Berlin:A small town in eastern Germany is bracing for the arrival of hundreds of neo-Nazis planning to attend a music festival timed to coincide with Adolf Hitler’s birthday.
Anti-fascist groups have promised counter-protests and a large police deployment aims to prevent violence during the Schild und Schwert (Shield and Sword, or SS) festival in Ostritz, Saxony, on the border with Poland, a region where the AfD scored some of its strongest results in the 2017 elections.
The two-day event is expected to attract up to 1,000 far-right extremists from Germany, the neighboring Czech Republic and Poland.
Many of the mostly male rightwing extremists gathering in the town on Friday wore T-shirts with slogans such as “Keepers of the race”, “White is my favourite colour” and “Adolf was the best”.
State rules for the festival stipulates a ban on alcohol, and visitors are prohibited from bringing glass bottles, flagstaffs and certain breeds of dogs.
Organisers argue that the festival is a political event, granting it legal protection under the German constitution.
It comes amid a revival of a far-right and ultra-nationalist groups in Germany, with the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) the third largest party in the Bundestag.
The festival organiser is Thorsten Heise of the far-right fringe party NPD, which is openly xenophobic and antisemitic. The party avoided a legal ban last year because of its small membership and limited influence.
Anti-fascist activists warned that neo-Nazis from across Europe may show up, with many expected to stay just across the nearby Polish border.
“We will not stand and watch when neo-Nazis from Germany and the rest of Europe come for a party to celebrate the Führer’s birthday,” the initiative Rechts Rockt Nicht said online, vowing to “stand together and resist them”.
Hundreds of people joined two counter-demonstrations in Ostritz on Friday.
“Facism is not an opinion, it’s a crime,” said Mirko Schultze, an organiser of the anti-fascist gathering and a Saxony state politician of the far-left Die Linke party.
A separate peace festival has been organised by local politicians, civic groups and church leaders, with Saxony’s premier, Michael Kretschmer, of the conservative CDU, to give the opening speech.
The event in the town centre will feature speeches, a circus and an Arabic cafe to show that the town values “cosmopolitanism, tolerance, democracy and peaceful coexistence”.
While neo-Nazis have long staged underground concerts for recruiting and fundraising, the large music festival is seen as an escalation of an emboldened far-right movement.
It is being staged just across the border from the Dolny Slask region, which was invaded by Nazi Germany and whose return to Poland after the war continues to anger neo-Nazis.
Sascha Elser, a spokeswoman for Rechts Rockt Nicht, said it was an irony that Polish extremists would attend the festival, where German and eastern European neo-Nazis hope to “strengthen relations”.
She said: “If this is really to happen, that you can gather and celebrate Hitler’s birthday without any problems or consequences, it is a clear sign that our law and society are sick”.