The Origin of the Pegida Movement

The interview was conducted by Flore Murard-Yovanovitch for the Italian Magazine “Left”

1. What is the origin of the Pegida movement, how was it born? What is the meaning of the fact it is developing in Dresden, a war-torn city that is socialist/stalinist. Continuity with History?

Pegida started around 13 Weeks ago with marches of several thousand people, but these marches grew very quickly. There are obviously fascist and right-wing extremists in this movement, but they managed to attract many “ordinary” people with right-wing tendencies from the middle class and even from the lower classes. It is actually a right-wing grass-roots movement, that was organized through the internet and social network sites – and it grew steadily by not only regional, but also countrywide mobilizations.

During the rallies in Dresden, there were many people from other cities of Germany as well. The new aspect is the insistence of non-violence” during the marches, which stands in stark contrast to the usual actions of the viciously brutal German fascist movement. Take the violent “anti-islam” demonstration of fascist hooligans in Cologne last October as an example, where the fascists started to hunt for immigrants. We should also not forget the German fascist terrorist organisation NSU (Nationalsozialistischer Untergrund), that was uncovered just three years ago – and whose members are responsible for at least 8 killings of immigrants. Even now, there is a spike in attacks on immigrants and leftwingers, but this violence did not occur during the marches and demonstrations of Pegida.

It could appear that this right-wing movement is a regional issue that is connected to the strong presence of right-wing extremists,  nepotism, and a culture of downplaying fascist tendencies in Saxony. In Dresden we witnessed the biggest European fascist  marches for several years, until a massive antifascist mobilization, which was viciously fought by the saxonian police, managed to end this “tradition”. Nevertheless, there are Germany-wide sympathies for this movement, as recent polls show: about 60 Percent of Germans think there Government does not do enough to prevent immigration, one third is even of the absurd opinion that there is a thread of Islamisation in Germany. Dresden is a focal point, where the German right-wing is mobilizing, but it could spread very easily to other cities also in western Germany. In the crisis-ridden Ruhrgebiet, a post-industrial region with de-industrialization and grave social problems, we also have a strong Nazi Movement. It’s not just an eastern problem.When talking about the deeper origins of Pegida, we have to talk about the crisis of capitalism and the European crisis. These systemic crises, combined with the draconian German welfare and employment reforms (Agenda 2010) was triggered almost a decade ago during a long-lasting process of brutalization within  German society — especially the middle class. This whole phenomenon could be called “extremism of the middle” with the social exclusion of parts of the society, and the competition between the people on the embattled labour market intensifying. The middle class was scared of losing their status. So, racist ideologies of exclusion began to gain popularity: you have the Sarrazin debate about the poor and immigrants in 2010, in which a part of the German elites started to adopt racist and social-darwinist views, such as the insistence of an inferior genetic outfit of poor people or Arabs. You have the hatred-filled debate during the euro-crisis, where the German mass media blamed the “lazy and unreliable South-Europeans” for the economic meltdown. You have the recent rise of the right-wing Party Alternative für Deutschland”. So, Pegida is the result of a long lasting social process of gradual radicalisation in the “middle” of the German society.
2. What are future developments of this movement which is growing every day?
It is very difficult to predict. The whole movement could consolidate and become a part of the political landscape of Germany, especially when an alliance with the new right-wind party “Alternative für Deutschland” (AfD) could be forged. It could even spread to other European nations, if new islamist attacks should occur. Especially worrying is the fact that parts of the German elite are trying to incorporate this movement – there is no unanimous condemnation of Pegida. Especially within Angela Merkels conservative CDU (Christlich Demokratische Union), there are voices of understanding towards this movement. The conservative mainstream media, which initiated racist debates in the past, is also torn apart between condemnation and approval. But even in the case of the demise of this movement, the growing racist potential will remain, it will result in a growing influence of right-wing parties and the corresponding ideologies.
3. Is rejection of Islam religion really the root of the movement or does it reflect a more general anti-migrant xenophobia?
Anti-Islamism was just a trigger for this racist movement. It enabled the participants of these marches to voice their xenophobia openly in the streets. Just take a look at the “demands” of this movement, that try to articulate all these racist resentments in a “civil” manner. There are hardly any points that call for a fight against extremist Islamism or the Islamic State, but many calls for strong policing of immigrants and quick deportations. Pegida even called for the banning of all help to the Kurdish independence movement, especially the PKK, which is in fact the only progressive force in the whole region, that fights the Islamic State in an effective way. The anti-islam rhetoric of Pegida intensified after the terrorist attacks in France, and the whole movement got a big boost afterwards. There is an eerie correlation between the two movements, the islamists and the right-wingers. Both benefit from the violence and the actions of each other, as committed by Islamists and the German NSU, and both try to escalate these “war of cultures” in order to achieve an ideological hegemony in their societies during the escalation.
4. Was the murder of Khaled Idris Bahray, the Eritrean boy in Dresden revendicated by Pegida? Is physical aggression to migrants the logical development of this movement?
Until now, it is not clear who killed Khaled. But many signs point towards a fascist murder. There were threads toward the immigrants and Khalids friends, they spoke of an atmosphere of intimidation and fear. Swastikas were painted on the door of their flat. And the culture of ignorance toward fascist crimes within the German police – that enabled the NSU to go on their killing spree for so many years – became once again apparent. The body of Khaled was soaked in blood, but the police claimed initially, this was a “natural” death, and the blood on the scene of crime was washed away instantly.  After the intervention of media outlets and activists, the police admitted, that this was a murder and started to secure the scene of crime – 30 hours after the murder was committed! The marches are a essential tool of mobilization of the extremely dangerous German fascist movement that could be encouraged to commit brutal attacks. Even before Khaleds deaths, here were acts of violence: There were also arson attacks on refugee centres, the beating of a turkish girl after a Pegida-demonstration in Dresden, and some attacks on left-wingers. Many immigrants in Dresden fear for their life, they want to leave the city. Its hunting season again, a situation similar to the spike in racism and racist murders in Germany at the beginning of the 1990s, shortly after the German reunification. The rallies are full of tension and hate that is hardly contained.

5. What is the meaning of this racial movement, the return of racism in German/European societies? Can it be interpreted as neo-nazism? Or is it something new?

The similarities to the rise of fascism in Europe in the 1930s are appalling. We have now also a grave systemic crisis of capitalism, as it was the case after the financial collapse of 1929. I would go so far as to describe fascism as a crisis-ideology, that is always gaining traction in times of crisis. This surge of racism is partly driven by fear, by fear of the uncertain future, that is projected on foreigners. The participants of the demonstration are afraid of the crisis, and they think they can exclude it by driving out all immigrants and by closing the borders. There are several hours of interviews with participants of the Pegida-marches on the internet, and nearly everyone is complaining about the shitty working conditions, the low wages, the lousy pensions – in one of the richest countries in Europe. These are the results of the previously mentioned social “reforms” and cutbacks (Agenda 2010), that led to a expansion of bad working conditions and to a fall in wages in Germany. And nearly every one of the Pediga-sympathisers absurdly thinks that the foreigners are responsible for these hardships. And nearly everyone feels deeply in their guts that the crisis is far from over.
So, this “extremism of the middle” leads to a “conformist rebellion”, which is the essence of the “social” side of fascism: these people with an authoritarian personality feel exploited and cheated, but they are not able to revolt against the capitalist system and the given authoritarian power structure with which the identify. So, they start to revolt against the weakest and those who are already marginalized and “foreign”, according to the dominant national thinking. This is what they have learned in countless racist and chauvinistic articles and discussions in the mass media, as initially mentioned. This is the real meaning of the term “extremism of the middle”: the dominant capitalist ideology, with its legitimization of all forms of exclusion, is driven to its mostly extreme, racist form. The whole situation will get really dangerous when parts of the elites start to see this as a viable political option in order to preserve power.
But there is more to it. The resurgence of identity-politics, from nationalism to separatism, is also rooted in this crisis-driven “extremism of the middle” and the accompanying “conformist rebellion”. When everything collapses around you, when the society is in turmoil, many people start to look for some  foothold, some certainties. And they think to find it in their identity, that enables them to imagine a stable basis of the crumbling society – and the expulsion of all those foreign elements that are imagined as the culprits of the crisis. Hence the rise of Nationalism and Islamism in the past decades – these are both crisis-ideologies that enable the same irrational reaction. In the crisis-stricken Arab countries, there is the religion as the dominant ideological force in the “middle” of these societies. And the Islamic are driving this religious belief, that are the basis of identity, to its extreme ideological forms. The Islamic State is in effect a religious-fascist organisation that erected its regime of terror in the socio-economic wastelands of the Middle East.  In Europe, the national identity is the breeding ground for fascist crisis-ideologies. So, European fascism and Arab Islamism are just two culturally different irrational crisis-ideologies.

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