Counter-protesters in Rotterdam wonder: where is Pegida?

Police vans park in all streets around the station square, well before the announced demonstration of the anti-Islam movement Pegida. It will start on Saturday afternoon at two o’clock in front of Rotterdam station. Pegida foreman Edwin Wagensveld has said he wants to burn a Quran, and this intention has caused great unrest among the Muslim Rotterdammers in particular. A counter-demonstration was announced.

At a quarter to two, opposite the station square, it is full of counter-protesters; many of them young people. Prayers are made by a group of men who have placed their prayer rugs side by side on the sidewalk. The crowd chants ‘Ya Allah; Bismi Allah; Allahu akbar’ (‘O Allah, in the name of Allah, Allah is the greatest.’). And then the first eggs and fireworks bombs fly through the air.

Policemen with helmets, shields and batons form a line in front of them. Behind it, four barking police dogs pulling on leash with a handler. “Wollah, look at those dogs,” whispers a boy. Behind it is the station square full of police officers.

But where is Pegida? Shortly after two it starts to get restless among the counter-protesters. They are here, but where are the guests?

A message blares from a police van: “The police speak here. The Quran has been taken.”

Loud cheers. No one is ready to leave. The sun is shining, a couple of boys are tightening the drawstring of their hood. A boy passes a carton of eggs to a friend behind him.

insulting slogan

At 2:14 p.m., the microphone on the police van cracks again. “This is where the police speak. Pegida protesters have been arrested. The demonstration has ended.” Pegida foreman Edwin Wagensveld was then arrested for “calling an insulting slogan”, the police later said in a statement. And: “A Quran has been taken to prevent further escalation and thus serious disorder.” Wagensveld has been taken to the police station, where he will be interrogated. It is unclear whether more Pegida supporters were present.

Two friends, in their twenties, who do not want their names in the newspaper, look at each other. boxing. “We wanted to prevent a Quran from being burned,” says one. The other: “Goal achieved, we can go home.”

The quick action of the police is remarkable. Earlier, coalition party Denk had asked for a ban on the demonstration by means of a motion. After a heated debate in the city council last Thursday, that motion was only supported by BIJ1 and the PvdA. Deputy mayor Robert Simons (Liveable Rotterdam) said during the council debate that he cannot prohibit a demonstration, even if an announcement has been made that a Koran will be burned. Then he would be acting against the law. Burning a holy book is not in itself a criminal offense, he explained. “Setting something on fire during a demonstration is. But I cannot forbid the demonstration in advance on that basis.”


Thinking councilor Serkan Soytekin had then put in a lot of effort: “You are responsible for what will happen on Saturday”, he snapped at Simons. This was followed by protests by Leefbaar and the VVD. This is heading towards a threat, the parties found. Soytekin initially did not want to take back his words. “This is not intended as a threat. But to indicate how great the concerns are.” He later retracted his words.

At around half past two on the station square in Rotterdam, a group of Turkish Dutch people discusses whether they should immediately get back in the car or have a bite to eat. But the smooth ending of the demonstration feels like an anti-climax for a group of young Rotterdammers. Police officers talk to youths with hoods. Some of the young people get sick. Still some fireworks and eggs over the heads of the police officers to the station square. Things get restless among the group. The older ones feel uncomfortable, they threaten to become part of a group of rioters.

Then a number of men intervene. Yilmas (35), sturdy build in a blue body warmer, takes the lead, followed by a few acquaintances. They address the young people directly. “Ready, friend. Mission accomplished. Now get out.”

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