Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Could Germany's Anti-Islam Group Actually Benefit from 'Hitler Selfie'?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Could Germany's Anti-Islam Group Actually Benefit from 'Hitler Selfie'?

Article excerpt

In posing as Hitler, Lutz Bachmann has only reinforced the idea that the Dresden-based group he founded, Pegida, is a bunch of rabid racists - and thus one many people don't want to associate with.

But the scandal could actually serve to legitimize the organization - by leaving space for a less controversial figure to become its new public face.

Mr. Bachmann stepped down from his leadership position in Pegida, or "Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West," on Wednesday after German daily Bild ran a photo that he apparently took of himself with a Hitler mustache and hair style.

The image seemed to substantiate the criticism from mainstream Germany, which has roundly dismissed the men and women marching under the Pegida banner. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, during a New Year's Eve address, went as far as to imply they had hate in their hearts.

But many Dresden locals, while admitting they loathe Bachmann and those like him in the leadership of Pegida, say they understand many of its followers' laments. And with Bachmann's ouster, a more moderate or sympathetic leader could take up the mantle and bring the movement away from the fringe and into mainstream politics.

Little sympathy for BachmannCorina Hohenstein, an emergency medical technician who lives in a little town outside Dresden, told the Monitor recently that the impetus behind Pegida - Germany's new role as asylum granter, especially for Syrians - has caused real concerns among citizens in this part of the country, which, as part of the former East Germany, has had limited experience with foreigners.

She says many protesters carrying Pegida banners are also using the weekly marches, which swelled to 25,000 in just fourth months, as a megaphone for a plethora of other problems they face, from underemployment to unequal development between East and West Germany.

But she would never dare set foot at a march, she says, -because she would never want to be associated with Bachmann, whose credentials she questioned long before the Bild expose.

Originally from Dresden, Bachmann was convicted in his youth for assault and burglary, and fled to South Africa. He was deported and spent two years in prison. "He wanted South Africa to accept him when he doesn't want to accept foreigners," she says ironically. …

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