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…
The good folks over at CEMES are running a lecture series on the “New Political Right in Continental Europe“. What’s even better: they have kindly invited me to talk about Germany. Here is the abstract of my presentation:
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.
I got some flak for my piece on the Pegida movement, which I wrote for the Monkey Cage, but it was mostly surprisingly polite (my favourite one was “Professor of Fairies”. That one will definitively go on my new calling cards). Most of the commenters suggested that I was trying to brownwash Pegida when I suggested that the movement is radicalising, and that there are links to the Extreme Right. Well, here is another one.
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.
On the coattails of the Pegida anniversary, here is another far-right jubilee: A year on, self-declared hooligans have gathered once more for a “Hooligans against Salafists” (HoGeSa – those guys clearly love their acronyms) rally in Cologne. The two events could not have been more different. While Pegida is a largely regional weekly fixture that seems to feed on local networks, HoGeSa was supposed to be a national gathering in a very hostile environment. While Pegida claims (or claimed) to be a citizens’ movement that ruled out any connections with neo nazis, the HoGeSa organisers boast their uncivic credentials (click the link below to see what I mean).
— Cas Mudde (@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.
A year after the “Pegida” marches in Dresden began, German politicians have come full circle. After first ignoring the (then tiny and distinctly local) group, they either branded them as neo-Nazis (Greens, most of the Left, most of the SPD), tried to engage in listening exercises (some of the CDU and SPD), tried to co-opt them (the local AfD), or, much later, to emulate them (the AfD in Thuringia). Then Pegida all but collapsed, and politics went back to normal. Media attention cycles moved on.
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.
In Dresden, the style of political conflict has plunged to a new low yesterday night when Pegida marchers carried gallows “reserved for Merkel and [vice chancellor and SPD leader] Gabriel” – a classic extreme right prop that nicely complements the usual rallying cries of “lying press” and “traitors of the people”. At first I was a bit sceptical about the authenticity of the pictures on twitter, but this one was snapped by a journalist for public broadcaster Deutschlandfunk, who retweeted it, together with the backstory. It’s now another case for the prosecutor (incitement, which carries a penalty of up to five years – still better than a high treason charge, I guess).
— 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.
For the first time, the number of people attending the original Pegida marches in Dresden has fallen, while in most German towns and cities anti-Pegida demonstrators outstrip Pegida supporters by a considerable margin. This evening, four more members of Pegida’s executive have resigned, including Kathrin Oertl, who had become Pegida’s official face after Lutz Bachman’s Hitler picture gaffe.
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
Authorities in the Saxonian city of Dresden have issued a blanket ban on marches, demonstrations and outdoor assemblies following alleged islamist death threats against the founder of the “Pegida” (“Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident”) movement, who has masterminded the mass demonstrations in Dresden for the last three months. This is a highly unusual development by German standards, and political reactions from the very left to the very right have been predictably negative (for very different reasons). More specifically, the issue will help to further strengthen the ties between Pegida and the (eastern sections) of the AfD.
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.