The ex-AfD chief has made her first public outing as the leader of a new "movement" - the Blue Party. Frauke Petry's watered-down nationalism seemed to appeal to her audience in the eastern state of Saxony.
Germany's first lady of populism, Frauke Petry, pulled out all the stops to try and cut a more sympathetic figure on the first stop of her comeback tour since leaving the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) in September.
"Yes, we've made some mistakes," said Petry, trying hard to lean into a new, milder image. "And we've sometimes said the wrong thing."
The former AfD leader cemented her reputation for stirring the pot when, right on the heels of the party's impressive election performance, she announced that she was leaving the nationalists in order to found a new "movement" – the Blue Party, which in its two short months of existence already counts some 2,300 members among its ranks.
Petry's move hardly came as a surprise to veteran observers of the AfD, however, after a power struggle within the party left her in a much-diminished stature amongst the leadership.
A pleasant populism
The Blue Party manifesto reads like a toned-down version of the AfD's Islamophobic, anti-migrant rhetoric. Where the AfD maintains that "there is no place for Islam in Germany," the Blue Party takes the softer line of denouncing "political Islam."
And it was a softer-seeming Frauke Petry who appeared before a loyal group of followers in the eastern town of Grimma on Tuesday evening.
Carrying her youngest child, only a few months old, on her hip and speaking in more muted tones than she has become known for, Petry couched her opposition to Islam in terms of support for Israel and her anti-migrant beliefs as a matter of border security. She added that she did not stand for the "ethno-patriotism" of the far-right, but rather of protecting one's own culture.
To that end, she argued, limited immigration could be welcomed.
She spoke of the need for real conservative politics in the age of Chancellor Angela Merkel's centrism, garnering scattered applause for her defense of supporting "classic" family models in the face of, from her view, too much ado about "gender politics" in Berlin. In contrast to the AfD, which tends to be more Moscow-friendly, she spoke of a need to balance relations between Russia and the US.
Petry could not have chosen a more fitting setting for the start of her new movement. The small village of Grimma lies in the eastern state of Saxony, where the AfD has its strongest support and where the anti-Islam movement PEGIDA was born.
The crowd, too, was hardly the typical "angry citizen" AfD supporter. While attendees were, like most AfD members, of a certain age and mainly male – they listened patiently while Petry gained more energy and charisma through each minute of her entirely off-the-cuff speech.
Not resting on her laurels
Assembling this kind of group could be a clever calculation on Petry's part. She made clear in her speech that the Blue Party should be seen not as a normal political party, but as a grassroots movement with few career politicians, and as unbeholden to special interest groups as possible.
At the end of the evening, it appeared that Petry had managed to touch a nerve among those gathered in Grimma's medieval town hall. One couple, who drove all the way from Munich just to hear her speak, complimented Petry on her "endurance" and commitment to bring about change.
Petry expressed optimism that the Blue Party could, as the AfD has, enter mainstream politics – beginning right there in Saxony, which is due for regional elections in 2019.