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Newcastle Unites against Pegida
Members of Newcastle Unites standing on the front line in their protest against PegidaJonas Rühaak

Newcastle Unites against far-right group Pegida

The anti-Islam march was dwarfed by a vibrant counter-demo

On Saturday a demonstration organsised in Newcastle under a far-right organisation's "brand" was met with fierce resistance from anti-fascist protestors. Pegida is an anti-Islam group that originates in Germany and this weekend its UK branch marched through Newcastle. No-one knows why Pegida chose Newcastle, a city with a history not steeped in racial tension, but hundreds of the far-right group marched turned up in the the city centre regardless, only to be met by thousands of counter-protesters, outnumbering them by around five to one.

Pegida – which stands for ‘Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West’ – first started out as movement in Dresden, Germany in 2014. The far-right group claims to oppose the supposed spread of radical Islam in Europe. Pegida in Germany has always insisted that it was not a racist movement, but merely representing the majority of the population.

Internal disputes and a scandal surrounding the former head and founder of the movement, Lutz Bachmann, has led to a recent decline of supporters in Germany. Bachmann had to step down in January after media reports revealed several of his racist posts on Facebook, including a picture of him posing as Adolf Hitler.

Although its organizers claim that Pegida is not a racist far-right movement, the demonstration attracted a number of National Front and EDL supporters and other members of right-wing groups, some sporting '88 tattoos, the Nazi skinhead symbol for "Heil Hitler", H being the 8th letter of the alphabet.

Pegida’s rally took place in Bigg Market, where fascist speakers had been overturned by Geordies 80 years ago. In 1933, the British Union of Fascists had tried to hold a demonstration here, but their speakers were driven out by a large crowd of Newcastle citizens.

This history of a zero-tolerance policy towards racism continued on Saturday when the anti-Islam rally was met by a peaceful counterdemonstration, celebrating Newcastle’s diversity. It was led by Newcastle Unites, a diverse coalition of different groups that has already organized demonstrations against EDL in previous years.

Dipu Ahad leads the movement. He told us that it's a mystery to all of them why Pegida chose Newcastle for their first rally. “There is little racist tension in the city, which has a rich history of diversity and multi-culturalism," he said. "It is deeply disappointing and insulting that Pegida should choose our city to whip up race hate.”

According to police five people were arrested on Saturday, but there is no information as to which side they belonged to. Nevertheless, the demonstrations were mostly peaceful on both sides.

Ahad was delighted with the outcome of the demonstration, saying: “We did not want to fight hate with hate. We do not believe in that.” He said that the aim was to celebrate Newcastle’s diverse community, uniting people from different backgrounds. We all united today to give one message to the world – that we are not going to be intimidated, that we are not going to be broken by fascist groups.”

The demonstration against Pegida was supported by LGBT groups, different civil and religious groups and politicians. A student from Manchester said that her motivation to join the demonstration was to stand firm against hate and racism. She was amazed by the outcome of the demonstration. “There are people from different cultures and religions, everyone is here and we all appreciate each other," she said. "It’s the most beautiful thing you can see. Everyone getting along and just being happy.”

Arne Lietz, a Social Democrat and member of the European Parliament, joined the counter demonstration from Germany, saying that: “It is very important that every local community speaks up against hate crime and shows the Nazis or Pegida groups that they are not welcome and that they cannot spread this kind of poison among people.”

He was very happy to be able to join the demonstration and show his solidarity with the people of Newcastle. “It is totally unacceptable that people march against a religious group and give hate speeches against the Muslim community. We have to stand up together for our European values and for tolerance and that’s why I am here.”

This weekend, a racist group tried to whip up hatred in a UK city centre. This weekend, they failed.