The World from Berlin 'We Should take Pro Cologne Less Seriously'

Protesters and other citizens in Cologne worked en masse on Saturday to shut down their city and prevent a demonstration by Europe's radical right. But have they given too much attention to the fringe group, Pro Cologne, which organized the rally?

When radical-right activists from around Europe arrived in Cologne on Saturday for a rally, the city was ready. Thousands of protesters flooded the rally site, disrupted city transportation and even attacked a river boat where a press conference was supposed to be held.

Police had prepared for about 1,500 far-right activists, organized by the local "Pro Cologne" movement, to make a public show of discussing what they called the "Islamization" of Europe. Pro Cologne had invited prominent members of Europe's radical right, like Filip Dewinter, who heads Belgium's ultra-nationalist Vlaams Belang (Flemish Interest) party, and members of the UK's whites-only British National Party, to attend and speak.

The immediate reason for rally was a recent go-ahead by local authorities for a mosque to be built in the city's Ehrenfeld neighborhood. Pro Cologne ("Pro Köln") had been founded to resist the mosque.

But an estimated 40,000 protesters turned up in Cologne's downtown Heumarkt area, many wearing clown suits, to disrupt the rally. They 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."

Police cancelled the rally after 45 minutes. Pro Cologne organizers had to dismantle microphones and other equipment in Heumarkt while the overwhelmed riot cops tried to hold back the crowd of protesters. Some demonstrators -- police estimated the violent faction at about 100 -- flung paint bombs at the organizers or lit fires near barricades in the streets.

Even away from the rally, the anti-Islam conference was massively unpopular within Cologne. The city's motto for the weekend seemed to be "No Kölsch for Nazis," Kölsch being a local style of beer. About 150 bars hung banners and handed out beer mats bearing that slogan, and the bar owners refused to serve any obvious far-right visitors. But on Monday morning German papers are wondering whether the flare-ups of violence on Saturday didn't contradict the whole point of the city's resistance.

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"The activists of Pro Cologne have achieved one thing with their 'Anti-Islam Congress' over the weekend: They have made a name for themselves far beyond the borders of the city. Their only audience on Cologne's Neumarkt was a group of European TV crews, in front of whom a few functionaries managed to voice their crude ideas about the supposed threat of 'Islamization' in European society."

"The political heart of the radical right is obviously political fear-mongering and race-baiting of immigrants, Turks above all. The planned Central Mosque in Ehrenfeld was a blessing for them, because doubts about the mosque have spread so far throughout Cologne society. (But) the Turkish-Islamic Union is, in fact, a controversial sponsor for the mosque … A rational discussion is now all but impossible, especially after this weekend."

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"The overwhelmingly peaceful counter-demonstration illustrated Cologne's tradition of 'live and let live,' even if it came at an exaggerated expense: Tens of thousands of protesters descended on a maximum of 200 far-right delegates, winning them disproportional attention in the media -- never mind the cost of sending police to protect them from the violent left-wing faction."

"We should take 'Pro Cologne' less seriously. Nationalism and intolerance exist among Turks in Germany, too -- and with an intensity that would drive these counterdemonstrators back to the streets, if only they could understand the language."

But the left-wing daily Die Tageszeitung writes:

"Even if the citizens of Cologne continue to have different conceptions of the planned mosque, they're united on at least one question -- no public demonstrations by the radical right in their town. (Conservative) Christian Democrats therefore 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.' And the police took advantage of any means allowed by law to keep from being used by 'Pro Cologne.' The fact that a few demonstrators weren't satisfied with violence-free protest cannot spoil the success of this alliance."

-- Michael Scott Moore, 12:30pm CET

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