Germany: Interest in Pegida declining, counter-intelligence says extremist involvement varies
On 22 January approximately 15 000 people attended an anti-Islam demonstration convened by the Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West (Pegida) movement in Leipzig. Organizers had counted on four times as many people participating.
Opponents of Pegida who gathered in the town center outnumbered them, with as many as 20 000 people gathering for a demonstration in favor of an open society. Elsewhere throughout the country opponents of Pegida attempted to prevent their marches by blockading them.
Protests against Pegida were held in 19 different places. "This [Pegida] has no business in our society. We want diversity, we are a multicultural society," one Pegida opponent said.
"Down with Nazis!" Pegida opponents shouted at the Leipzig march, which is regularly joined by right-wing extremists. According to a statement issued by the Pegida movement on Facebook, its founder, Lutz Bachmann, is stepping down as chair of the association.
The reason is the publication of a photograph in which Bachmann's hair is styled like the Nazi dictator Hitler. "We sincerely apologize to all citizens who were offended by my posts [on Facebook]. Those were reckless statements I would not make today. I regret that I have harmed the interests of our movement and I am taking responsibility for my actions," Bachmann said in an official press release.
Another alleged commentary by Bachmann has also come to light from last September in which he called asylum seekers and refugees "dirty scum and vermin". "I had a Turkish witness [at my wedding] and I have many Muslim friends," Bachmann has said in an effort to defend himself.
The state prosecutor in Dresden is investigating Bachmann for possible incitement of hatred. The German media also reports that Bachmann has a rather multifarious past in which he has been repeatedly arrested for various crimes and was even a fugitive in the Republic of South Africa.
Even though he was hiding there under a false identity, he was soon arrested and transported to a German prison. According to the online news server Tagesschau, Bachmann has spent a total of three years behind bars and was later twice caught with cocaine.
Speaking on 23 January, the head of Germany's Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), Hans-Georg Maassen, told the Czech News Agency that right-wing extremists do not have any influence over the leadership of the Pegida movement in Dresden specifically. The BfV fulfills the role of the counter-intelligence services in Germany, and Maassen said that so far it has found no reason to investigate Pegida in detail.
"It is not the job of the BfV to surveil civic initiatives that may not hold politically mainstream positions but do not otherwise disturb the social order. Our job is to surveil extremists," Maassen said.
The BfV has noticed right-wing radicals in particular participating in some of the Pegida movement's demonstrations. "As far as Pegida in Dresden goes, we have determined that right-wing extremists show up at its demonstrations only in small numbers. They do not, however, have any influence on the course of those events and they do not address them as speakers," Maassen said.
However, the BfV head believes the situation is different with the regional movements that have been created on the model of Pegida in other cities. He said that in some of those movements it can be seen that the ultra-right National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) is doing its best to be visible at their assemblies and is attempting to revive its influence after losing members and voters in recent years.
The Pegida movement was born in Dresden, where since October it has regularly convened a demonstration against the alleged strengthening of Islam in Germany every Monday. Participation at a Pegida assembly there recently reached a record 25 000 people.
The movement canceled last week's demonstration after police banned all outdoor public assemblies. That was done in response to the threat that terrorists planning an attack on Bachmann might try to blend in among the demonstrators.
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