Germany’s anti-Islam protests conceal larger political dilemma

pegida_dresden_islam.jpg [Caruso Pinguin/Flickr]

While Pegida followers in Germany claim to be protesting against the supposed threat of “Islamisation”, a recent survey shows this issue hardly plays a role for many participants. EURACTIV Germany reports.

They call themselves “patriotic Europeans” against the supposed “Islamisation of the Occident”, or the Western world. But only a fourth of participants in the Pegida demonstrations are there because of immigration or Islam.

An investigation published by the Technical University (TU) of Dresden on Wednesday (14 January), revealed that 54% of Pegida followers take to the streets because of a general “dissatisfaction with politics”. Although respondents did criticise asylum and integration policy, these were overshadowed by a general feeling of distance from political elites.

20% of Pegida followers also bear significant criticism towards the media. Only 15% showed fundamental reservations with regard to immigrants and asylum seekers. 5% protested against religious or ideologically-motivated violence.

Following the Islamist attacks on Charlie Hebdo, resulting in twelve deaths, the Pegida movement gained popularity. 25,000 people demonstrated in Dresden on Monday (12 January) – around 7,000 more than one week before.

Meanwhile, the TU Dresden’s survey also sought to shed light on the “typical” Pegida follower.

Contrary to popular claims, the organisation is by no means a group of retired and unemployed individuals. The average demonstrator comes from the middle class, is well-educated, working (70%), has a net income slightly above the Saxonian average, is 48 years-of-age, male (75%), does not belong to a religious denomination, is not affiliated with a political party (62%) (17% claim affiliation with the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany) and comes from Dresden or Saxony.

>>Read: Germany’s right-wing populists join hands with anti-Islamist Pegida

The researchers surveyed around 400 participants at the last three demonstrations in December and January, while only a third of demonstrators were even willing to answer the survey questions. But willingness increased from each protest to the next, explained Hans Vorländer, the study’s head researcher.

According to Vorländer, Pegida followers mostly want to use the demonstrations to express deeply-rooted, but not yet publicly articulated, resentments toward political and opinion-forming elites.

“This comparison between ‘them up there’ and ‘us down here’, combined with xenophobic attitudes are usually regarded as belonging to the rhetorical arsenal of right-wing populist movements,” said Vorländer.

The TU researcher believes the results unveil a deep cleft between politics and media on the one hand, and problems and opinions of Pegida followers on the other. In his opinion, the outcome points to a crisis in representative democracy. As political consensus-building becomes increasingly complex and demands more compromise, citizens are seeking out simple statements and want to be directly heard, Vorländer indicated.

That is a structural dilemma, he said. For politicians and the media, it is now about explaining the complexity – to show that compromises are necessary.

Referenda could be a possible solution to this. But Vorländer is sceptical. “I do not believe that that is the solution to these problems,” he said. However, it would include citizens in the responsibility. Then these could no longer view politicians as scapegoats. The researcher said “it should be attempted”.

For weeks now, the “Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the Occident” - 'Pegida' under its German acronym - have been demonstrating against supposed “foreign infiltration” of German society through Islam.

The nationalist movement also campaigns against numerous other phenomena: against asylum applicants, against Germany’s and Europe’s Russia-policy and against the media.

The largest Pegida demonstration included 25,000 participants, and took place on 12 January, in Dresden.

Organisers and supporters of the Pegida movement consider themselves a “citizen’s movement” and publicly distance themselves from right-wing extremists. They rely on the “Christian idea of man”, but church leaders accuse them of “racism veiled by religion”. Neo-Nazis and football hooligans constitute a significant part of the movement.

Pegida uses fear of Islamic terror to spread general sentiment against refugees and foreigners. The alliance itself speaks of a defamation campaign.

Technical University Dresden study (German language): Wer geht warum zu PEGIDA-Demonstrationen? (14 Januar 2015)

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