On February 6, 2016, people demonstrated all over Europe. In cities as diverse as Dresden, Prague, Warsaw, Bratislava, Krakow, Copenhagen, Dublin, Graz, Tartu, Amsterdam, Birmingham, Montpellier, and Bordeaux, up to 9,000 people held banners in the air declaring ‘Nein zur Einwanderung – Stoppt die Merkelisierung,’ or ‘Non au grand remplacement, Non au changement de peuple, Nous sommes le peuple.’ On April 9, 300 people participated in a blockade of a part of the Czech-German border. On May 16, 2,500 people gathered in Dresden with a similar message. All three events were organized by a recent political movement, the so-called Fortress Europe. The movement’s spokesperson advocated the demos on her webpage with the following words:
“[It’s] about identity, appreciation and mutual forgiveness for everything that ever separated us, the European peoples. This event shall be the starting point for real cohesion, for a European sense of community and a strong, European esprit de corps – to fight together as united Europeans for the preservation of our continent.”
Reading this statement, a student of Euroculture gets alerted. Fortress Europe apparently seeks to strengthen a collective European identity; a concept that is usually considered a possible solution to the current challenges in the process of European integration. Yet, Fortress Europe is an openly xenophobic and EU-skeptic movement. EU-skeptics that aim at the creation of European identity? It’s definitely time to have a closer look at Fortress Europe.
Origins in Dresden
Fortress Europe was initiated and is still dominated by the German political movement Patriotische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West, or Pegida). Pegida emerged in October 2014. At that time, citizens of Dresden in East Germany created a Facebook group for discussing public protests against the municipality’s plans for the construction of a new home for asylum seekers. Since then, Pegida has been organizing weekly demonstrations against an alleged Muslim invasion and for the preservation of vague and unspecified Western values. In the beginning, Pegida was very successful, attracting up to 25,000 demonstrators in January 2015 and 20,000 participants at their first anniversary in October 2015. Currently around 3,000 people participate in Pegida’s demonstrations every Monday.
Pegida’s “patriotic Europeans” have always claimed to be a pan-European movement. The foundation of Fortress Europe can thus be regarded as the solidification of Europeanization within the movement. In the process, direct offshoots of Pegida were founded (e.g. Legida, the Pegida group in the German city of Leipzig, Pegida Austria, or Pegida Netherlands). On the other hand, ties with separate but like-minded political groups were also established across Europe.
Finally, on January 23, 2016, Fortress Europe was founded with the solemn signature of the so-called Prague Declaration. The manifesto was signed by 20 representatives of ten anti-Islam groups and parties from nine European countries, namely the Czech Blok proti islámu (Bloc Against Islam), the Eesti Konservatiivne Rahvaerakond (Conservative People’s Party of Estonia), the Italian Lega Nord, the Slovakian Odvaha (Courage), Pegida Austria, Pegida Bulgaria, Pegida Germany, Pegida Netherlands, the Polish Ruch Narodowy (National Movement) and the Czech Úsvit – Národní Koalice (Dawn – National Coalition).
European Identity Constructed by Pegida and Its European Allies
Fortress Europe is named after the famous metaphor of Europe becoming a fortress through the closing of external borders. Not surprisingly, the restriction of immigration is among the alliance’s primary goals. Fortress Europe regards immigrants to Europe, and those of the Islamic faith in particular, as a threat to European culture and values. Consequently, it depicts the EU and its institutions that advocate a certain Willkommenskultur as illegitimate.
In turn, Fortress Europe presents itself as the legitimate representative of the “true,” patriotic Europeans. In the Prague Declaration, the parties claim to “not surrender Europe to our enemies,” but to “stand up and oppose political, extreme Islamic regimes, and their European collaborators.” The movement apparently aims to construct an alternative European identity – i.e. an illiberal identity that excludes immigrants. Fortress Europe’s extreme political positions, especially its clearly pronounced xenophobia and Islamophobia, give reason to assume this sense of community primarily builds upon the supposed ethnic and cultural ties between the European peoples.
Fortress Europe in the Making?
Will Fortress Europe succeed in establishing a fortress through the closing of borders? So far, their demos have not attracted a significant number of participants. Yet, their ideas and attitudes seem to have spread and become more mainstream in European societies. How can the construction of Fortress Europe be stopped? First, one has to show that cultures are permeable social systems that have always benefitted from mixing processes. Then, it must be clarified that a Muslim refugee is not first and foremost a follower of Islam, but a human being who enjoys equal human rights as every European citizen. Hopefully Europeans will understand that the so-called migrant crisis (isn’t it rather a migrant protection crisis?) bears more opportunities than risks to European culture, values and identity.