Tens of thousands of supporters are expected to gather in Dresden, Germany this evening to mark the first anniversary of anti-Islamisation movement Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West (PEGIDA). The German government once again denounced the “hate” movement and attempted to put blame on the peaceful group for arson attacks on asylum centres.
Marine Le Pen MEP, leader of France’s Front National party, was invited as the star speaker at the anniversary PEGIDA event, but is rumoured to have dropped out at the last minute. Dutch conservative MP Geert Wilders of the Party for Freedom is still expected to address the crowd, tonight or later in week, as celebrations continue for a few days.
Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, reiterated her call on citizens not to attend, and on Monday her spokesman said those who went along “had hate in their hearts,” DPA reports.
In reference to the recent rise in arson attacks on asylum centres across Germany, a spokesman for Minister Thomas de Maizière of Mrs. Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, claimed that such crimes clustered around locations where PEGIDA rallies took place, implying they are related, Euractiv reports.
Heiko Maas, Minister for Justice and Consumer Protection, of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), said in an official government statement today: “Our rule of law will not shrink from threats and incitement to hatred,” in reference to PEGIDA.
(Below is a live stream of tonight’s proceedings.)
PEGIDA began organising weekly demonstrations on Facebook in October 2014. Initially, just a handful turned up to the Monday events, rising to 9,000 regular attendanees and peaking at 25,000 shortly after the Charlie Hebdo atrocity.
PEGIDA has so far proven to be a peaceful movement, with adherents taking afternoon strolls in the model of the peaceful protests made in Germany and Poland against the former communist regimes.
Social studies have shown the strolls attract families and a middle class demographic, with only a small percentage falling into the category of “far right”.
The majority of arrests occurring at marches have been made among the left wing, ‘anti-fascist’ counter-protesters for whom throwing fireworks, glass bottles, and stones is normal. The large number of police amassing in preparation for tonight’s event will be deployed to keep the two groups apart.
— François Paquay (@FrancoisPaquay) October 19, 2015
PEGIDA experienced a slump in support after a photo surfaced of founding leader Lutz Bachmann dressed as a Nazi in January 2015. However, since the onset of the migrant crisis, the movement has recovered.
“The turning point was when Angela Merkel opened the borders to let in people from Hungary,” Nele Wissmann of the French Institute for International Relations told AFP. “This was the trigger point.”
First chant by the protesters: "Merkel muss weg" ("Merkel has to go") pic.twitter.com/Td5uor5As7
— Thomas Sparrow (@Thomas_Sparrow) October 19, 2015