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PEGIDA turns 4: Rival groups rally in Dresden

October 21, 2018

Some 10,000 people joined demonstrations in Dresden opposing a celebratory PEGIDA rally. The far-right group held its first "evening stroll" four years ago.

Anti-PEGIDA protest
Image: Reuters/D. W. Cerny

Thousands of people turned out on Sunday in the eastern German city of Dresden in defiance of a fourth-anniversary rally by the anti-immigrant PEGIDA movement.

The far-right group's march through the city took place at the same time and attracted between 4,000 and 5,000 people.

PEGIDA supporters gathered in front of Dresden's historic Frauenkirche, where one of their banners warned German Chancellor Angela Merkel "your days ... are numbered."

DW reporter William Glucroft, meanwhile, described how anti-PEGIDA protesters from a wide spectrum of German society had gathered outside the city hall. 

One group carried a banner which read: "Solidarity against the shift to the right in Europe."

The state of Saxony's premier, Michael Kretschmer, addressed the crowd, telling supporters that their presence was an "important signal" against PEGIDA's message of xenophobia.

"It's important that we get involved and face those who only have simple answers," he added.

Anti-PEGIDA demonstrations, which were organized under various mottos including #HerzStattHetze (love not hate), saw as many as 10,000 supporters turn out.

Police said the demonstrations were largely peaceful, although there were five cases of bodily assault, including one case where a counter-demonstrator was shoved and another where a PEGIDA supporter was beaten by three unknown assailants.

Anti-PEGIDA protest
Image: Reuters/D. W. Cerny

Populist message

PEGIDA — short for Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West —  was formed in October 2014 by Dresden businessman Lutz Bachmann and saw support for its weekly rallies, urging tough immigration curbs, swell quickly.

Read more: Far-right German PEGIDA founder Lutz Bachmann refused entry into UK

The movement expanded to other cities and gained considerable publicity as tens of thousands of people joined their marches.

That helped boost the fortunes of the far-right political party Alternative for Germany (AfD), which emerged around the same time — initially with a euroskeptic ideology.

The AfD has since swung further to the right, adopting several anti-Islam policies. Despite massive opposition among many Germans, the AfD is now the largest opposition party in Germany's lower house of parliament, the Bundestag.

Last month, the far-right party polled second to Merkel's conservative alliance in a DeutschlandTrend survey, with 18 percent support.

The AfD's strength, particularly in eastern Germany, could also see them topple Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) in next year's state election in Saxony.

Pegida march
"Merkel, your days as chancellor are numbered, the day of reckoning is coming and God have mercy on you," one sign readImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/J. Meyer

Support for both PEGIDA and the AfD was further bolstered by the 2015/16 migrant crisis, which saw more than a million people — many from Syria and Afghanistan — cross the Mediterranean and several European countries to seek asylum in Germany.

Memories of Chemnitz

PEGIDA was one of several far-right groups to take part in the August 2018 protests in the eastern German city of Chemnitz that followed the deadly stabbing of a 35-year-old German-Cuban. The protests turned violent when far-right activists chased and attacked people of foreign appearance.

Read more: Lessons from Chemnitz: Eastern Germany's right-wing protesters awash in anxiety

The movement has also spread to other European countries, where several smaller groups have emulated Dresden's "evening stroll" rallies.

Some of PEGIDA's political ideology may have taken hold in Germany, but the movement's own momentum has fizzled out somewhat.

In 2016, the group had some 200,000 Facebook followers, but at the last count, it had fallen to 56,000.

Its rallies, which once drew crowds of up to 25,000, now see attendances of about a thousand people.

Glucroft told DW now the German government had addressed many of the issues in PEGIDA's program in terms of restricting migration, organizers are focused migrant behavior.

"Now they're turning to what they see as criminality, a lack of integration ... but, of course, a lot of statistics don't support that viewpoint, in terms of who's causing problems in Germany."

mm/sms (AFP, dpa, EPD)

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