Dresden’s anti-Islam movement Pegida is in crisis after several leadership figures have stepped back from the organisation. Co-founder Lutz Bachmann resigned after a picture in which he posed as Hitler went viral. Tabloid paper Bild ran the picture alongside claims that Bachmann had made derogatory comments about asylum seekers.
It appeared that Pegida secretary Kathrin Oertel would step into Bachmann’s role as leader, but on the 28th of January she and four other central figures stepped down.
According to Pegida’s Facebook page Oertel, who was becoming something of a poster child for the movement, left her job as press spokeswoman because of “massive hostility”. According to comments from Rene Jahn, another of the members to quit, the lingering influence of Bachmann has caused discomfort within the organisation. He also criticised Legida, a related organisation that has sprung up in Dresden’s neighbouring city Leipzig; it seems that the growing popularity of Pegida and its spreading to other cities (including the capital Berlin) is causing organisational and ideological problems.
Pegida is an acronym for “Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West”. They claim that their goal is to ensure “that all children can grow up in a peaceful and open Germany and Europe” and its supporters report feeling overwhelmed by the growing presence of Islam in Germany (despite the movement originating in a city where only 4.7% of the population are “foreigners” and presumably far less are Muslims). Above all, Pegida present themselves as hate-free and peaceful, denying any links with Neo-Nazi groups.
Opposition has been widespread and is largely based around counter-demonstrations, some larger than the Pegida marches themselves. A huge event called “Open and Colourful – Dresden for All” filled the city centre, and Angela Merkel has spoken out against the movement. Online satire includes a YouTube makeup tutorial that shows viewers how to “become a real Pegida girl in less than five minutes”: the end result is a take on Oertel’s distinctive ponytail and tattooed eyebrows. With so many Germans taking to the streets to protest against Pegida and the Dresden-based leadership imploding, there is hope that the movement could fizzle out, but the demonstrators have proven themselves to be resilient so far. In any case, they’re a clear sign of deeper problems within German society.
[Lauren Cummings – @__laurenC]