PEGIDA is a new overtly anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, racist right-wing movement that is taking Germany by storm. The acronym itself stands for Patriotische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes (“Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West”), and it based in Dresden, in the eastern part of the country.
Although PEGIDA denies it, many have characterized it as a neo-fascist movement, and there appear to be terrifying parallels. The use of the term “patriotic Europeans” itself should make one suspicious; it sounds quite similar to descriptors employed of other European fascists (much like “white power” in the US).
As can be seen from the symbol (above right) that PEGIDA includes on its posters and Facebook page—a variation on an anti-fascist (“antifa”) symbol (direct right) that depicts an individual dropping a swastika, the symbol of Nazism, in the garbage—the new anti-immigrant movement expresses antipathy for, from bottom to top, Nazism, communism, anti-fascism (the red and black flags are symbols of anarco-communism and/or anarcho-syndicalism), and ISIS. The original, antifa symbol depicts the stick figure facing the left, presumably symbolizing leftist political ideology; that PEGIDA’s version depicts a person facing the right may or may not be a coincidence.
LEGIDA, a PEGIDA spinoff in Leipzig that, in the words of German newspaper Die Zeit, is “more radical and dangerous,” marches with signs including slogans like “For home, peace, and German culture. Against religious fanaticism. Against Islamization and multiculturalism.” Opponents of multiculturalism are almost invariably of the far-right persuasion.
And I hope I do not have to explain why masses of racist Germans marching in the streets with signs reading “For home, peace, and German culture” is, historically speaking, a dangerous sign.
Unlike many neo-fascist movements, PEGIDA does not appear to be Eurosceptic—that is to say, it does not appear to want to leave the European Union—hence “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West,” and not just “patriotic Germans.” The presence of some EU flags at its demonstrations suggests this. PEGIDA may very well be a kind of neo-fascism, if you will, one that seeks to unite Western Europe—white people in general, and not just Germans—against the supposed “Islamic threat.”
What is clear is that PEGIDA is growing fast. Very fast. When it first emerged in late October 2014, just a few hundred protesters showed up at its demonstrations. By early January, there are tens of thousands coming out to show support for its xenophobic agenda.
PEGIDA is still a small group. What is terrifying, nonetheless, is how quickly it is growing. An online poll by leading German newspaper Die Zeit indicates that half of Germany now supports the group.
Led by Anti-Immigrant Activists Who Do Not Know Immigrants
Perhaps unsurprisingly, PEGIDA is most popular in places where Germans do not know many or even any immigrants.
The Washington Post reports:
In the center of the protests – a region called Saxony – only 2.5% of all inhabitants do not have German citizenship. Many western German regions, however, have a much higher foreigner ratio of about 10%.
“Many eastern Germans know only few or no foreigners; they are scared because they have no idea what to expect from the influx of refugees,” political scientist Werner Patzelt told The Washington Post.
The differences have historical origins, as well: Most foreigners in the west are from Turkey and came to Germany in the 1960s under a guest worker arrangement – at that time, east and west Germany were already split.
This should serve as a reminder that far-right movements feed off of ignorance and angst, turning perceived “outsiders” into scapegoats for larger economic and political issues.
Support in Russia
Russia, which has its own problems with intense racism and anti-Muslim bigotry, appears to be a supporter of the movement (this is in spite of Putin’s supposed “anti-imperialist” credentials).
BBC foreign correspondent Gabriel Gatehouse reports there were many Russian flags at the 12 January PEGIDA march in Dresden.
Russia as a country, along with some Russians themselves, seems to find common cause in the movement.
According to Google Translate, the above tweet says something like, “While Ms. Merkel [Germany’s Chancellor] called for the sanctions, sensible Germans sew the right banner.”
In the background of the following photo from a PEGIDA demonstration in Dresden, tweeted by a diehard supporter, one can see Russian flags.
It appears that this is not limited to just a small handful of protesters.
And these far-right, racist, ultranationalist movements are spreading throughout Europe. We may be witnessing the rise of a new fascism.