The right-wing PEGIDA organization has officially named its candidate to contest to be mayor of Dresden in June elections. A former member of the euroskeptic AfD party, Tatjana Festerling, will take up the charge.
Even on Easter Monday, a public holiday across Germany, several thousand supporters of Pegida took to the streets of Dresden for their Monday march. Police estimated the turnout at 7,100, while organizers claimed almost double that figure.
At the group's "Easter walk," PEGIDA founder Lutz Bachmann presented Tatjana Festerling as the movement's future candidate to become mayor of Dresden.
Bachmann spoke of a "historic chance" for the group "to make a statement for the coming votes in Germany and all of Europe."
PEGIDA, whose name translates as "Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the Occident [or West]," plans to formally present Festerling as a candidate - along with the requisite 240 voter signatures - later in the week, not before Wednesday.
From AfD and Hamburg to Dresden
Festerling confirmed that she was ready to run, saying she sees herself as "an independent candidate of the people for the people." She also made it clear that, having been based in Hamburg, she now intends to move permanently to Dresden.
A former member of the explicitly euroskpetic "Alternative for Germany" (AfD) party, Festerling's right-wing stance was considered problematic by that party, not least after she praised a demonstration in Cologne taking place under the motto "Hooligans against Salafists" last October.
PEGIDA made headlines late last year with a series of weekly marches, the largest of which took place in Dresden. Despite some key setbacks since then - not least the discovery of founder Bachmann's "Hitler selfie" in a previous Facebook status, prompting him to step down from his official capacity with PEGIDA's organizational committee. In February, however, he was reinstated as the group's director.
Geert Wilders next on guest list
After Easter, PEGIDA is hoping to attract a record crowd of "up to 30,000 participants" for their Monday April 13 demo in Dresden; Dutch far-right party leader Geert Wilders will be among the guest speakers in the capital of Saxony.
Wilders' People's Party for Freedom and Democracy holds 40 of the 150 seats available in the parliament in the Netherlands, but has been struggling in the polls since his general election success of 2012.
"You always need to get a picture of things yourself," Wilders said in an interview with Austrian magazine "Profil" when asked about the trip. In response to a question about Bachmann posing with a Hitler-style moustache - to mark the release of a comedic novel imagining that Hitler were resuscitated in modern-day Berlin - Wilders said: "That was very silly of [Bachmann]. But we all make mistakes."
PEGIDA has promised an "international line-up" for its April 13 march, prompting speculation that the group might seek to reach out to French nationalist Marine Le Pen, or perhaps Nigel Farage of the United Kingdom Independence Party.
A new Dresden mayor will be voted in this July, incumbent Helma Orosz, in office for the past six years, is not standing for reelection owing to health reasons. The interior minister of the state of Saxony, Markus Ulbig, is running for the Christian Democrats, while the Social Democrats, Greens and the Left have sent Saxony's science minister, Social Democrat Eva-Maria Stange, into the race. Transvestite DJ Lara Liqueur will also be on the docket.
msh/gsw (dpa, epd)