Far-Right European Movements Unite
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
They call the Danish port city of Aarhus the City of Smiles, but not many smiling today. Police are patrolling the streets to stop violence from erupting, as far-right anti-Muslim groups from around Europe gather for a demonstration. Observers say it's the first time these hard-line groups have gotten together like this. NPR's Philip Reeves is on the streets of Aarhus, Denmark. Phil, thanks for being with us.
PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: You're welcome.
SIMON: What are you seeing right now?
REEVES: Well, there's a couple of hundred people gathered in a park, and in front of them are a few dozen people from these virulently anti-Muslim groups. They call themselves defense leagues. This is a meeting that's been organized by the Danish Defense League with the English Defense League. They say that they are opposed to what they call the Islamization of Europe. They are, as I say, extremely anti-Islam. Some of the speakers have been calling for Islam to be removed from Europe. Some of these guys have their face covered, some are wearing dark glasses, some are wearing No Surrender t-shirts. They come from Norway, from France, Finland, England and a number of other European countries. And they have gathered here for what they say is the purpose of setting up a Europe-wide defense league. In other words, amalgamating in what you're calling an anti-Islamic alliance.
And it is important to stress that numbers are small, but they do cause authorities' concern and there is deep concern that this could fuel anti-Muslim sentiment in larger society.
SIMON: Well, help us understand that. If it's a small group of people who might even be outnumbered by counter-demonstrators, why the concern?
REEVES: Well, in a couple of week's time, a few hundred miles to the north of here, the trial begins of Anders Behring Breivik. He'll be called to account for the slaughter of 77 people in a rampage in Norway last year. And we know from his writings that Breivik is a nationalist extremist. He's written that he actually had contacts with the English Defense League, was Facebook friends with some of them. Now, the English Defense League has denied any links with him and denounces the Norway attacks. But the big question is: Do meetings like this lead to more Breiviks?
SIMON: And tell us about the counter-demonstrators. Why did they feel it was important to turn out?
REEVES: Yeah, there's been a counter-demonstration of anti-facsist and anti-racist groups. Probably 1,500 of them gathered earlier to make their opposition to this known. And just in the last few minutes, we've started to see skirmishes between these groups and the police. A few of them arrived on the scene here, and appear to be trying to get at the anti-Muslim groups, the far-right groups that are gathered. The police arrived with extreme speed. It was quite astonishing. So, they are clearly ready for this, and there have been a couple of arrests and one or two sort of brawls between the police and some of these demonstrators.
SIMON: And how's the city of Aarhus handling this?
REEVES: Well, it's a sad story, really, in a way because this a city that's very keen to attract visitors and investors. It sells itself as a modern, dynamic, progressive society. And in large part, I think it is. It's Denmark's largest port. It has a hugely respected university. It's got the largest number of wind power companies, and a feminist museum. And they've been trying to bring people in, get people to take note of this place; get some publicity by changing the name of place, to add an extra A, since there are two A's in the beginning of the name because they believe this will get more Internet hits.
So, it's a little unfortunate from their perspective that today, overhead, as I speak, there's a police helicopter - I'm surrounded by policemen and skirmishes have been going on between these different groups, and the voice of really extreme far-right intolerance is being heard in the heart of their city.
(SOUNDBITE OF HELICOPTER)
SIMON: NPR's Philip Reeves, speaking to us from the streets of Aarhus, Denmark. Philip, thanks so much.
REEVES: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.