A Syrian-born artist's towering anti-war installation was opened Tuesday in Germany – three passenger buses placed vertically like an Aleppo sniper barricade – but the event was marred by heckling far-right protesters.
About 100 members of the Islamophobic and anti-immigration PEGIDA protest movement booed Dresden mayor Dirk Hilbert as he formally inaugurated the mega-sculpture in the Baroque city in Germany’s formerly communist east.
Dubbed “Monument”, the imposing installation is inspired by barricades rebels in long besieged eastern Aleppo erected from upturned bus hulls as a shield against the snipers of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
It is meant to evoke the suffering of the people of Syria, the birthplace of artist Manaf Halbouni, but also of victims of war in general.
It was set up with two mobile cranes Monday, a week before the annual memorial day that recalls the British and US bombardment of Dresden in World War II that killed about 25,000 people on February 13-15, 1945.
The artwork symbolises “peace, freedom and humanity,” the 32-year-old artist, who is a Syrian-German dual citizen, told national news agency DPA.
“There is no other political message. It’s a peace memorial, a modern Statue of Liberty.”
But Dresden’s far-right PEGIDA movement — short for Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the Occident — dubbed the project “idiotic”.
Its protesters booed and shouted at Hilbert, calling him a “traitor” and yelling “shame, shame” and “get rid of the scrap metal”.
Anonymous criticism posted online had been even harsher, and police have investigated death threats against supporters of the project, including the mayor who has been assigned police guards.
In his speech Tuesday, Hilbert hailed Halbouni’s artistic statement as “important for the city”, urging its residents never to forget that in Dresden “people were persecuted, humiliated and murdered” by the Nazi regime.
“The right-wing populists, who are gaining popularity not only in our city, but all over Europe, want us to forget the past,” warned Hilbert, stressing that this made it all the more important to build monuments to remembrance.
While the Dresden remembrance day recalls the suffering the Nazi regime inflicted on the world, far-right revisionists have used the day to paint Germany as the victim of foreign aggression.
Dresden-based Halbouni said “Monument” — erected outside the rebuilt Frauenkirche church, itself a symbol of rebirth from war — is meant to instill hope, both in Dresden and Aleppo, and signify that “life goes on, despite all the destruction”.
However, the right-wing and anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) party denounced it as political propaganda and an “abuse of artistic freedom” geared to “provoke” PEGIDA followers.
Local AfD activist Karin Wilke demanded that the Frauenkirche be spared from “being overshadowed by scrap metal” in a post-modernist art installation that she branded “an assault on our identity”.