The new German “Wutbürger” – A short history of PEGIDA

POP will not write anything about the attacks in Paris. Jacobin magazine published a very important article about the politicization of these events, asking – among other considerations – why a similar attack in Beirut originated very different reactions.

André Haller

Dr. André Haller

For the moment POP inaugurates a PEGIDA-related series of articles written by Dr. André Haller, who works at the Institute for Communication Science of the Bamberg University, Germany. His research interests include self-scandalization in the media, electoral campaign communication, and data driven journalism.

Even if it might seem tactless to mention something that is not #Paris, talking about PEGIDA and its historical development means casting a sideways glance on those events: when Islamic terrorism looks in the mirror, in fact, the image of a patriot against the Islamization of the West appears.

Dr. Haller introduces the basic aspects of the movement “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the Occident”, and he will periodically send updates about the controversial utterances of PEGIDA’s leaders and members. In order to understand Paris and Beirut, the debate about the migrants and the barbed wires, the bombings on Raqqa and the role of Russia in Syria, one should look carefully at the story and development of a movement which is the result of the current Zeitgeist: PEGIDA.

10.10.2015, rally celebrating the 1st year of the movement.

10.10.2015, rally celebrating the 1st year of the movement.

The first phase: Rise and fall

At the end of 2014 and the beginning of 2015, a protest movement called “Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the Occident” (German abbreviation: PEGIDA) caused public conflicts about “islamization” as well as about the question if PEGIDA is a racist organization. PEGIDA was founded in the city of Dresden by Lutz Bachmann and Kathrin Oertel to protest against the “islamization” of the Western World and uncontrolled immigration to Germany. About 350 people took part in the first demonstration on October 20th 2014. One week later 500 “Wutbürger” (which can be translated as “enraged citizens” and was word of the year 2010 in Germany, referring to protesters against a controversial train station project in Stuttgart) walked side by side with the PEGIDA founders. According to several reports, for example in one of the first analysis of PEGIDA by Lars Geiges and others, also members of the NPD, Germany’s biggest extreme right-wing party, and hooligans of the football club Dynamo Dresden participated in the march. The most protesters were mobilized on January the 12th 2015: according to police statistics nearly 35.000 people joined the “Monday demonstrations” accompanied by huge counter-demonstrations. PEGIDA released a manifest with 19 political claims, for example: Right of asylum for refugees combined with the right and duty of inclusion, a zero tolerance policy towards criminal immigrants, an increased funding for the police, the protection of “Germany’s Judeo-Christian culture” and the denial of gender mainstreaming as a political concept.

Lutz Bachmann in April 2015 participates at a rally in Leipzig (LEGIDA).

Lutz Bachmann in April 2015 participates at a rally in Leipzig (LEGIDA).

Though PEGIDA tries to communicate a civil and democratic background, some events showed that there is a high potential of aggressiveness in the movement, for example: PEGIDA members often refer to the mainstream media as “lying press” (the German word “Lügenpresse” was elected as the most negative word of the year 2014 due to its history, especially during the Nazi regime). It seemed that PEGIDA had the potential of becoming a new form of protest never seen before in the right-wing political camp. Although there was a substantial growth of participants and publicity, one specific scandal led to a first downfall of the protest group: In the end of January 2015, a photo of founder Lutz Bachmann who looked like Adolf Hitler (moustache and hairstyle) became public. In addition to that, some racist social media comments of Bachmann on immigrants (he called them “cattle” and “scumbags”) of September 2014 were revealed. Because of the public conflict over his person, Bachmann resigned and the PEGIDA leadership split up.

The asylum crisis as resuscitation

Kathrin Oertel.

Kathrin Oertel.

It seemed that PEGIDA passed its peak and that Lutz Bachmann’s resignation was the end of the group’s ability to integrate masses of angry citizens. But, as the asylum crisis expanded in the course of 2015, PEGIDA could benefit: during the late summer, the numbers of participants, particularly in Dresden, increased. Moreover, Bachmann once again became member of the leaders of PEGIDA, only four weeks after his resignation. Since the refugee crisis was the major issue in German media coverage and as politicians were overwhelmed by the constant flow of immigrants, more and more people were disappointed by mainstream politicians and were open to arguments of PEGIDA and other anti-refugee movements.

Though the movement resurrected during the asylum crisis there were still scandalous actions of PEGIDA activists discrediting the image of the whole movement: On October 19th 2015 one of the guest speakers of PEGIDA, the writer Akif Pirinçci, used a holocaust comparison. It was also reported that journalists were attacked by participants during Monday demonstrations. Regardless to such scandals, Lutz Bachmann tries to insist that PEGIDA is a movement of “concerned citizens”. Overall, the public discussion in Germany focuses more and more on increasing aggressiveness and radicalization of PEGIDA.

A paradox and problem for research: Rejection of traditional media relations

LEGIDA, April 2015.

LEGIDA, April 2015.

Though PEGIDA is a major issue in German media coverage, there was only one direct media appearance of a PEGIDA spokesperson in the TV talk show “Günther Jauch” on January 18th 2015. Since its founding PEGIDA officially refuses to talk to journalists as the movement denounces all established media as “lying press”. PEGIDA mainly uses Facebook– the web address leads to that Facebook page – to organize the weekly protests and to distribute ideological content. Populist political communication research therefore struggles to analyze the phenomenon of the right-wing movement as there are, except of social media appearances, no classical PR instruments of PEGIDA. Moreover, PEGIDA is skeptical about external persons doing research or investigations on the movement. However, there is one first scientific German work on PEGIDA which I recommend for further reading: Lars Geiges, Stine Marg and Franz Walter released the book “PEGIDA. Die schmutzige Seite der Zivilgesellschaft” in 2015 (publishing house: transcript). The study used group discussions with PEGIDA participants, content analysis of print coverage and participatory observations of the Monday demonstrations to explore the new phenomenon.

CAM03233After Lutz Bachmann’s resignation many commentators of the political landscape in Germany predicted the end of PEGIDA in the near future. In contrast to such views, we see that the movement plays and will play a significant role in the political debate in Germany in the medium – or even long-term. Scholars should focus on the protest movement to explain the communicative strategy of the group and its practical implementation in the public conflict.

Contacts – Dr. André Haller, University of Bamberg, Institute for Communication Science

An der Weberei 5, 96047 Bamberg, Germany


Phone: +49 / 951 863 2136

Biography  The author is working at the Institute for Communication Science of University of Bamberg, Germany. His main fields of interest are strategic and political communication, especially campaign communication and litigation PR, scandals and media and new developments in journalism, especially data driven journalism. He graduated at the Universities of Passau (B.A.) and Bamberg (M.A.) before he published his book on intentional self-scandalization in political communication in 2013. Haller is member of the German Society for Journalism and Communication Science (DGPuK) and of the European Communication and Research Association (ECREA).

5 thoughts on “The new German “Wutbürger” – A short history of PEGIDA

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s