BERLIN, Oct 17, (AFP): They gather in the dark, wave German flags and vent their fury at foreigners they fear are overrunning their homeland — next week Germany’s anti- Islamic PEGIDA movement turns one year old. Radicalised by Germany’s record influx of refugees and migrants, the long-dormant protest movement has come back with a vengeance onto the streets of Dresden in the former communist East.
Last week one protester carried a mock-gallows with the names of Chancellor Angela Merkel and her deputy, despised by the protesters as “Berlin dictators” and “traitors” for their open-door policy to refugees. PEGIDA — short for “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident” — started life as a xenophobic Facebook group around co-founder Lutz Bachmann, 42. From a few hundred people who showed up for their first evening “Monday stroll” on October 20 last year, it grew to a peak of 25,000 in January, shortly after the Paris jihadist attacks against satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. “We are the people,” they have chanted, co-opting the slogan of demonstrators before the fall of the Berlin Wall, and suggesting a righteous revolt against an out-of-touch political elite and the “lying press”.
A mix of hardcore neo-Nazis and a far greater number of self-proclaimed “concerned citizens”, the movement triggered broad distaste in Germany and sparked larger antifascist counterprotests nationwide. It seemed to have crashed and burned at the start of the year after Bachmann’s racist online slurs and “selfies” sporting a Hitler moustache surfaced, sparking outrage and a leadership split.
PEGIDA, and its smaller clone groups in Germany and abroad, disappeared from the streets and the newspaper headlines — until a spike in migrant arrivals in September brought them back from the dead. “The turning point was when Angela Merkel opened the borders to let in people from Hungary,” said Nele Wissmann of the French Institute for International Relations. “This was the trigger point.”