The Catholic and Protestant Churches, along with the local Jewish community, are standing up to the far-right in Dresden, saying that in Germany “we need peacemakers, not pyromaniacs”.
“At some point you have to say: stop”
“Of course, the Church stays out of politics. But the Church does not stay out when society threatens to break apart”, Thomas Arnold, the director of the Catholic Academy in the Diocese of Dresden-Meissen, told Domradio ahead of a far-right rally slated for Monday evening.
The rally is being organised by Pegida (the German acronym for “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West”), an unashamedly ultranationalist, Islamophobic, xenophobic and neo-Nazi movement.
But of particular concern for Arnold was the scheduled presence at the rally of Björn Höcke, a representative of the now institutionalised far-right party AfD (“Alternative for Germany”), which has deputies in the European and well as German Federal and State Parliaments.
“If this party [the AfD] thinks that it is not right-wing populist, but is somewhere else on the right-hand side of the democratic-political spectrum, then it must clearly distance itself from Pegida”, Arnold said, adding “there is a connection here [between the AfD and Pegida] that cannot be accepted”.
The director of the Dresden-Meissen Catholic Academy warned that by associating itself with Pegida, the AfD was showing that it is “drifting further and further toward right-wing populism and right-wing extremism”.
“And that’s why you have to raise your voice against it”, Arnold said.
“The Church and also the Catholic Academy stand for an open debate. But at some point you have to say: stop, freedom is being used here to trample human dignity. And that needs our voice”.
“We’re not praying against politicians: we’re praying for peace”
Having chided the AfD – which, after all, is a legitimate political party which counts Catholics among its voters – Arnold was quick to point out that tonight’s ecumenical prayer vigils in Dresden churches against the Pegida/AfD rally are not so much “a demonstration against people, but a sign against positions that are being represented”.
“We’re not praying against a politician [Höcke]: we’re praying for peace”, Arnold explained, adding “I think this is extremely necessary for our society”.
“We are currently experiencing two things”, the Dresden-Meissen Catholic Academy director continued.
“On the one hand, there is content that goes against the basic values of our peaceful coexistence.
“On the other hand, there are methods that work against the familiar liberal, democratic system, or exploit it to undermine it. That’s why you have to be sensitive and raise your voice”.
“Where peace is willfully destroyed, the Church must raise its voice”
Arnold’s allusion to the AfD and Pegida’s “undermining” the democratic system was a reference, first of all, to a controversial pact in the neighbouring state of Thuringia early February which saw Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU party make a deal with the AfD to make Free Democrat (FDP) politician Thomas Kemmerich state premier.
Kemmerich has since stepped down as state premier due to widespread protests over the CDU-AfD deal, which was the first time a centrist party had accepted the support of the far-right since 1949.
But the controversy has earned the AfD the reputation of wanting to leverage its hinge vote to paralyse the normal functioning of democratic institutions.
Not only did Arnold express “burning concern” at the Thuringia deal, but he also expressed those same sentiments about the AfD’s manipulation of the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Dresden, which exploitation came to a head Saturday with a “funeral march” in the city “martyred” by the Allies in a crime on par with the Holocaust, according to far-right rhetoric.
“Facts were denied and a victim myth recreated”, Arnold said of the Dresden “funeral march”, which gathered together over a thousand far-right partisans from Germany but also from further abroad.
“And not by neo-Nazis, but by AfD federal leaders.
“That’s why you have to say very clearly: We do not need pyromaniacs, we need peacemakers. And that is what the Church has to do.
“Where truth is changed and peace in society is willfully destroyed, the Church must raise its voice and draw attention to this”, Arnold insisted.
Archbishop of Bamberg: “We oppose anyone who questions democracy”
Dresden-Meissen Catholic Academy director Arnold’s support for the anti-far-right prayer vigils tonight came after the head of the Catholic Office in Saxony, Daniel Frank, also warned against the Pegida-AfD rally.
“We are responsible for social Cohesion in the Free State of Saxony”, Frank declared.
Frank added that the Church must not remain silent “when there are positions that are capable of stirring up hatred, tearing society apart, creating fear of the future and trampling on human dignity”.
Arnold and Frank’s comments also came after Archbishop of Bamberg Ludwig Schick also took part in a rally in that city at the weekend against neo-Nazis.
Democrats respect the dignity and fundamental rights of all people – including refugees – regardless of country of origin, religion and skin color, Schick emphasised, addressing a Bamberg “Democracy Festival”.
“We oppose anyone who questions the principles of democracy and the democratic attitude because we uphold our Constitution”, the archbishop continued, promising to “show the red card” and exclude those who want to limit the concession of human dignity only to people of certain nationalities.
“Blessed are the peacemakers”
Tonight’s prayer vigils in Dresden were due to take place in the Lutheran Kreuzkirche and Frauenkirche at 5 and 6pm respectively, this last church being the famous monument to the destruction caused by World War II by being left in ruins for over fifty years after the bombing of Dresden.
To mark the 75th anniversary of the Allied razing of the city between February 13-15 1945 – and in total consonance with popular sentiment ahead of the Pegida-AfD rally tonight – Church authorities have hung a banner on the facade of the Frauenkirche with the simple Gospel message: “Blessed are the peacemakers”.