DRESDEN — From Amsterdam to Birmingham to Warsaw, Pegida has become socially acceptable. Now there is talk of Pegida rallies spreading throughout Europe. Could the German far-right group, which began holding weekly anti-immigrant rallies in Dresden last year, become a legitimized political party across the continent?
The 350-strong group of Pegida supporters demonstrating against the Islamization of Europe in Antwerp a few days ago was rather self-contained, but Pegida leader Lutz Bachmann believes it was another strategic success. At the invitation of the far right and separatist Vlaams Belang party, Bachmann was the keynote speaker at the Antwerp rally.
Indeed, Bachmann is a highly respected man among the nationalists of the Belgian North Sea coast for the weekly mass demonstrations that attract up to 20,000 people in Dresden. Edwin Wagensveld, known to German Pegida supporters as "Dutch Ed," was also present. The Dutch-born Wagensveld has been living in Germany for many years, is a regular at Pegida meetings and has since founded the Dutch Pegida based on the German model.
The Dutch and Belgians have even taken on the German name of Pegida. It can therefore no longer be considered a purely German phenomenon. Pegida has become the German export product of nationalist reactionary rebellion of and for all those who feel that the established parties no longer represent them.
Pegida leaders are delighted by increasingly frequent inquiries from other nationalist parties across Europe. Nowadays the Pegida "brand" has a presence in Austria, the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Estonia, Denmark, Spain, Switzerland and Britain. Beyond that, the Pegida movement also has good contacts with the French National Front party led by Marine Le Pen, to the British Eurosceptics of UKIP, Italy's Lega Nord and nationalist parties across much of Eastern Europe.
Lutz Bachmann was the feature speaker in Antwerp — Pegida Vlaanderen Facebook
Pegida supporter Götz Kubitschek is Lutz Bachmann's main contact to connect with groups in other countries. He is also the co-founder of the controversial Institute for State Politics (IFS), which recently hosted a presentation on an evolution theory of "different reproductive strategies" of Africans and Europeans.
Popular in Prague
Kubitschek is also editor of the nationalist conservative magazine Secession, and represented Pegida at a Lega Nord convention in Rome last year.
Pegida wants to demonstrate its growing strength with mass demonstrations across Europe on Feb. 6. The main protest will be held in Dresden with simultaneous rallies planned for Warsaw, Tallinn, Prague, Bratislava, Amsterdam and Birmingham.
Tatjana Festerling, from Pegida's organizational office, speaks of a "European-wide Pegida rally." She added that the various rallies will be connected via live streams.
Next month's continent-wide rally is meant to demonstrate the strength of a movement forged against a European political establishment that is rapidly losing the trust of the people — and for which German Chancellor Angela Merkel in particular is held responsible.
Final preparations for the rally will be discussed Saturday in Prague. Marek Cernoch of the Czech's populist right-wing party Dawn will be present as will representatives of the Czech group Bloc Against Islam. Tommy Robinson, founder of the English Defence League (EDL), will be there as well. Nationalists and critics of Islam don't have to hide in Prague, as Pegida has become socially acceptable in the Czech Republic.
"We had a lot of fans from the very beginning," says Festerling, who received nearly 10% of the vote during the first count of last year's local elections in Dresden. "We are basically considered national heroes in Prague."
Festerling, who will represent Pegida at the Academics Ball held by Austria's Freedom Party, says the group values "good neighborly relationships" and is committed to building a European Pegida network to help fight Brussels policy and the single currency.
Still, despite spreading to other countries, Pegida has still not managed to weigh on national politics in Germany where it was born. With this in mind, Bachmann is also busy working on founding a political party of his own.