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Citizens defeat racists in Cologne

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United against racism, terror and violence

United against racism, terror and violence

You won’t find me at a lot of political rallies.

So when I got my ass up this weekend to go out and demonstrate, you know that it must have been a cause that was very important to me.

This weekend, racists and neo-Nazis from all over Europe had planned to gather in my home town Cologne for an “Anti-Islam-Conference”.

They were hoping to use public sentiment against the construction of a big mosque in Cologne to their advantage.

They’d planned a big rally in one of Cologne’s downtown squares, the Heumarkt, with speakers from right-wing parties like France’s Front National, Italy’ Lega Nord and Austria’s FPÖ.

Cologne debates construction of a big mosque

Many people in Cologne aren’t comfortable with the idea of building the new mosque. Cologne is a very catholic and a very traditional city.

But the fact is that the city also has a large Muslim population. And so far, they’ve been meeting in small neighborhood prayer rooms.

The new mosque will give them a central meeting place in town. And it’ll be an architectural statement that Muslims have become an integral part of this city.

Demonstration against racism in Cologne

Demonstration against racism in Cologne

And while the debate about the construction of the mosque is a regular part of the democratic process in Cologne, racism and xenophobia are not.

That’s what brought the people of Cologne out in droves this weekend to protest against the “Anti-Islam-Conference”.

In the end, their massive protest foiled the efforts of the right-wing extremists.

A broad coalition against racism

Opposition against the “Anti-Islam-Conference” in Germany’s media and among the public had gathered force throughout the last week.

Anti-Nazi demonstrations get front page coverage in Cologne's leading local paper

Anti-Nazi demonstrations get front page coverage

Germany’s radio and television stations, newspapers and many websites reported in-depth on the upcoming meeting of the racists in Cologne.

They also described the growing dissatisfaction among the city’s citizens about the event.

And they reported about planned anti-nazi demonstrations and creative ways to obstruct the racist rally. A broad democratic coalition formed.

Cologne turns anti-racist protest into a carnival

One the funniest anti-racist initiatives was “11 000 Bellydancers”. The organizers called on people to come dressed up in oriental garb and dance to oriental music. The aim was to contrast xenophobia and racism with multi-cultural fun, song and dance.

And while there probably weren’t 11 000 bellydancers on Saturday, you did see quite a few people wearing oriental outfits. It was a little like a summer carnival.

Other forms of protest included some of Germany’s most popular bands joining forces for a concert against racism. It took place exactly at the time and within hearing distance of the right-wing rally.

Meanwhile, protesters blocked the streets leading to Heumarkt square, so that the right-wing supporters who wanted to attend the “Anti-Islam-Conference” couldn’t get to the rally.

Whenever someone tried to get through the blockade and onto Heumarkt, the protesters started chanting “Nazis raus!” (Nazis get out).

Racist rally doesn’t take place as planned

In the end, there were only about 90 right-wing supporters on Heumarkt.

The low turnout was a blow in the face to the organizers, who had hoped to attract thousands of supporters.

And it was a victory for civil rights.

I’m proud of the thousands of people of this city who gathered in peaceful protest against racism.

I’m proud of the demonstrators who blocked the tram line that leads from Cologne airport into the city. This prevented hundreds of racists who had arrived by plane from getting into town.

I’m proud of the airport officials, who threw the racists out of the building when they tried to hold an improvised press conference there.

I’m proud of the teenagers who blocked the streets leading to Heumarkt.

I’m proud of the Cologne hotel manager who asked the racists to pack their bags and get out as soon as he found out who had checked in to his hotel.

An important step forward, but still a long way to go

I know that – even though the racists had to retreat this time, they still have a lot of popular support. In Cologne, in Germany, in Europe.

This time, the supporters were silenced by the massive protests.

But they are still among us. Silent now, but waiting.

The organizers of the “Anti-Islam-Conference” have already announced that they want to schedule another rally in the near future.

The public debate about multi-cultural society is far from over. Integration and tolerance remain difficult in Germany.

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Bellydance for tolerance

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Cologne and the river Rhine

Cologne and the river Rhine

The people of Cologne have a nice sense of humor. They’ll even turn political protest against Neo-Nazis into a carnival.

Liberal groups in Cologne are calling on the people of the city to stage a mass bellydance on September 20th. They’re hoping that 11 000 dancers will swing their hips to oriental music in protest against a neo-Nazi rally planned for that day.

Right-wing organizations from all over Europe will be meeting in Cologne from September 19 – 21 for an anti-Islam convention.

Its “highlight” will be a rally in downtown Cologne. Notorious right-wing politicians from all over Europe will be there – including Jean-Marie Le Pen, the head of the French “Front National”, representatives of Italy’s Lega Nord, Belgium’s Vlaams-Belang and Austria’s FPÖ.

Not the kind of people I like to see in my home town.

And not the kind of event that’ll give the city good press.

Many citizens of Cologne are furious about this right-wing rally. But there’s no way to stop it. The authorities say it’s a legal political demonstration. They can only step in when speakers openly advocate racism or hatred.

So to show their opposition against this right-wing convention, the people of Cologne have decided to bellydance against Neo-Nazism.

I think that’s a much more imaginative idea than simply calling a counter-demonstration. Because the idea of a left-wing demonstration clashing violently with the right-wing demonstration doesn’t really turn me on either.

So, people of Cologne: get out your “I Dream of Jeannie” outfits and bellydance for tolerance on September 20th!

Written by Thorsten

September 10, 2008 at 2:57 pm

Where’s the mens-ladies room?

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All to be catered for - article in Thailands DAILY XPRESS Universities in Thailand are going to offer separate dorms and restrooms for male cross-dressers and trans-gender students. At least that’s what the country’s DAILY XPRESS reports in an article this weekend.

Male cross-dressers have long had problems using lavatories: fellow students do not welcome them in either men’s or women’s facilities.

The paper quotes the Thai Deputy Minister of Education, Boonlue Prasertsopha, as saying that the schools will also change rules, allowing these students to attend classes in women’s clothing.

According to a ministry study, more cross-dressing and transgender students are attending universities in Thailand. The largest enrolments are found in Chiang Mai, in the North of the country, and in Khon Kaen and Prince of Songkhla Universities.

Paving the way for tolerance

Although this whole story may seem somewhat bizzare or amusing at first sight, it’s really astounding testimony to Thai tolerance. It’s amazing how alternative lifestyles are gaining acceptance in this country.

There’s even an annual “Miss Tiffany’s” beauty peagant for cross-dressers and transgenders. It’s broadcast live on national television. Some 15 million Thais are said to tune in to watch the show.

Somehow, Australia’s Dame Edna and Germany’s Lilo Wanders don’t quite compare.

Hopefully unrelated

Another story published in another Thai paper this weekend also reports about an interesting development in the field of university education: students will be able to learn the traditional art of kick-boxing at some Thai universities.

I hope there’s no connection between these two stories.

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