21.01.2015 Leipzig, Germany
PEGIDA’s name loosely translates to “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West.” It has staged regular rallies in Dresden, with offshoots occurring in other German cities, where it protests against the German immigration system and its perception that radical Islam is gaining influence throughout Germany.
Pegida was founded in October 2014 by Lutz Bachmann, who runs a public relations agency in Dresden. Bachmann’s impetus for starting Pegida was witnessing a rally by supporters of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) on 10 October 2014 in Dresden,which he posted the same day on YouTubeThe next day he founded a Facebook group called Patriotische Europäer Gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes (“Patriotic Europeans against Islamization of the Occident”) which initially was mainly directed against arms shipments to the PKK.
A few days earlier, on 7 October, a group of Muslims assumed to be Salafists had violently attacked PKK supporters who were gathering after a demonstration against the Islamic State. The same day Yazidis and Muslim Chechens had violently clashed in Celle. On 26 October, out of 5,000 protesters, “at least 400 right-wing extremists went on a rampage in downtown Cologne during a demonstration” by “Hooligans Against Salafists”.
First wave of demonstrations
The first demonstration, or “evening stroll” in Pegida’s own words, on 20 October 2014 drew only a handful of people. In the following days, the movement began drawing public attention and subsequently its weekly Monday demonstrations started to attract larger numbers of people. Among 7,500 participants on 1 December, the police counted 80 to 120 hooligans. The demonstrations grew to 10,000 people on 8 December 2014.
During weekly demonstrations on Monday evenings, Pegida supporters have carried banners with slogans including “For the preservation of our culture”, “Against religious fanaticism, against any kind of radicalism, together without violence”, “Against religious wars on German soil”, “Peace with Russia – No war in Europe ever again” and “We are emancipated citizens and not slaves”.
On 19 December 2014, PEGIDA e.V. was legally registered in Dresden under register ID VR 7750 with Bachmann being chair, Rene Jahn vice-chair and Kathrin Oertel the treasurer. Pegida also formally applied for the status as a nonprofit organization.
Aftermath of Charlie Hebdo and rising tensions
Pegida demonstration on 12 January 2015 after the Charlie Hebdo shooting
While the demonstration on 29 December 2014 was cancelled by the organizers, the movement continued to draw large numbers of participants in early January 2015. After the Charlie Hebdo shooting on 7 January 2015 in Paris, politicians including German ministers Thomas de Maiziere and Heiko Maas, warned Pegida against misusing the attack on Charlie Hebdo for its own political means. On Saturday, 10 January, some 35,000 Anti-Pegida protesters came together to mourn the victims of Paris, holding a minute’s silence in front of the Frauenkirche.
On 12 January 2015 Pegida organizers exercised their right to do the same in front of a record audience of some 25,000 participants. Facing growing opposition by anti-Pegida protesters, both in Dresden and Leipzig, main organizer Bachmann declared the six key aims of Pegida, which include calls for selective immigration and generally stricter law and order politics but also included anti-EU sentiments and calls for a reconciliation with Russia.
On 15 January 2015 a young Eritrean immigrant, Khaled Idris Bahray, was found stabbed to death in his Dresden highrise apartment. International media correspondents described an “atmosphere of hatred and resentment” and published social media comments by Pegida-sympathizers expressing disdain for the dead Eritrean. Pegida’s main organizers rejected any possible connection. One week later, criminal investigations led to the arrest of one of the victim’s Eritrean housemates.
Dresden police did not permit the demonstration on 19 January 2015, because of a concrete threat against a member of Pegida’s leadership, that resembled an Arabic-language Tweet describing Pegida as an “enemy of Islam”. Pegida cancelled its 13th demonstration and wrote on its Facebook page that there was a concrete threat against a leadership member and “his execution was commanded through ISIS terrorists”.
PEGIDA’s founder and leader Lutz Bachmann dressed as Adolf Hitler
On 21 January 2015, Bachmann resigned from his responsibilities with PEGIDA after coming under fire for a number of Facebook posts. Excerpts from a closed Facebook conversation incriminated Bachmann as having designated immigrants as “animals”, “scumbags” and “trash”, classified as hate speech in Germany. He was also quoted commenting that extra security was needed at the welfare office “to protect employees from the animals”. A self-portrait of Bachmann deliberately posing as a reincarnation of Adolf Hitler, titled “He’s back!”, went viral in social media and was printed on title pages worldwide. On another occasion, Bachmann had posted a photo of a man wearing the uniform of the US white supremacist organisation Ku Klux Klan accompanied by the slogan: “Three Ks a day keeps the minorities away.” The Dresden state prosecutors opened an investigation for suspected Volksverhetzung (incitement), Deputy Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said the real face of PEGIDA had been exposed: “Anyone who puts on a Hitler disguise is either an idiot or a Nazi. People should think carefully about running after a Pied Piper like this.”