Pegida in Europe – Islam belongs to Europe
Dresden, 20 October 2014, Pegida rally

Pegida, short for “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West”, was founded in Germany last autumn. Pegida rallies call for “home safety instead of Islamisation” and “against religious fanaticism and any kind of radicalism”. These rallies were organised in several German cities, but with little success; in most cases the Pegida marchers were outnumbered by large counter-demonstrations. Only in Dresden, the capital of Saxony in the east of Germany, the movement is growing and spreads from there to the rest of Europe - reaching from Spain to the Czech Republic and up to the UK and Norway, although with modest results. But the movement has sparked a European debate on Islamisation and European culture, immigration, xenophobia and multiculturalism.

Where it started: Valley of the Clueless

Lutz Bachmann founded Pegida as a Facebook group last autumn in Dresden. Saxony’s population counts only around 0.1 percent Muslims, while overall there are around 4 million Muslims living in Germany, accounting for around 5 percent of the population. Except for Saxony’s case, Pegida supporters were outnumbered by counter demonstrators in the rest of Germany and Europe. In the GDR Dresden was part of what is satirically called “Valley of the Clueless” as people there were unable to receive Western TV channels. Saxony also tends to show a general trend towards the political right; in the county elections 2014 the newly founded party “Alternative for Germany” AfD got 9.7 per cent of votes and the National Democratic Party of Germany NDP 4.9 per cent, gaining more significant support here than in Germany overall. The right-wing conservative AfD may consider that there are similarities betweentheir ideas and those of Pegida. The deputy spokesman of the AfD Alexander Gauland was one of the first leading politicians who participated in Dresden’s Pegida rallies. After the bloody attacks in Paris in January, Pegida reacted strongly: “The Islamists, against whom PEGIDA has been warning over the last 12 weeks, showed in France today that they are not capable of (practising) democracy but instead see violence and death as the solution”.

Pegida has been called a racist, anti-Islam and anti-immigration movement, but what does it really stand for? At first it was a movement against the planning of new shelters for asylum seekers. But the movement gets support from the right wing and neo-Nazis groups as well as being joined by football hooligans, politicians, citizens who are fed up with politics or feel that their culture is threatened. Although, a survey by the TU Dresden (Technische Universitaet Dresden) has shown that an average participant in Pegida rallies is 48 years old, educated male, with a good job and earning net jus over the average income of Saxony. The majority of the participants stated that they take part in these rallies as they are unhappy with politics. Others stated that they were critical towards media and the public. Only a minority of the demonstrators were taking to the streets in order to express their feelings against immigration and asylum seekers and religious or ideological violence.