Europe’s worsening migrant crisis is the best thing that ever happened to the PEGIDA movement.
The group very nearly faded into obscurity early last year after then-leader Lutz Bachmann posted a picture of himself dressed as Hitler on Facebook with the caption “He’s back.”
Then, 1.1 million Mid-East asylum seekers flooded across Germany’s borders.
At first the German people welcomed the refugees with open arms. Then, things quickly deteriorated. The Paris attacks instilled fear in the hearts of many Europeans who previously supported Angela Merkel’s open-door policies and then, the wave of sexual assaults that swept through Europe on New Year’s Eve killed whatever goodwill was left.
Far-right movements like PEGIDA have flourished amid the turmoil as nationalism - an ideology many assumed died with Hitler and Mussolini - is once again on the rise alongside a creeping sense of xenophobia among the bloc’s increasingly exasperated populace.
On Saturday, Europe’s unease was on full display as PEGIDA staged simultaneous protests in multiple cities. "We must succeed in guarding and controlling Europe's external borders as well as its internal borders once again," PEGIDA member Siegfried Daebritz told a crowd on the banks of the River Elbe who chanted "Merkel must go!".
Demonstrations were staged in Amsterdam, Prague, Calais (site of the infamous “jungle” migrant encampment), Dublin, and the English city of Birmingham.
"At lunchtime Saturday, several hundred protesters gathered in front of a local eatery in Calais, chanting slogans such as "We are one" and singing the French national anthem," CNN reports. "You don't understand the problems we have here," on demonstrator shouted at journalists covering the protest.
“German media put the number [of protesters in Dresden] at up to 8,000,” Reuters notes.
"We're demonstrating against the Islamisation of Europe, we're demonstrating against immigration, against an invasion," Robert Winnicki, leader of Poland's far-right Ruch Narodowy (National Movement), told a crowd of hundreds in Warsaw.
At the rally in Birmingham, PEGIDA supporters carried signs that read "Trump is right."
There were also rallies in Slovakia and Estonia.
Here are the visuals.
— Citizen Journalist (@ProDemocracy11) February 6, 2016
A rather chilling manifesto, dubbed "The Prague Declaration", was released by PEGIDA prior to the coordinated rallies. It reads as follows:
Being aware of the fact that the thousand-year history of Western civilization could soon come to an end through Islam conquering Europe, and the fact that the political elites have betrayed us, we, representatives of different European nations, declare the following:
- We will not surrender Europe to our enemies. We are prepared to stand up and oppose political Islam, extreme Islamic regimes, and their European collaborators.
- We are prepared to risk our freedoms, properties, jobs and careers and maybe even to put our lives at stakes, as it was done by the generations before us. It is our duty to future generations.
- We refuse to submit to the Central European government. The rules of the global elites have brought only poverty, unemployment, corruption, chaos and moral collapse. It is about time to end this.
- We fully respect the sovereignty of European nations and the right of the people of every European country to govern their matters as they see fit.
- We esteem as sacred the right of the citizens of every European country to protect the borders of their country and their right to decide which immigrants to accept and which not to accept into their country.
- We refer to our common European roots, traditions and values as well as the historic alliances of our nations. We are determined to protect Europe, the freedom of speech and other civic freedoms as well as our way of life together.
We will manifest this determination by our participation in a joint demonstration which will take place in many European cities on February 6, 2016.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is when things get dangerous. All the movement needs now is a charismatic leader capable of turning this groundswell of discontent into an organized political push.
As Europe's citizenry becomes increasingly frustrated with the bloc's politicans, and as the flow of migrants is set to increase with warmer weather and the siege of Aleppo, we wonder if somewhere out there, an as yet unknown, aspiring politician is busy penning his or her "struggle."