PEGIDA splintered as conflicting demos staged in Dresden | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 27.09.2016
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Right-wing politics

PEGIDA splintered as conflicting demos staged in Dresden

Germany's self-styled "anti-Islamization" movement PEGIDA is descending into chaos as internal divisions have resulted in conflicting demonstrations. Meanwhile, its founder Lutz Bachmann is moving to a Spanish island.

The "anti-Islamization" PEGIDA marches in Dresden took on a farcical tone on Monday evening, when former leader Tatjana Festerling staged her own counter-demonstration against the regular event led by founder and current leader Lutz Bachmann.

Festerling, who led the PEGIDA group alongside Bachmann between February 2015 and April 2016, gathered around 60 to 100 supporters at the city's main railway station in a splinter group at the margins of the main PEGIDA protest, which comprised an estimated 2,500 people.

According to a report from news agency DPA, both sides jeered the other during the demo, as insults, threats, and mutual accusations of splitting the movement were heard among demonstrators.

Deutschland Dresden Pegida Lutz Bachman (picture-alliance/dpa)

Lutz Bachmann called for a show of hands to confirm his position

Splintered anger

The cracks in the group have widened considerably in the last few weeks, as a result of which Bachmann also called a vote of confidence, by show of hands, in himself and his deputy Siegfried Däbritz, and was greeted with loud applause from the majority of the crowd.

He then asked his supporters to raise their hands if they wanted Festerling to resign from her role as chairwoman of the international right-wing alliance that dubs itself "Festung Europa" ("Fortress Europe") - though this brought, according to local public broadcaster MDR, a much more muted response from the crowd.

For her part, Festerling - once PEGIDA's official mayoral candidate in Dresden - accused Bachmann of megalomania, and forced to him to deny (not for the first time) misappropriating money donated to the group. In response, Bachmann made a public oath that he had only used PEGIDA's money for proper the club's purposes.

Fractured history

The chaotic scenes were the latest episode in what has become a meandering saga for PEGIDA, whose "peaceful Monday strolls" were joined by over 20,000 people at the height of media interest in January 2015.

Since then, there have been frequent threats to turn the group into an official political party, though that seems unlikely with the rising nationwide popularity of the AfD, which many PEGIDA supporters vote for - and which Bachmann has since endorsed.

Tatjana Festerling Pegida (picture-alliance/dpa/R. Volfik)

Festerling accused the PEGIDA founder of hoarding the group's cash

Festerling joined PEGIDA last year after being forced out of the AfD for taking part in (and subsequently defending) a demonstration in October 2014 in Cologne by the far-right "HoGeSa" ("Hooligans Against Salafists"), during which self-styled hooligans attacked the police and bystanders.

Adding fuel to the internal suspicions in the group, Bachmann has himself re-located to the Spanish island of Tenerife - where his advertising agency has found work - but he told supporters on Monday that he will still travel to Dresden every two weeks to address the PEGIDA demos.

On social media, Festerling has used Bachmann's business interests to accuse him of "desertion," to which the PEGIDA leader countered on his Facebook page, "Who cares where someone works and earns their living, as long as you stand behind the issue with backbone." 

Such is the level of acrimony, the Facebook pages of the two leaders are now dominated by accusations and counter-accusations, with Festerling repeatedly claiming that Bachmann had taken money from the group's coffers - which she claims amounts to up to 100,000 euros ($110,000) - and hoarding cash in his private home.

A spat has also arisen about who first applied to register a demo on October 3 (Germany's reunification day) - when both PEGIDA and Festung Europa are now likely to stage events.

"For me it is about real, honest and courageous resistance with the potential for a people's movement and European networking," she wrote on her page. "Without any personal enrichment or post demands in a party. Or desertion."

According to MDR, Festerling derided the main PEGIDA demo as a "Monday party event." "That has nothing to do with resistance anymore," she was quoted as saying.

Bachmann, for his part, has claimed that Festerling deliberately publicized his home address in Kesselsdorf, near Dresden, after which there were "four break-in attempts" on his home, and a manipulation of his car that resulted in its engine "blowing up" on a highway.

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