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PEGIDA numbers on the decline

Kate BradyNovember 3, 2015

Despite a drop in numbers at Dresden's PEGIDA march, the right-wing movement is showing no sign of disappearing from the city's weekly agenda just yet. DW's Kate Brady reports from Saxony's capital.

Deutschland Pegida-Demonstration in Dresden
Image: picture alliance/AA/M. Kaman

Another Monday, another march. Another night of PEGIDA in the German city of Dresden. For passers-by, the weekly occurrence appears to have become the choice of entertainment for fall, with countless couples, cyclists and families all standing huddled on the sidewalk, some of them tucking into an early Christmas treat, others a portion of fries. Neither supporters of PEGIDA, nor of the counter movement, they watch on with mild interest.

"How much longer can they be bothered marching?" asks one woman, warming her hands on a hot drink. "Surely even the same route must get boring after a year?"

In comparison to the revived turnout of PEGIDA demonstrators two weeks ago - when an estimated 15,000 marched on the movement’s "first anniversary" - the number of supporters has dropped drastically.

But even the return of a bitter eastern winter chill doesn't seem to be deterring all of the "Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West" just yet - with around 7,550 people still turning out for this Monday’s "evening stroll" through Saxony's capital.

Taking to the stage as usual on Monday was PEGIDA favorite and movement co-founder, Lutz Bachmann, who cut to the chase, comparing German Justice Minister Heiko Maas to Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels.

The efforts at debatably ironic Nazi references didn't stop there, with waves of PEGIDA marchers later chanting "Nazis out!" as they marched past the counter demonstrators - much to the amusement of their opposition.

Call for more counter support

Barricaded in behind a ring of police vans, the somewhat smaller turnout from the counter demonstration still managed to make their voices heard as PEGIDA marched past on Monday.

Some 500 to 1,000 people gathered on Dresden's Postplatz in support of the counter movement "GEPIDA" - which loosely translates as "Annoyed Citizens Protesting Against Intolerant Dresden Outsiders."

Thanking the supporters over the loud speaker, the movement called for more support, both on Dresden's streets and in daily life.

"Open your mouths and stand up against this day to day racism and so-called 'concerned citizens' - whether at school, at college, or at work," one supporter called to her fellow counter demonstrators.

For many of those stood on Postplatz, the weekly Monday rally has become as much of a routine as it has for PEGIDA.

"We’ll keep coming until PEGIDA ends," said Mara, a Dresden student. "I hope it has an end! But, honestly, I think a lot more people in Dresden need to be motivated to act against PEGIDA and support a colorful Dresden," the 21-year-old said.

Martin, a father of two, said that more needed to be done to prevent the xenophobia spreading across further.

"This is already an issue across the whole of Germany," he said. "But it’s more extreme in Saxony."

His partner Lisa said the root of problem lays in the "lack of understanding and mass of prejudice."

"These rumors about sexual assault, scaremongering that all refugees are criminals and that they're taking jobs need to be eradicated. People need to be better informed about these people before they decide to tell them all to leave our country," she said.

Anti-Merkel sentiment

Asylum seekers weren't the only ones being told to "get out" by PEGIDA on Monday, however. A strong anti-Merkel sentiment has been growing within the movement in recent weeks as Germany struggles to cope with the huge influx of refugees arriving every day.

Anti-Merkel placard in Dresden
A PEGIDA demonstrator happily stops for the media.Image: DW/K. Brady

Chants of "Merkel out!" were accompanied by photo-shopped banners of the German chancellor - one several portraying her in a burka, another of her wearing a brown Nazi outfit with a red armband bearing a euro symbol instead of a swastika.

Proud to show off their artwork to the media, several PEGIDA supporters were more than happy to stop for the cameras. As one man stopped to parade his artistic skills, his partner, however, was less than pleased to be caught up in the lime-light. Pulling on his jacket, she tried, in an apparent panic of embarrassment, to drag him away.

Within just half an hour of the two demonstrations meeting on the edge of Dresden's rebuilt "Altstadt" (Old City), the chants died down and the uncomfortable atmosphere lifted from the city for another week. Just a few stragglers from the counter movement were heard as they wandered home.

"Shame on you," they say. "Shame on you."