Founding and Background
Since October 20, 2014, Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the Occident (PEGIDA, Patriotische Europäer Gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes) has organized weekly Monday demonstrations or evening walks in Dresden against the Islamization of the West, in particular Germany. Several thousand people have followed the call and taken to the streets, mostly peacefully and silently. Lutz Bachmann founded PEGIDA after launching a Facebook group that expressed similar concerns, and a handful of other individuals joined soon after, including Siegfried Däbritz, owner of a bed and breakfast in Meißen.
Pegida is a registered association (Eingetragener Verein) and Bachmann serves as the organization’s chair, speaker, and public face. Bachmann was born and raised in Dresden, trained as a chef, and is the founder of a marketing agency. He spent time in prison for theft and possession of cocaine. In 2013, Bachmann received the Saxon Flood Relieve Medal (Sächsischer Fluthelfeorden) for his service on behalf of the flood victims in Saxony in June and July of 2013. Others in the movement, including Däbritz as well as a few other demonstrators, have been linked to an anti-Muslim Internet forum Hooligans against Salafists (Hooligans gegen Salafisten).
Pegida’s initiators were motivated by their opposition to recent solidarity movements in Germany on behalf of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party in their fight against the Islamic State (ISIS) as well as violent street fights between Kurds and opposing Muslims in Hamburg and Celle on October 8, 2014.
Platform and Mission
A position paper posted on the Pegida website contains nineteen points the organizations favors and opposes. These include Pegida’s position on the treatment of and legal framework for refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants in Germany; its opposition to violent political ideology and any type of radicalism and hate speech; its opposition to violence against women but, at the same time, to the trend of overly politically correct gender-mainstreaming in Germany; its support of both Muslims who have integrated into German society and of maintaining and protecting Germany’s traditional Christian-Jewish Occidental culture.
Pegida’s leaders avoid exchanges with most media outlets because of their mistrust of the press in general, which they consider too mainstream and politically correct. Bachmann has given interviews to Bild (Germany’s daily tabloid) as well as to Junge Freiheit and Blaue Narzisse, two conservative papers considered to be part of the political movement of the New Right (Neue Rechte). Participants in the demonstrations are encouraged to walk quietly without espousing rallying cries and not to give interviews in order not to provoke negative reactions in the press and to demonstrate the group’s dissatisfaction with the political establishment and the media.
The number of participants in the weekly Dresden demonstrations has grown from about 350 on October 20, 2014, to circa 25,000 on January 12, 2015. According to research conducted by the TU Dresden, the average participant is male—only 25 percent of demonstrators are female—about 48 years old, educated, employed, middle-class, from Dresden or Saxony, and without a religious or political party affiliation. The main reasons for participation are dissatisfaction with current politics and the media. Resentment vis-à-vis asylum seekers and immigrants and a general prejudice against Muslims is the third common reason. However, the organization’s mission to stop the Islamization of the West is not a major concern for the demonstrators. According to the study, the demonstrations are not likely to grow in numbers any further because fewer people are joining the demonstrations for the first time. The study gives important insights into the make-up of the demonstrators; however, only a minority agreed to respond to questions.
In reaction to the media present during demonstrations, slogans against the lying press (Lügenpresse) and unpatriotic politicians (Volksverräter) have been heard, both terms reminiscent of Nazi propaganda in the 1930s and 1940s and used by the NPD, a German right-wing political party.
Other cities in Germany have witnessed similar initiatives since December 2014: Bogida in Bonn, Ködiga in Cologne, Dügida in Düsseldorf, Bärgida in Berlin, Legida in Leipzig, Mügida in Munich. Participation in these demonstrations has been much smaller than in Dresden and demonstrators are typically outnumbered by those counter-demonstrating. The estimated number of counter-demonstrators varies between 300 and 30,000.
In addition to counter demonstrations across Germany, other efforts can be noted:
- President Joachim Gauck and Chancellor Angela Merkel, along with other prominent politicians, have publicly rejected the organization and its mission.
- Politicians, prominent artists, and industry representatives have recently signed a petition against Pegida, xenophobia, and intolerance.
- Since the end of December the Semper Opera in Dresden has turned off its lights, leaving protesters in the dark.
- Cardinal Woelki of Cologne ordered the cathedral lights to be turned off in opposition to the Kögida protests in January.
In Berlin, both the Brandenburg Gate and the TV Tower turned off their lights.
Members of the political party Alternative for Germany (Alternative für Deutschland) have voiced understanding for the main ideas and fears of Pegida and, in the aftermath of the terror attacks in Paris on January 7, 2015, find that those have been validated.
A number of opinion polls conducted since December (for example, Emnid/YouGov/Forsa) find that a certain degree of understanding of the mission behind the Pegida demonstrations exists among the general public, but at the same time note a general unwillingness to participate in the demonstrations. Some polls show that the majority believes that Pegida exaggerates the danger of the Islamization of German society, while other polls indicate the opposite.
The German and international press has reported on the movement. Russia has taken a particular interest given the movement’s pro-Russian stance and criticism of Germany’s policy of sanctions against the Russian Federation. The Monday demonstrations are slated to continue in Dresden and will no doubt be followed with great interest and concern. Whether the movement will impact German society, politics, and culture remains to be determined.