Germany’s far-right group PEGIDA is mobilizing weekly ‘virtual marches’ livestreamed on YouTube. PEGIDA demonstration in Dresden December 16, 2018 | Derbrauni / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)
On a Monday evening in early April 2020, around 1,000 users are waiting for a YouTube livestream, ho…
For decades, Germany has been a tough ground for the Radical Right. Support for right-wing parties such as the DVU, NPD, or REP was inconsistent and mostly confined to the local and regional levels, chiefly because these parties remained tied to National Socialism, rendering them unpalatable to (most) voters. This has changed with the rise of the new “Alternative for Germany” (AfD), which, in September 2013, only months after its inception, came tantalisingly close to the five-percent threshold in the 2013 General election. Since then, the AfD has entered ten state parliaments and seems firmly on its way to become a national political force that will, at a minimum, make coalition formation much more difficult. This talk aims at giving an overview of the party, its relationship with the wider right-wing sector in Germany, and its position vis-a-vis other Radical Right parties in Europe.
Last Monday was the 77th anniversary of the nation-wide November pogroms directed against Jewish citizens, business, schools, hospitals, synagogues, and private homes that preluded the holocaust. While the day itself enjoys no special legal protection, it is widely seen as an occasion for quiet introspection and public remembrance. In this context, many had appealed to the Pegida organisers to cancel their usual Monday night rally.
The demonstration went ahead nonetheless, including the usual rituals. It was capped by a speech by Tatjana Festerling, a former member of the AfD. Festerling channeled the spirit of the day by demanding an end to “Nazi paranoia” and the “cult of guilt”. “Cult of guilt” (Schuldkult) is a phrase that was coined in the early 1990s. It is a highly loaded term that is used almost exclusively by the NPD and other right-wing extremist groups whenever the crimes of the Nazis are mentioned. That Festerling would use that word, on that day, and that the crowds would cheer, is significant.
— ©️as Ⓜ️udde (@CasMudde) October 25, 2015
And while Pegida seems to be on the rebound, counter-marchers ountnumbered a thousand hooligans by a factor of at least ten. Just as Dresden has become a focus for right-wing mobilisation since 1990, Cologne is very good at left-wing counter-mobilisation. The use of water canons against left-wingers made some international headlines, but that is good sport in Germany. Incidentally, there were no Salafists to be seen.
The larger issue, however, is that right-wingers of all shades are back on the street, trying to build networks. In that sense (and I think only in that sense), it’s like the 1990s all over again.
With rising numbers of asylum applications since the summer, Pegida has rebounded – a bit. Yesterday, on the anniversary of their first rally, they could muster 15,000 to 20,000 participants, by far the biggest number in months (with a somewhat smaller but still sizable number attending counter-protests in attendance). Since Sunday, various members of the federal government have come out with strongly worded statements, most notably the Home Affairs minister who described the Pegida organisers as “hard-core right-wing extremists” (are there any soft-core extremists?). SPD leader and vice chancellor Gabriel, who was in the past the Pegida-wise most visibly ambivalent figure within the SPD, was a bit late to the party with a statement to the effect that Pegida had radicalised and was now “right-wing populist with right-wing radical tendencies”. People who care about terminology may shudder, but the sub-text was clear: Gabriel that he had been right all along to (somewhat) engage with Pegida in the past, but now they were beyond the pale.1
Either way, everyone agrees now that they are radicalising, and so this is bound to become a self-fulfilling prophecy, as fewer and fewer moderates will contemplate joining the rallies once the elites are united in their rejection. This is a classic social movement trajectory (see, e.g. Koopmans’ 1995 book on the New Social Movements). However, as Koopmans points out, the flip side of radicalisation and isolation is often the emergence of a moderate, integrated wing of the movement that is accepted by the elites. In my book, this development is the one to watch out for.
1Incidentally, The question of what Pegida is, or was, exactly, has not just split the public and the elites, but also the Dresden political science department.
— Deutschlandfunk (@DLF) October 13, 2015
With all the excitement about Pegida (they are back to 8,000-10,000 marchers each Monday, still considerably lower than the 25,000 they could muster in January), it’s easy to overlook that Pegida is still is, and has mostly been confined to Dresden and the surrounding area, which has a disturbing history of extreme right mobilisation. Outside of (southern) Saxony, the various -gida branch organisations quickly collapsed.
But remarkably, the AfD state party in Thuringia is hell-bent to become Pegida’s structural equivalent, with thousands sometimes violent protesters marching the streets of sleepy Erfurt on Monday nights (as always, the Blick nach Rechts blog has the juicy details). That just goes to show that the Lucke-less AfD is still a pretty heterogeneous bunch, with powerful, largely independent state-level leaders representing different brands of rightism. In the case of Thuringia, the local leader seems to be gunning for that tiny spot just to the left of traditional right-wing extremism.
To end on a more heart-warming note, Frauke Petry (boss of the state party in Saxony and newly minted national leader) has informed the party faithful that she and Marcus Pretzell (ally, leader in North Rhine-Westphalia, UKIP admirer and formerly one of Lucke’s bug bears) are now officially “more than just friends”. Yet, while there is such a thing as too much information, there is no such thing as an unmixed blessing: In an act of apparent revenge, Petry’s soon to be ex-husband has joined the CDU and began tweeting pro-refugee messages.
Meanwhile, in Duckburg the Social Democrats, who seem a bit slow on the uptake, are still conflicted over whether they should engage in some sort of dialog with Pegida, and if so, with whom. What can I say?Photo by Sozialfotografie [►] StR
Meanwhile, social scientists are slowly trying to get a grip on Pegida. One of Germany’s leading scholars on social movement and protest mobilisation even dares to make a prediction: Dieter Rucht thinks that Pegida is past the zenith of thPhoto by Polybert49 e attention cycle, highlighting interesting parallels to the Occupy movement. Another interesting point (not discussed in the linked article) is that even after three months of mass mobilisation, Pegida has not managed to become a national movement. By and large, it is still very much focused on Dresden, which has been a hotspot of right-wing mobilisation for the last 25 years. And by the way, the beautiful building in the picture is a former cigarette factory built in the oriental style that was popular in Dresden a hundred years ago or so. Go figure.