturday.

Pro Cologne claimed it held the third day of the event out of the public eye on premises in the nearby city of Leverkusen. It was not clear how many people were attending.

A city councilor for the Pro Koln, which won 5 percent of votes at the last poll, said his group would challenge the ban in court. "We'll repeat the event later," Manfred Rouhs told WDR television.

Armin Laschet, minister for minorities in North-Rhine Westphalia told the Tagesspiegel newspaper it was the first time an entire German city "stood up to protect its Muslims."

The following is from Qantara.

European Parties Fail to Feed Resentment against Islam

European right-wing populist parties had planned an "Anti-Islam Congress" in Cologne for the past weekend. An alliance of local people, politicians, the media, churches and associations put a stop to these plans. Frank Überall reports from Cologne

Radical right-wingers from all over Europe suffered a major political defeat in Cologne. They had intended to hold a xenophobic "Anti-Islamisation Congress", but were foiled by the people of Cologne's vehement resistance. Thousands took part in peaceful demonstrations against the extreme right-wing meeting, accompanied by isolated incidents of violence. Cologne's police eventually banned the central right-wing rally at the last minute due to the dangerous security situation. The organisers announced they would go to court over the ban and stage a repeat event.

The group Pro Köln was to host the three-day congress, planned as a critical discussion of Islam. The organisation is under official observation due to suspicion of right-wing extremism. It has built up a high public profile over the past few years, mainly through its protest against the construction of Cologne's first major mosque. Pro Köln's publications also routinely incite blanket resentment against migrants and Islam.

Local mayor admits mistakes

"We made the mistake of not taking public concerns seriously at an early point," admitted the Social Democratic politician Josef Wirges. He is the mayor of the Cologne district of Ehrenfeld, where the large mosque and community centre are being built. One reason for its size is that the Turkish Islamic religious organisation Ditib has its German headquarters in Cologne. The district has had an improvised Muslim prayer-room in a former factory building for over ten years. Issues of increased traffic, possible noise pollution and architectural compatibility arising from the new mosque had been tackled too late, commented Wirges. "Pro Köln took advantage of this vacuum to gain votes." Pro Köln now has a number of representatives on Cologne's city council.

Josef Wirges was one of several thousand people who took part in this weekend's demonstrations against the extreme right-wing events. According to a Pro Köln spokesperson, these were partly financed by the populist right-wing parties Vlaams Belang (Belgium) and FPÖ (Austria). The public demonstration was to be accompanied by a congress, where the participants intended to launch a Europe-wide patriotic party. But the events never took place, as the people of Cologne literally blocked out the radicals in their thousands.

Unwanted guests

"There's no kölsch for Nazis here," said landlord Markus Hemken, referring to Cologne's famous local beer. He and 150 other bar-owners had beer mats printed with an unmistakeable message – they would not serve right-wing extremists. The unwanted guests were thrown out of a Cologne hotel after anti-fascist groups informed the manager exactly who had booked the rooms. Pro Köln, otherwise a verbal proponent of law and order, had rented a number of conference rooms and coaches under false names. As a result, the party's members and their guests were not allowed in, and had to cancel almost every part of their congress.

Even the central rally "against Islamisation" at the heart of Cologne had to be called off, as the police were concerned about major security problems and banned the event.

Far-left activists had attacked police officers all over the city. "They were throwing stones, incendiaries and fireworks," said police spokesman Wolfgang Baldes: "There were even isolated attempts to remove police officers' guns." More than 400 demonstrators were placed under temporary detention, with six police officers sustaining injuries. These incidents overshadowed the fact that thousands of people were involved in peaceful demonstrations against the right-wing extremists.

An alliance across broad swathes of the population had called the protest – including the Protestant and Catholic churches, the Jewish community and the Turkish Islamic organisation Ditib. "I think it's great that the people of Cologne have blocked the way for right-wing extremists together," said the German reggae singer Gentleman. "I'm proud of Cologne."

Cologne's Christian Democrat city mayor, Fritz Schramma, put across a clear message at a protest event outside the famous cathedral: "I say to this clique of eurofascists, these Haiders and Le Pens and whatever their names are: there's the exit, that's the way home. We don't want you here."

Researchers call for clearer information policy

Pro Köln, however, is not willing to leave it at that. "We want to make next year's local election a plebiscite on the new mosque," said councillor Markus Beisicht. Had the radical right-wing conference in Cologne been a success, the "Pro Köln model" would have been emulated across Germany. There are already local branches in Berlin, Hamburg and Munich, though none of them are particularly active as yet.

Political scientists see deliberate incitement of resentment against mosques as a key element of the "Pro movement". "This is an extreme right-wing party that consciously operates in the guise of respectable middle-class moralists," says Alexander Häuser from the Neonazism Research Centre at Düsseldorf University of Applied Sciences: "They consciously pander to resentments against migrants and Islam held by parts of the population. The only thing that can help is a consistent public information policy."

Frank Überall

© 2008

Translated from the German by Katy Derbyshire

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