PEGIDA: Disadvantaged through Globalization?
PEGIDA was started through a Facebook page called Friedliche Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes (Peaceful Europeans against the Islamization of the West) by Lutz Bachmann in October 2014. Soon after it, it came to weekly protests in Dresden, Germany that over time attracted an increasing number of participants. The movement used the same chant “We are the People” that was used during the Monday demonstrations that took place between 1989 and 1990 in the German Democratic Republic (GDR).
This blog post will – matching the theme of our blog – focus on globalization and the relationship between it and PEGIDA, while analyzing PEGIDA’s demographics from a political science’s perspective. As mentioned in our About Us section we will use the following definition of globalization that defines it as “the increasingly fluid and borderless movement of people, ideas, information, and capital that position the global and local as mutually interdependent”. A common assumption about people that vote for far-right parties or support movements like PEGIDA is that they do not profit from globalization. But is this assumption true when it comes to PEGIDA supporters? The theory of Losers of Globalization implies that globalization has winners and losers. Germany, as many other Western European countries, greatly benefits from globalization and the country’s economy would not be as productive without it.
Who goes to PEGIDA and why?
PEGIDA protesters tend to show a high distrust in the German media and the political elite, furthermore they feel that immigration and Islam threaten German culture. The movement evolved from a few hundred protesters to more than 20.000 protesters at its peak in January 2015. Since then, the movement has slowly decreased but still exists in 2021.
A study by Vorländer, Herold and Schäller describes the average PEGIDA attendee as an employed, mid-forties, male person coming from Eastern Germany. Contrary to widespread belief most protesters (62,1%) at the time of the study are not affiliated with any political party. The second biggest group of 16,8% affiliates themselves with the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), for more information on the AfD see Kilian’s blog post. Most attendees claim to be unhappy with German politics. More than a quarter of the questioned persons claim to be dissatisfied by German asylum policies and about 17% also claim to be dissatisfied by the integration and integration policies. The study needs to be interpreted with caution because two thirds of asked PEGIDA-protestants denied participating in the study. SPIEGEL Online, an important German media outlet, considers the study only partially representative because many less-educated PEGIDA protesters did not want to be interviewed.
Globalization and PEGIDA
Globalization can also create challenges for citizens. Branko Milanovic, a lead economist at the World Bank, stated that “either poor countries will become richer, or poor people will move to rich countries”. Connected to this quote Germany has seen an increase in refugees and migrants coming to the country in hope for better economic opportunities. Far-right movements tend to exploit those, and other aspects of globalization for their own agenda. Therefore, asylum, immigration, and integration policies are clearly linked to modern day globalization.
So far, it seems like the PEGIDA movement is benefitting from globalization because it can use it as a scapegoat for their own agenda. But what about the people that go to PEGIDA? Can they be considered as Losers of Globalization? According to the survey by Vorländer et al. they cannot. Other sources claim that, yes, they can be considered as losers of globalization.
Many PEGIDA protesters are a specific kind of losers of globalization because they are often considered as Wendeverlierer, as losers of German Unification. The term Wendeverlierer describes Germans from the former GDR that were economically and socially better off than in today’s reunited Germany. Unfortunately, there is no reliable data on how many PEGIDA protesters consider themselves as Wendeverlierer because it is an open term. At PEGIDA protests one can observe that most of the participants travel to Dresden from rural Saxony, an area that was hit more severely by the economic downsides of the German unification.
After German reunification, Eastern Germany received more migrants and refugees than ever in the existence of the GDR. This increase of migrants or Germans with a migration background like former guest workers was a change in Eastern German demographics and turned out to be dividing public opinion in Eastern Germany. Eastern Germany still hosts few refugees compared to other German federal states as the map with data from 2014 shows. Globalization did impact the popularity of PEGIDA, but the movement was similarly shaped by other factors like overall unhappiness with governing German politicians.
Conclusion and Future Research
My research could only be conducted so far because the explicit link between PEGIDA and globalization has only played a secondary role in academic research so far. Future research should try to analyze the connection of the two topics. Due to the decline of turnout numbers at PEGIDA protests future research could also look at another worrying societal movement in Germany called Querdenken (lateral thinkers) that is against the Covid-19 measures. Many of the movement’s participants have slowly been radicalized since the beginning of the pandemic. The movement is, like PEGIDA, monitored by German intelligence agencies as anti-constitutional.