Saturday, 18 February 2012

Dresden, 13th February 2012. Part II

 Picture taken from a Roman Catholic student group

Whenever fascists/racists march, the reaction usually contains a mixture of utter stupidity (from the state apparatus, media and a handful of anti-fascists) and utter brilliance (from the anti-fascists and other parts of civic society).  The recent case of the Nazi march in Dresden on the 13th of February this year saw largely a positive example of openly combating fascism and racism.

Regarding other racist marches it is the ONR/NOP marches of Warsaw and Wroclaw (now a tradition on the 11th of November) that are mostly similar to that in Dresden.  Anti-EDL or anti-Pro-Köln/Deutschland protests focus on groups/marches that deal largely with Islamophobia (though anti-immigration and anti-socialism is also a feature) and therefore the anti-fascists build contacts with Muslims.  Regarding Dresden or the ONR/NOP marches the focus is on national myths of history, as well as on how to commemorate events of the past.  Consequently, the reaction to the Dresden Nazi march offers lessons for Polish anti-fascists.


The Allied bombing of Dresden on the night of the 13th and 14th of February 1945 led to the deaths of about 25,000 civilians and destruction of the city.  This was clearly a war crime.  Commemoration of the event until 1990 was led by communist state authorities who concentrated the commemoration on fighting imperialism, and left no room for individual biographies and memories to be recognised.  After 1990 it was the case that it was Nazis who took the lead in commemorating the event, seeking to portray Germans as being the "victims" of WWII, a myth held by many people in Dresden (just to be clear here, those who died during the bombing were victims.  It doesn't mean that Germany as such was a victim of WWII).  To begin with, in Dresden, only a few hundred Nazis marched through town.  By the 2000s this had increased to a few thousand, supported by Nazis from other countries.  Accordingly, anti-fascist numbers (left-wingers, anarchists, Christians) also increased.

The Nazis have tended to do their main march on the nearest Saturday to the 13th, wanting to gain bigger numbers. This led of course to bigger numbers of anti-fascists being able to come.  Last year saw, for the third time in a row, a successful blockade of the Nazi march.  However, the public discourse saw a focus on violence, as the police were particularly violent last year (as were some anti-fasicsts, some of whom having been provoked by police and Nazi violence).  Afterwards, anti-fascist and other civic society organisations saw themselves criminalised by the Saxony state, whereby offices were occupied, people were stripped naked and phone numbers of 40,000 people were taken illegally by the police.

2012 saw the Nazis being demoralised and divided.  Many didn't want to do their main march on the nearest Saturday, as they didn't want to face a humiliating blockade again.

2012 also saw the Saxony government making changes, wanting to avoid the problems of last year.  A cross-party political group was set up to organise a civic commemoration of the event, a "traces of the perpetrator" march by anti-fascists was finally legalised, and generally the police were better prepared and less willing to use violence (though tear gas was used on some anti-fascists).  Owing to this, and also the news about the Zwickau Nazi cell more people turned up to the human chain, some of which also went onto the anti-fascist blockade.  It seemed that the mainstream had had enough of Nazis and violence dominating the anniversary.

Posters by state institutions, businesses and NGOs (such as shown here) have been in existance in Dresden for a few years now.  What was different this year, however, was the determination to give a respectful commemoration to those who died, while still remembering that it was Germans who had started WWII, and that Nazis are still a problem in Germany.  While anti-fascists and other civic society organisations had been saying this for year, 2012 was the first time when this became the narrative of the anniversary.  In addition, the anti-fascist blockade was fairly successful, forcing the Nazi march route to be massively shortened.  In the end less Nazis came to Dresden than expected, about 1,200 (compared to 5,000 anti-fascists).  "Dresden Nazifrei" are calling this the end of the big Nazi marches in Dresden.

News reports largely said the following: The commemoration of the event was dignified, the mainstream of Dresden took part, churches provided a platform for commemoration, remembering the dead was linked to being anti-Nazi (white roses were laid in remembrance of those who died, more about this later).  The anti-fascist blockade was also seen to be positive.


The narrative was visual and moving: People old enough to remember the event was interviewed and photographed.  The laying of white roses and lighting of candles in front of the Frauenkirche and in many churches provided the mainstream with the opportunity to do something dignified.  Bells were tolled.  The anti-fascists were colourful, musical and lively, and largely seen to be positive.  I would say that it was anti-fascists who took the lead in opposing Nazis, and the mainstream followed.  Indeed, a leading politician of Germany, wothisname said that "one cannot criminalise those who combat fascism".  Perhaps the prejudice against anti-fascists is lessening?

On the one hand, I find the usage of white roses to commemorate the dead to be slightly questionable, to be honest.  White roses are of course the symbol of the "Weisse Rose", a group of Protestants who were a resistance group in Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg.  Those who died in Dresden were not necessarily those who actively resisted the Nazis.  Some of them may have done.  Some of them may have also been big supporters of the Nazis.  There is an old myth in Germany (well, old in western Germany) that it was a minority of Germans who were responsible for the crimes of the Nazis, or that the public couldn't do anything against the the Nazis.  However, it is nonetheless good that the official way now of remembering those who died is being tied to being anti-Nazi, something that, I believe, led to the wider acceptance of the anti-fascists this year.  Indeed, the white roses are officially signs that "people from Dresden stand against those who use the 13th of February 1945 to promote anti-democratic and inhumane ideologies [...] By wearing white roses that we show that our remembrance has a diferent horizon: A sign for the ending of war, racism and violence!"

A second protest against fascism has taken place on the 18th of February, a report will follow in part III of this report, together with a consideration as to the future of Nazi marches in Germany.

Now, what about Poland?

The lessons are probably obvious to the reader, but I'll highlight a few ones:

Actually turn up to protest, and block

A strong anti-fascist base is a foundation for success in combatting racists.  Blockades frustrate Nazis and demoralise them and make them less likely to turn up.  Making it clear (to quote the Protestant church in Germany, "love requires clarity") our opposition to them in big numbers makes a difference.  It also makes being Nazi "uncool".  In Poland we need all people concerned about the ONR/NOP and other nationalists to actually turn up to their marches to achieve similar successes, instead of sitting on their arses complaining.  While some may be afraid of being attacked, the truth is that Polish people have traditionally included people who have stood up to people who attack us.  There is strength in numbers.

A positive message is needed

The Nazi message in Dresden was essentially negative (something acknowledged by the NPD), of being the "victims".  The anti-fascist message was positive, lively, musical and "cool".  Somehow the anti-fascist events in Poland were not seen as positive, despite the music and colour in Warsaw.  We need to strongly portray fun to the media and mainstream.  We need our counter-demos to be obviously happy events, not just negative.  We need to be clearer in our alternative to nationalism in order to win more people over.  There are obvious messages that we can portray: From 11/11/18 Poles could vote in elections, they could form their political parties, they were not under foreign occupation, Poland was multi-cultural.  Those are things to celebrate.  You know that, stupidly, many believe that the anti-fascists in Poland are against Poland not being occupied.  Let's not just say "blokujemy", let's say "swietujemy".  No, let us promote the celebration of the creation of a multicultural and free Poland.  (Of course, one can take the view that nation states lead to the abuse of people via the centralisation of power, the creation of a monopoly of violence and concentration of the human identity on one particular part of our identities.  However, one can still say that Polish people should have the same rights as people in other countries.  In any case, freedom should always be emphasised.)

Be visual

The visual message is important.  Let's have clear symbols that portray our message, symbols that average people can use.  Like in many places, flowers and candles are popular symbols in Poland.  Despite our rightful reservations about the RC church in Poland, such symbols are useful.  We need symbolic actions that people can do, more than shouting chants at Nazis.  If, for example, a rynek became an area where people were invited to light red and white candles in order to create a big Polish flag, or with other colours to promote a multicultural Poland, or if we threw flowers at Nazis when they throw lit torches at us, if people got soup and paid donations, if people could buy grilled cheese with cranberry sauce and other foods from Poland, if people could attend poetry reading from Polish poets, hear music performed (say, by Gorecki) on the street, people will receive a better message.  There are enough creative people within anti-fascism to come up with some good visual symbols.

This involves all of us

Civic society shouldn't, as Andrzej Rychard said, just leave it to the anti-fascists.  We need governmental institutions, churches and NGOs to make clear their opposition to racism.  Now, of course, we all know that there are people within the first two groups who tend towards the ONR/NOP rather than us.  But not all of them do.  Those of you who have connecti ons within such groups needs to think about how you can corporately show your opposition to Nazis, while still (as in Dresden) promoting a positive message.  Posters can be part of this, like the ones I showed here.

Get off your arse

Across central and eastern Europe Nazis are getting more active.  In the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia, Bulgaria and in Romania Roma are being attacked.  In Serbia, Montenegro and again in Hungary gays are being persecuted.  Here in Poland of course, Wrocław has lately seen new Nazi graffiti appear (to be reflected upon in a later article), gays need police protection during their parades and there has been an arson attack on a house where Roma live, to name just a few examples.  Are we to wait till the situation gets worse before we react, or we are to work for fighting Nazism now?

In any case, let us strengthen a spirit of criticism.  People in Poland often like to complain, anyway!  Let's use this criticism to test things in the public sphere.  I have an example here of a student group in Wroclaw that tolerates racists.  You'll have to wait till another article to find out more about that however.  To keep in touch with this blog, "like" Wroclaw workshops on Facebook.

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