Patriotische Europäer Gegen Islamisierung Des Abendlandes (PEGIDA) or Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamification of the West is a right-wing anti-Islamic political organization. From their founding in October of 2014 on a Facebook ‘group’ page, they have transformed into en masse demonstration activists. Their goal is to affect German immigration policy so that they establish more stringent requirements. They have also adopted anti-EU and pro-Russian stances. PEGIDA’s rise from a small social media group, to an active, popular, and structured protest group shows how powerful the internet has become as a tool for the organization of political associations.
Lutz Bachmann, the founder of PEGIDA’s Facebook group, began the movement as a protest against opening 14 immigration centers in Dresden. Only a small number of people came to the first PEGIDA rally. Approximately two months later, they had nearly 10,000 people walking through the streets of Dresden. The exponential growth in membership, especially given the brief amount of time it took is staggering. Such an expansion is entirely the result of the group’s entirely online nature, organizing through mass notifications through social media.
My colleague C.T. Souder has previously written about PEGIDA and the implications of their movement. He asked, back in February: “Did the PEGIDA movement enjoy a prolonged fifteen minutes of fame and will soon fizzle out?” It is now May – is there an answer to this question? It is, perhaps, still too early to tell if PEGIDA will fade away. However, that will most likely not occur in the near future. PEGIDA leaders have announced that there will be a rally on May 17th in Stuttgart. This is one of the major PEGIDA events organized outside of Dresden. The group is planning more demonstrations around Europe to include ones that have already transpired in Newcastle and other cities.
In addition, an anti-PEGIDA group from Stuttgart, NO PEGIDA STUTTGART, is organizing a similar rally against the conservative group, scheduled for the same day. The two movements are fundamentally opposed to each other philosophy, but came about in the same way. The anti-PEGIDA movement, in fact, came about as a result of their creation. Their slogan is: “Stuttgart ist und bleibt bunt – Gegen Rassismus, Sexismus und Homophobie“. Although, depending on one’s position, both of these groups‘ views may seem reprehensible. But it is a far greater omen that the two organize and demonstrate without repercussions in Germany.
That is not always the case. PEGIDA cannot operate with immunity. Freedom of speech is a recognized, fundamental right of the people in governments like that of the United States and Germany. However, the Austrian government has not taken such a lazzes faire strategy when dealing with PEGIDA. The group has been banned from demonstrating a second time in the Austrian town of Bregenz. Authorities cited the risk of criminal activity on the part of the protestors. As has already been demonstrated, protests made by this group are not completely lawful, despite their vehement denunciations of activist violence – seeing it as akin to Islamic terrorism.
PEGIDA and NO PEGIDA STUTTGART, I believe, represent the future of political activism. The new wave is traditionally non-political people who, through the efficient use of mass communicative social media, have organized themselves to vie for influence. Public attention and membership numbers are the two critical areas when evaluating a group’s viability. If an organization can garner influence simply through the expression of common beliefs, and not through financial largesse, truly rooted movements can take place – a government by the people, indeed.