Magazine article The World Today

Pegida Can Be Tamed

Magazine article The World Today

Pegida Can Be Tamed

Article excerpt

Racial tension is a bigger threat to Paris than Berlin, Timo Lochocki argues

Germany is now the second most attractive destination for migrants worldwide, after the United States, according to figures issued last year by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. The image produced by these statistics of a Germany at ease with being a multicultural society is now cracking. Rallies by the Pegida movement demanding a tightening of German immigration policies are attended by up to 25,000 protesters in Dresden each week, while smaller chapters exist in Bamberg, Bonn and Leipzig.

To judge by their slogans, these protesters are marching against a multicultural society. This might suggest that Germany will go the way of France, where an anti-immigrant party, the National Front, is now a fixture of the political landscape. But a comparison between the two countries is misleading.

Two major differences are crucial. First, polarization between multicultural and conservative political forces in Germany is far less pronounced than in France; second, political forces in Germany have many more options to counter concerns over German identity than their French counterparts.

The protests by Pegida - it means Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the Occident - and the counter-movement they have spawned - are the first clear sign since the 2000s of polarization between conservatives and multiculturalists in Germany. Surveys of the protesters show that the majority of them hail from the educated middle classes and have previously voted for mainstream parties.

Only a few of the protesters are primarily motivated by fear of Islamization. Instead, their concerns are: general distrust of German parties; suspicion of the German media; and only then unease with the state of multiculturalism and asylum policies. Such a profile fits neatly with the electorate of the rising right-wing populist party, Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), originally founded to oppose the common currency, the euro.

According to polling institutes, 17 per cent of German voters sympathize with Pegida, while 70 per cent of AfD voters do. While the Af D is still debating whether it should have an alliance with Pegida, the head of its regional chapter in the federal state of Brandenburg, Alexander Gauland, described Pegida as the Af D's 'natural ally'.

Pegida and the Af D are following similar paths. From its anti-euro origins, the Af D now adheres to a classic populist formula: 'for the nation, against the political establishment.'

The party polls between 6-8 per cent at the federal level and blames established parties for two developments: Germany's financial commitment to the eurozone; and endangering national identity due to excessively liberal asylum and immigration policies. …

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