Five board members of PEGIDA have stepped down following the controversy over founder Lutz Bachmann's Hitler impersonation. After weeks of demonstrations, is the anti-Islamization movement about to run out of steam?
PEGIDA faced a crucial test as its supporters woke to find half of their leading members missing on Thursday morning. A week after the resignation of PEGIDA founder Lutz Bachmann, movement spokeswoman Kathrin Oertel threw in the towel on Wednesday, with four others following shortly behind.
The organization also canceled its forthcoming rally in Dresden, set for next Monday.
Bachmann behind ructions
The reason behind the PEGIDA leadership crisis was, according to the movement's deputy leader, Rene Jahn, the fact that Bachmann wanted to remain on the organization team. German mass-circulation daily "Bild" reported Jahn as saying that he, like Oertel and three other PEGIDA members, had stepped down from his position as he "did not want to have anything to do with these Nazi things and right-wing comments."
Bachmann, who until recently had been the face of the self-proclaimed "Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West," resigned after a two-year-old photo of him posing as Hitler on Facebook was unearthed, as well as more recent posts insulting foreigners. Following Bachmann's departure, Oertel became the most prominent face of the movement.
According to PEGIDA's Facebook page, however, Oertel stepped down from her position on Wednesday due to "massive hostility, threats and professional disadvantages."
But what now for the movement which has received worldwide media attention in recent weeks? A new board is expected to be elected at a special meeting in the coming days, but German's deputy chancellor and Social Democrats (SPD) chairman Sigmar Gabriel believes the group is on its way out.
"I think that these demonstrations are probably past their best," Gabriel told German television broadcaster ZDF, adding that it was probably "a blessing for Dresden" that the movement and its organizers have disassembled themselves.
As Germany hotly debated how best to deal with the group which has gained significant popularity among the right-wing, Gabriel last week participated in a panel discussion with both PEGIDA supporters and critics.
Months of demonstrations
Since October 2014, PEGIDA has held frequent rallies in Dresden and a host of other cities to protest against what they call the "Islamization" of Germany.
At the movement's most recent rally on Sunday, however, Dresden police reported that some 17,000 PEGIDA supporters were in attendance - the first time that the numbers had decreased significantly on the previous week's demonstration.
In other German cities, PEGIDA's offshoot movements such as Kögida and Bärgida failed to take root to the same extent as in Dresden, with the number of counterdemonstrators often exceeding those of PEGIDA by the thousands.
ksb/gsw (AFP, Reuters, dpa, epd)