The Resonance of Pegida: Right-Wing Populism Beyond the ' Losers of Globalization '

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 16:00
Oral Presentation
Sabrina PAILLE, York University, Canada
The rise of the right-wing populist protest movement Pegida (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West) in Dresden since late 2014 signals a major shift in the post-reunification German political landscape. Its mass visibility and enduring presence indicate that the country can no longer be considered immune to expressions of unabashed nationalism, as made clear by the recent electoral breakthrough of the Eurosceptic and anti-immigrant party AfD. The unexpected character of Pegida’s rise lies in its appeal to ‘ordinary citizens’. The movement attracts a broad spectrum of people, including those from the middle class who don’t necessarily identify with right-wing politics and emphatically distance themselves from neo-Nazis. What, then, explains Pegida’s resonance? Drawing on participant observation at a Dresden rally, Pegida position documents and television interviews with Dresden demonstrators, this paper argues that Islam is not the single issue that mobilizes Pegida supporters. To be sure, the analysis shows that nativist and neo-nationalist sensibilities about Germany, Europe and Islam expressed by Pegida leadership and local demonstrators are permeated by attitudes of cultural pessimism, salient in fears of ‘foreign invasion’, demographic decline and ‘parallel societies’. Yet, there is more to Pegida’s appeal than its anti-immigration platform. Feelings of resentment tied to socioeconomic concerns occupy a prominent place in grievances voiced by Dresden protesters. This is most salient in expressions of economic chauvinism directed at ‘parasitical foreigners’, who are believed to put undue strains on the labour market and welfare provisions. The movement translates social insecurity fostered by neoliberal restructurings into a sense of cultural threat. Nevertheless, the paper takes issue with the oft-repeated claim that right-wing populism appeals chiefly to the ‘losers of globalization’, as Pegida supporters’ cultural and socio-economic anxieties constitute less a reaction to actual loss of status than fears of losing out in the future.