Pegida in Parliament?

Explaining the Failure of Pegida in Austria

in German Politics and Society


This article explains the failure of Pegida Austria as a social movement organization by testing three prominent theories of social movement theory: political opportunity structures, ideology, and resource mobilization. The failure of Pegida to play a role in Austrian politics is ascribed to the dominant role the Freedom Party (fpö) already plays in the Austrian parliament, the fpö’s issue dominance on anti-immigration and Islamophobia in public discourse, and the relative scarcity of individuals capable of mass mobilization outside the spectrum of political parties. The analysis is based on a crucial-case study that does a comparative content analysis of the fpö and Pegida platforms to assess the ideology argument. The political opportunity and human resource arguments are analyzed with process tracing. The findings reveal that all three theories jointly help to explain the failure of Pegida Austria.


In Austria, from the very beginning, the fpö has been the real Pegida.” This was the comment by the far-right leader Heinz Christian Strache about the organization Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the Occident (Pegida, its German acronym) and its role in Austria in early January 2015.1 At the time Pegida Austria had announced its first protest in the capital city of Vienna. Only 300 people, however, attended the first public rally and soon Pegida Austria disappeared from the scene. How do we account for this unexpected development?

This article’s central research question is how we might explain the failure of this xenophobic, anti-Muslim movement. The dependent variable is Pegida’s failure of mass mobilization. This is puzzling for several reasons. First, for several decades Austria has had a dynamic and powerful radical right-wing populist party (rrp), the Freedom Party (fpö), which has engaged in xenophobic, racist, and anti-international mobilization. Its ethnic exclusivism and identity politics have allowed the fpö to grow from about 5 percent in the 1980s to over 20 percent in recent times.2 Thus, we know that a considerable portion of the electorate is susceptible to such messages. Secondly, against the background of Austria’s conservative social culture, steeped in a history of Catholicism and traditionalism, international developments ranging from European integration and the European Union’s (eu) enlargement into Eastern Europe to globalization in general have resulted in widespread anxieties. Austria has one of the most Euroskeptic populations, went out of its way to oppose Turkish membership in the eu, and witnessed public campaigns against the accession of its eastern neighbors to the eu.3 Thus, a movement aimed at curbing “Muslim immigration” and foreigners from undesirable destinations ought to have an organizational advantage. Third, information diffusion in Austria generally occurs by way of Germany. This means that because of the common language and given the influence of German media of all types in Austria, public debates are very much shaped by events in Germany.4 Thus, the successful launch of Pegida in Austria’s northern neighbor ought to have provided a boost to Pegida Austria, not to mention the logistical and synergetic advantages that result from having a parallel development in a politically closely related neighboring country. For all these reasons it is astonishing that Pegida Austria has turned out to be such a failure.

The research design is based on a case study.5 I present a crucial-case6 analysis based on a most likely scenario, using Germany, which is the focus of this journal’s special issue, as the most similar shadow case. Since this case study aims at understanding the case at hand better theoretically, it uses three of the most prominent aspects of social movement theory (smt). In short, it takes Austria as a case for which the emergence of xenophobic and identitarian movements are most likely given its background, context, and existing opportunities. It then shows that the presence of an established rrp undercuts these factors, thus thwarting successful movement creation. The central argument draws on the logic that Austria offers restricted space for Pegida in terms of political opportunity structures, ideology, but also resources due to the strong position of a rrp.

My argument is structured by social movement theory (smt). For this reason, I present a short description of the main theories used in this article. The paper discusses each theoretical approach according to the empirical details of the case at hand. The final section concludes with a review of the findings in light of the hypotheses. This allows us to examine why Pegida was not able to become a stable social movement organization (smo) in Austria or to draw a large number of followers. In order to compare the ideology of the fpö and Pegida, I undertake a comparative content analysis, since Pegida has published a platform and the fpö is a widely addressed research area.7 For the second and third hypotheses, I apply Andrew Bennett and Alexander George’s method of process tracing,8 which is a technique for studying causal inference in single-case research designs, used here in the variant of case-centric theory testing9 to test the political opportunity structures and resource mobilization theory. I derive my argument from the smt literature to test the hypothesized causal mechanism of each theory. In such a theoretical setting, however, no stances are made “about whether the mechanism was the only cause of the outcome.”10 Since careful description is regarded as a foundation of process tracing,11 I first provide information on each aspect before testing the hypotheses. I primarily relied on information generated by the very rich and intense discourse about, and coverage of, Pegida Austria’s marches by ngos, media outlets, and televised debates. I also conducted interviews with expert researchers specialized in the far right to collect data on human resources. An interview request to Pegida remained unanswered.

Pegida Austria: The Case at Hand

By the time Pegida in Germany had reached a peak, it seemed that activists in Austria had only started thinking about establishing a similar smo.12 While Pegida Dresden had already started in October 2014, the Austrian branch only appeared on the scene in the beginning of 2015. The first public rally of Pegida Vienna was announced for 2 February 2015 in the capital after a Facebook account for Pegida Austria was created in mid December 2014.13 And not until early 2015 did Pegida Austria have a public spokesperson. Only a small number of people gathered in the largest Austrian cities: 300 in Vienna and 100 to 200 followers in Linz, Graz, and Bregenz. After a first march, a second one did not follow in any of these cities. In contrast to Pegida in Germany, no annual repeat of the first march was organized. Thus, one may conclude that the movement completely failed to mobilize a number of followers comparable to those in Germany.

But this does not mean that the Pegida phenomenon was irrelevant to public Austrian discourse. The increasing numbers of public marches as well as the internal conflict within the German Pegida movement were discussed extensively by the Austrian public. Nevertheless, there is an important structural difference between Austria and Germany, which is the presence of a potent and politically successful rrp and Islamophobic public discourse.14 While democratic Germany has largely admitted its role as an instigator of war and genocide by taking responsibility for World War II and the Holocaust, thus silencing fringe groups with ultra-nationalist and extremist views, Austria has been different in many ways. One aspect is that antisemitic discourses have still appeared at the highest political level.15 As a consequence of this negligent treatment of public manifestations of antisemitism, Islamophobic utterances have also been disseminated openly. This is first and foremost pushed by the politically successful and powerful fpö.16

I choose Germany as a most-similar shadow case to Austria that differs in one crucial aspect, which is the established role of a rrp. During the period investigated, the German rrp AfD (Alternative for Germany) was still a new party on the political scene. In contrast, the fpö grew out of the historical “third camp” (next to the conservative Christian and the socialist), from which the Nazi party also originated. Although many ex-Nazis were initially not allowed to vote in the first election, many received the right to vote in 1949, when the Verband der Unabhängigen (VdU, Federation of Independence), was founded, which became the predecessor of the fpö, the Austrian Freedom Party, in 1956.17

This much laxer handling of the Nazi past is rooted in Austria’s history. First, the dominant historical narrative maintains that Austria was a victim of the Nazi regime and not a perpetrator. This construction of Austrian history has only been contested quite belatedly.18 But since it was the official narrative after the end of World War II, Austrian society and government dealt quite differently with the historical third camp, seeing it as a legitimate force in Austrian society. While the liberal camp within the fpö was strongest until 1986, this changed with Jörg Haider coming to power.19 When Haider challenged the party’s leadership and became the new leader, the fpö slowly but steadily began aggressively racist election campaigns. By that time, the followers of the fpö had increased in number.20 After his coup and assumption of leadership, he used populist vote-maximization tactics to advance his marginalized party from a 5-percent party in 1986 to a ruling party in 2000, when the fpö gained 26.9 percent of all votes during the 1999 national elections. With slightly more votes than the Conservative party (övp), it became the second-strongest party in parliament,21 which led to the first government with a far-right coalition partner lasting until 2007. Since 2008, the fpö and other right wing populist parties such as the splinter bzö (Bündnis Zukunft Österreich, or Alliance for the Future of Austria) have constituted up to 30 percent of the votes of the Austrian electorate.

The long-term impact of the fpö on the other parties should not be underestimated. As early as the 1990s, the two traditional grand coalition parties, the Social Democrats and the Conservatives, adopted more and more restrictive policies in the realms of security, migration, and asylum under the pressure of the fpö.22 Even the Conservatives adopted central fpö themes during their coalition with the far right by implementing a new asylum law in 2003.23 In national parliamentary debates, analyses reveal first that the fpö had a thematic leadership. Second, racism was not taboo, and third, the imagined “others” (Muslims, immigrants, etc.) were problematized, stigmatized, and excluded.24 The fpö arguably became a leading force in spreading racist views. In a somewhat delayed response after 9/11, Austria’s far right put a focus on Islamophobic campaigning. Since 2005, the fpö has been campaigning continuously using Islamophobic messages25 with extensive advertising featuring slogans such as “Home not Islam” and “We oppose enforcing headscarves.” Compared to Germany, such slogans seem quite radical in their wording. Germany does not have a nationalist or right-wing populist party of comparable strength to the fpö in Austria on a national level.

Political Opportunity Structures, Ideology, and Resource Mobilization

In raising the question of why Pegida failed to mobilize significant numbers of marchers to protest against an alleged “Islamization” of Europe, a number of theoretical explanations may help us account for this development. Pegida is a protest movement. In smt, protest is defined as a “non-routinized way of affecting political, social and cultural processes.”26 This protest is facilitated or made difficult by different factors, which have been theorized in depth in smt literature as summarized below.

Although political opportunity structures are conceptualized in various ways in smt,27 broadly speaking, the theory assumes that institutions have an impact on social movements’ capacities: both how they engage in collective action and how successful they are in achieving their aims.28 Political opportunity structures suggest that “exogenous factors enhance or inhibit prospects for mobilization, for particular sorts of claims to be advanced rather than others, for particular strategies of influence to be.”29 According to Sidney Tarrow, political opportunity structures are “consistent—but not necessarily formal or permanent—dimensions of the political environment that provide incentives for people to undertake collective action by affecting their expectations for success or failure.”30 It is generally seen as a challenge for researchers to explain which specific “aspects of the external world affect the development of social movements and how this development is affected.”31 David Meyer and Debra Minkoff criticize the incongruity and lack of theoretical clarity and conceptual specificity of the concept of political opportunity structures and suggest a threefold categorization of the concept.32 In the understanding here, political opportunity structures point to all of the aspects of the political environment that facilitate or make it difficult for an smo such as Pegida to mobilize its constituency for its goals. Rather than examining Pegida’s policy achievements, I focus on its ability to take collective action against the backdrop of a country that is home to an established rrp, the fpö.

While structural approaches, such as political opportunity structures, explore how characteristics of the political structure determine the opportunities or constraints for protest, these theories reject ideology as an explanation for the rise and decline of specific movements. The theoretical approach of ideology argues instead that the key question in movement participation research is why people are aggrieved. This strong assumption about the centrality of deprivation and grievances is at the heart of the theory of ideology.33 According to David Weberman, scholars use ideology pejoratively in two different ways: one group of authors uses ideology in the sense of the defense of privilege, whereas the other group associates ideology with ambitions to challenge the system.34 Pegida clearly falls in the category of a movement representing an ideology that challenges the overall political system itself, more than just particular policies.35 Pegida was established in Germany in order to have an impact on politics and to put pressure on the political parties.36 Rudolf Heberle draws on a very broad and non-technical understanding of what ideology means. For him, a movement’s ideology is “the entire complex of ideas, theories, doctrines, values and strategic and tactical principles that is characteristic of the movement.”37 The question if an smo can be successful hence depends very much on how much Pegida is able to formulate new ideological stances to challenge the system. Is the ideology new and thus able to mobilize a considerable number of followers, or is an rrp already covering these stances? I compile a comparative content analysis of Pegida Austria’s comparatively limited platform with the party manifesto of the long-established fpö.

But exogenous factors and ideology may not fully explain an smo’s development. A third theory, resource mobilization, contends that a movement’s success is highly dependent on its resources. According to smt scholars, the “transformation of social movement theory rests upon the recognition that the mobilization of resources (labor, materials, and money)” is broadly possible.38 Hence, no matter how many adherents a smo has, it can only succeed if it overcomes these barriers to collective action. A skilled cadre of leaders and a well-established institutional structure, from which the cadre can draw resources, are fundamental requirements for a successful smo. Since this crucial-case study aims first and foremost to understand the case at hand, these three prominent theories will be tested to explain the failure of Pegida Austria.


According to Martin Dolezal and Swen Hutter, Austria is a “strong state.” Their research shows that contentious issues in Austria are still handled within the government, not outside of the polity, and that Austrians have strong party affiliations. This has led to some stability in political opportunity structures during the last thirty years.39 Drawing on these findings and contesting the theory of political opportunity structures, I argue that due to the presence of an already powerful and well-entrenched Islamophobic political party, which is represented in national as well as regional parliaments, Austria’s political system had less available space for Pegida.

In terms of ideology, I draw on findings, which reveal that the fpö is the voice of Islamophobia in the Austrian political landscape.40 The fpö has published a platform, “Islam and Us,” that clearly frames Muslims as adherents to a misogynistic, violent, and political ideology. While the fpö is obviously very harsh in its tone towards Muslims, one can also find subtler racist messages in Austria’s political discourse when the fpö’s leadership is in power.41 My argument here is that while casting itself as a political protest movement, Pegida ideologically had nothing new to protest. With the fpö as a well-established party, nationalist and authoritarian positions are clearly advocated within the right/left or gal/tan (Green-Alternative-Libertarian/Traditional-Authoritarian-Nationalist) axis of positions.42 One can argue that Pegida Austria does not add any ideological value, since the fpö already represents the anti-immigration and anti-Muslim positions that Pegida claims for itself. It can be said that racism and xenophobia are to some extent already “institutionalized.”

Research by Dolezal and Hutter also tells us that Austria has a low rate of “unconventional” political participation in contrast to many other European countries.43 According to the theory of resource mobilization, Pegida Austria must have been lacking human and/or material resources as one possible explanation for its failure. Hence, a third hypothesis suggests that since Austria is a “strong state,” the resources available to the far right are too contested to offer an additional pool of capable organizers.

These arguments will be taken as basic assumptions to understand why Pegida was less successful in Austria than in Germany at generating a mass following, which to a great extent defines a movement’s destiny.44 I now analyze the case at hand drawing on these three hypotheses. In the process, I compare the programmatic positions of Pegida Austria and the fpö, consider the fpö’s role in taking Islamophobic stances within the political system, and assess the profile of Pegida representatives and followers to the extent possible.

Islamophobic Ideology
The second central argument identifies the less developed anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant stances as evidence of Pegida’s inadequacy at offering anything substantially new. When Pegida Austria was launched, it presented an eleven-point program on 30 January 2015. The program, which was accepted by all nine regional branches of Pegida Austria active at the time, stated:45

All nations and peoples shall live together in peace, free from colonization and imperialism

Reasonable migration policies based on economic needs and cultural receptiveness

Stop mass immigration into Europe

No religious wars or proxy wars on Austrian soil

No Sharia and Islamization in Europe

Stop the recruitment agreements with Turkey

Only temporary asylum until the situation in war torn countries has calmed down

Zero-tolerance politics towards delinquent asylum seekers and migrants

Resistance against misogynistic, violent, political ideology, but not against integrated Muslims living here

Efficient aid to refugees on-site so they do not have risky and long escape routes

Rule of law, more civic rights and more democratization46

The first stance, stating that all nations shall live together in peace, is a standard statement that is repeated in the discourse of Europe’s new right to counteract criticism of obvious racism.47 The media spokesperson of Pegida Austria openly stated that he regarded himself as an “ethnopluralist,”48 which means that all nations have a right to exist, but European nations shall not be replaced by other cultures: a code for opposition to multiculturalism and integration.49 This program of “ethnopluralism” is a strategic stance that aims to make the new right more compatible with contemporary lifestyles and to disseminate racist arguments in a more subtle way.50 The rest of the positions, including stopping mass immigration into Europe, opposing sharia and Islamization, and opposing labor immigration from a Muslim-majority country like Turkey—immigrants from which constitute the majority of Muslims in Austria—is as much part of the discourse of the fpö on Islam.51

Pegida’s less explicit stances targeted at immigrants in general rather than Muslims in particular contain nothing new. The fpö already covers stances such as restricting the right to asylum and calling for “zero-tolerance politics towards delinquent asylum seekers and migrants.”52 In fact, the fpö even goes further and into greater detail in its Islamophobic stances. To give but one example, the fpö calls for a yearly report by the Ministry of the Interior conducting surveillance on Muslims and Muslim life by documenting the development of “Sharia practices, violence, anti-terror measures, the creation and development of Muslim ‘self-segregation’ (Parallelgesellschaft), religious education, extremist views, forced marriages … understanding of democracy [within the Muslim community], democracy, and tolerance.”53

Since Pegida had nothing new to offer, this may be one reason for the inability of Pegida Austria to mobilize a considerable number of followers. The fpö, which at that time had nearly 30 percent of national voters, already represented these values. Such an assertion may be countered, however, by the point that since the fpö had already spread these ideas, it should have been easier to mobilize street protests at the very least. This leads to the next theoretical approach.

Political Opportunities

In addition to this thematic leadership, the fpö, as a numerically strong democratic party, also occupies a central position allowing it to articulate these stances in the public sphere as well as in regional and national parliaments. The question now is whether the fpö’s position as described weakens or strengthens Pegida’s political opportunities for mobilizing street protesters. Based on Dolezal and Hutter’s findings54 and smo theory, the contested policy space argument finds support in the following observations of Austria.

Anti-immigration and Islamophobic stances are not restricted to the rrp. While the fpö has been the initial force in spreading Islamophobic fear and was the first party to raise the idea of banning minarets in 2007, it was the center-right övp that first legalized a ban on mosques and minarets in the state of Vorarlberg.55 And even on a national level, the 2015 Islam law, adopted by the two ruling parties, the social-democratic spö and the övp, was widely regarded as a manifestation of institutionalized Islamophobia.56 Pegida Germany had declared its aim at influencing political parties in power, especially the more tan-like Christian Democratic Party and the new right-wing populist AfD, with which talks took place.57 In contrast with Germany, there was no space in the political system for Pegida Austria to take any stances, since Islamophobic policies can be found across the political spectrum.

Even in the non-parliamentarian space of civil society, it is evident that Austria has experienced a number of regional Islamophobic initiatives in civil society. Other anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim smos there have been protesting Islam and Muslims for years now.58 One of the most successful is “Moschee ade” (literally “mosque bye-bye”) in Vienna, which has been protesting the (re)construction of mosques for more than seven years. The fpö very quickly marched with this “citizen’s movement” to protest Muslim houses of prayer.59 Hence, the civic protest was absorbed by the fpö. Political scientist Peter Filzmaier joined other commentators in believing the fpö would thus stand to benefit from Pegida: “Be it in Dresden or Vienna, the fpö benefits whenever their central causes are propagated.”60 At the same time, these rallies reveal that although there is strong support for parties like the fpö, which support anti-immigrant and Islamophobic policies, at the ballot box, these topics do not seem to mobilize people on the streets. Hence, rrp contestations seem not to change protesting behavior in civil society, which is generally weak in Austria, as Dolezal and Hutter argue.61

The contested policy space argument can be bolstered with the following observations of Pegida Austria from December 2014 to December 2015. Both the president and vice-president of the fpö fully supported Pegida’s stances.62 After Pegida Austria announced its appearance, the vice-chairman said: “We are watching these developments calmly from the outside. At the end of the day, we represent these topics in parliament. So we are the ones you can vote to have all that.”63 Hence, one could argue that because of the fpö’s anti-immigration and Islamophobic activism in parliament, people saw no need to organize on the streets for the same stances already taken in parliament. Also, the chairman of the fpö clearly stated: “In Germany no political force existed that attended to this matter [Islam]. [Pegida] was a cry for help by the population. In Austria, the fpö exists. That is why Pegida did not emerge here.”64 This means, essentially, that there was no need for a force in addition to a democratically supported political party in parliament to take further stances against immigration and the perceived threat of “Islamization.” The leader of the fpö observed in an interview:

In Austria, the fpö was the true Pegida from the very beginning. We have always taken the negative developments regarding Islamism very seriously. This is not the case for Germany. That is why this civil rights movement [sic] has been gaining more and more support for bringing these issues to attention peacefully.65

In sum, while the fpö saw itself as a leading force in supporting anti-immigration and Islamophobic policies, the fpö leadership verbally supported the emergence of Pegida as a reasonable and legitimate political force in the streets. At the same time, they signaled to their sympathizers and the electorate of their party that they had already agitated for these causes in parliament. This twofold message seems to reassure their own electorate and may thus have contributed in demobilizing them. On the one hand, this affirms the hypothesis that Pegida Austria was unable to identify a gap in which to mobilize followers due to the fpö and its strong position in Austrian politics. On the other hand, the fpö may have wanted to signal to people who were more committed to these causes that the fpö was their party. It bears mentioning that there was also some personal overlap between the people involved in the smo Pegida and the fpö, which leads to the last theoretical approach, resource mobilization theory.
Pegida’s Human Resources

Drawing on the work of Dolezal and Hutter, the third argument advanced by this article posits a lack of resources for far-right organizations outside the established framework. Evidence for this can be seen in four aspects. First, it seems that a majority of the protesters in Vienna as well as in Linz and other cities belong to the “Hooligan” scene.66 Back in 2014, a movement called hogesa (Hooligans against Salafists) had emerged in Germany and expressed plans to set up in Austria as well. While the report of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution claims that hogesa did not appear in public,67 the Islamic Council of Austria received a threatening letter from the group.68 Austria does not have a (violent) Salafi movement, and hogesa would have seemed quite out of place. More important, Hooligans from Austria mobilized participants for the street battle in Germany between Hooligans and Salafists.69 According to the döw, the Documentation Centre of Austrian Resistance, which documents right-wing extremism in Austria, the Facebook page of hogesa Austria, which was removed after a short period, supported protests against the building of an Islamic school in Vienna that was organized by the fpö, but did not appear officially on their behalf.70 Similarly, Pegida Austria can also be attributed to the Hooligan scene. Indeed, the organizer of the first conference was identified as an activist in that milieu.71 Thus, political scientist Benjamin Opratko considers Pegida Austria to be an (outwardly liberal) label used by right-wing extremists, predominantly from the neo-Nazi camp, Hooligans, and some fpö members to position themselves in the mainstream.72 (Instances of the Hitler salute were documented, for example.)73 But this plan obviously backfired, since many of the mobilizers for the Pegida protest were declared neo-Nazis and Hooligans, a far cry from the middle class constituency that Pegida movements in Germany attempted to represent.74 At the same time, according to Andreas Peham (döw), it was the spokesperson’s aim to suppress the Hooligans.75

Second, the public spokesperson seemed not to be very skilled. Approximately two weeks before the first march was planned, the philosophy student Georg Immanuel Nagel was chosen as media spokesperson by fifteen leading members of Pegida Austria to communicate their political program and the march. The twenty-eight year-old Nagel has published articles in a number of right-wing extremist newspapers.76 After his television debate, Nagel stated that his live appearance was “no rhetorical tour de force” (he was unable to assign European countries to their eu membership77), but “the ultimate goal was achieved,” which was to “gain attraction for Pegida in the initial phase… and establish it in Austria.”78 After he stepped back, no successor was ever presented to the public, which suggests a poor leadership cadre for the movement’s organization.

Third, the organization appears to be internally torn. A split within Pegida Austria emerged soon after its first appearance. On 2 April 2015, an association was officially established according to the applicable law. At the same time, some people tried to establish a political party with the same name.79 Both organizations were discredited as nonrepresentative by Pegida’s Facebook page.80 In November 2015, these rivalries even resulted in Nagel taking the founder of one of the Pegida associations to court for bodily injury.81

Fourth, the relationships between members of the fpö and Pegida are striking. Some members of the fpö leadership participated in the protest marches, as had already been the case with Moschee Ade. High-ranking members such as Martin Graf, former president of the Austrian National Council, participated in the Viennese gathering of Pegida Austria. Like Nagel, Graf represents the traditional third camp as a member of a far-right student fraternity.82 His presence at the protest signified the fpö’s support of the initiative. In Graz, national mp Susanne Winter of the fpö participated in the protests and called for participation of this “peaceful movement” on her Facebook page.83 In turn, regional Pegida leaders also participated in fpö activities.84 This can either be interpreted as an attempt by the fpö to co-opt Pegida, or as an illustration of links between the fpö and Pegida Austria. The following suggests the second reading—not only did the fpö cadre participate in the rallies, but the chief advisor to Pegida spokesperson Nagel was simultaneously the press secretary of a branch of the Viennese fpö.85 In addition, many of the marchers were not only Hooligans, but also members of the fpö youth wing, the rfj.86

In view of the numbers that Pegida Austria was able to mobilize, the success was clearly very limited. Only 300 people participated in Vienna, and even fewer in Graz, Linz, and Bregenz.87 Although personnel support came from members of the fpö and its youth branch and the far-right press as well as the fpö leadership openly supported Pegida Austria, the support on the streets was quite weak.88 This corroborates earlier findings on weak participation by Austrians outside of government.89 The fact that the leadership of Pegida Austria, comprised of an estimated fifteen members, kept their distance from the public and only the spokesperson, who has ties to the fpö, appeared officially as a member of Pegida Austria, suggests that the fpö is now absorbing the skilled cadre in its own party structure and the government positions it holds. Since Pegida Austria’s media presence was hardly professional and it was rapidly apparent that the Austrian version of Pegida was situated in the milieu of Nazis, right-wing extremists, and Hooligans, Pegida Austria was unable to give itself a middle-class image.


The head of the fpö claimed that it had long been the real Pegida.90 Is the presence of the fpö as a parliamentary force with similar stances to Pegida a sufficient explanation for Pegida’s failure to mobilize protesters on the streets? I have demonstrated considerable evidence that the answer is yes.

The findings reveal that in the presence of a well-established Islamophobic political party, the fpö, which is represented in national as well as regional parliaments, and which absorbs rallies against “Islamization” on the streets, Pegida Austria seemed neither to have space to take new stances on an ideological level, nor to adopt genuinely new methods in politics. Thus, these may well be reasons for the inability of Pegida Austria to mobilize a considerable number of followers, since the fpö already represents these values and had 30 percent of voters during the period in question. On the level of ideology, Pegida Austria arguably did not bring anything new to the table because the fpö was already making the same anti-immigration and anti-Muslim demands. Hence, both theoretical approaches—political opportunity structures and ideology—seem relevant in explaining the Pegida’s failure to create a new space for new stances. Austria’s position as a strong state with a weak civil society suggests that since the fpö was the “Pegida in parliament,” few people with strong anti-Muslim sentiments may have felt a need to take to the streets. Moreover, ideologically, the fpö’s anti-Muslim stances had been further developed if not perfected. Hence, there was neither thematic nor structural space left for Pegida Austria to mobilize followers.

The third argument has also been verified. It suggested that the resources available to the far right are too contested to offer an additional pool of capable organizers. While this affirms the relevance of resource mobilization theory, which says that an smo’s success is very much dependent on its material and human resources, it may not fully confirm the hypothesis, since it is difficult to say whether other personnel would have also been available but did not participate for other reasons. Nevertheless, the fact that support for Pegida Austria was seen on the level of high-ranking fpö members, either supporting the work (e.g., media and mobilization) or marching along, supports the hypothesis that Pegida only presented poorly skilled and inexperienced personnel (such as its spokesperson) and thus supports the relevance of resource mobilization theory in explaining an smo’s failure or success. Pegida Austria was also undergoing internal contention, and because media outlets clearly pinpointed Pegida Austria for what it was right away, the support for Pegida Austria movements as a legitimate voice for middle-class people could not emerge. The cadre was unable to convince people of the need for a movement like Pegida. The presence of fpö personnel participating in and supporting the rallies, along with personal links between the fpö and the Austrian Pegida leadership, can be interpreted as an attempt of cooptation by the fpö. At the same time, Austria’s position as a strong state with a weak civil society suggests that because the fpö was the “Pegida in parliament,” few people felt a need to take to the streets. Anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim contentions would be handled in government.

This crucial case study, which primarily aimed to explain Pegida’s failure in Austria, suggests the need to conduct future research regarding how the relationship between Pegida and fpö personnel (or Pegida and AfD personnel in Germany) develops and what larger strategies established right-wing populist parties in Europe in general have in the cooption of radical right-wing social movement organizations.


I would like to thank two anonymous readers, who provided immensely helpful comments for this paper, and the editors for their commitment to this special edition.


Richard Luther, “fpö und bzö” in Politik in Österreich. Das Handbuch, ed. Herbert Dachs et al. (Vienna, 2006).


Standard Eurobarometer 80, Die Öffentliche Meinung in der Europäischen Union, Herbst 2013, TNS Opinion & Social (2013), 5-7.


Katrin Auer, “Political Correctness-Ideologischer Code, Feindbild und Stigmawort der Rechten,” Österreichische Zeitschrift für Politikwissenschaft, 31, no. 3 (2002): 291-303.


Janet Buttolph Johnson and Henry T. Reynolds, Political Science Research Methods, 7th ed. (Thousand Oaks, 2012), 196.


Alexander L. George and Andrew Bennett, Case Studies and Theory Development in the Social Sciences (Cambridge, 2005), 120.


Kurt Richard Luther, “Austrian populism and the not-so-great Recession. The primacy of politics,” kepru Working Paper 38 (2014).


Andrew Bennett and Alexander L. George, “Case Studies and Process Tracing in History and Political Science: Similar Strokes for Different Foci” in Bridges and Boundaries: Historians, Political Scientists, and the Study of International Relations, ed. C. Elman and M.F. Elman (Cambridge, 2001), 137-166.


Derek Beach and Rasmus Brun Pedersen, Process-Tracing Methods: Foundations and Guidelines (Ann Arbor, 2013), 2.


Ibid., 3.


David Collier, “Understanding Process-Tracing,” PS: Political Science & Politics 44, no. 4 (2011): 823-830, here 823.


Jakob Winter, “Kulturkrieger: Pegida kommt nach Österreich-wer steckt dahinter?,” Profil, 24 January 2015, available at, accessed 24 November 2015.


Nihad Amara, “Pegida: In Österreich ist fpö Platzhirsch,” Kurier, 16 December 2014; available at, accessed 24 November 2015.


Farid Hafez, Islamophober Populismus: Moschee- und Minarettbauverbotsdebatten österreichischer Parlamentsparteien (Wiesbaden, 2010).


Anton Pelinka and Ruth Wodak, Dreck am Stecken. Politik der Ausgrenzung (Vienna, 2002).


Farid Hafez, “Das Islamgesetz im Kontext islamophober Diskurse: Eine Policy Frame-Analyse zum Politikgestaltungsprozess des Islamgesetzes,” Juridikum (February 2015), 160-165.


Max E. Riedlsperger, The Lingering Shadow of Nazism. The Austrian Independent Party Movement since 1945 (Boulder, 1978).


Gunter Bischof and Anton Pelinka, Austrian Historical Memory and National Identity (Piscataway, 1997).


Luther (see note 2), 380ff.




Reinhard Heinisch, “Success in Opposition—Failure in Government: Explaining the Performance of Right-Wing Populist Parties in Public Office,” West European Politics 26, no. 3 (2003): 91-130.


Martin Reisigl, “Oppositioneller und regierender Rechtspopulismus: Rhetorische Strategien und diskursive Dynamiken in der Demokratie” in Populisten an der Macht: Populistische Regierungsparteien in West- und Osteuropa, ed. Susanne Fröhlich-Stefen and Lars Rensmann (Vienna, 2005), 51-68, here 57.


Oliver Geden, “Identitätsdiskurs und politische Macht: Die rechtspopulistische Mobilisierung von Ethnozentrismus im Spannungsfeld von Opposition und Regierung am Beispiel von fpö und SVP” in Fröhlich-Stefen and Rensmann (see note 22), 69-83, here 78.


Ruth Wodak and Teun A. van Dijk, Racism at the Top: Parliamentary Discourses on Ethnic Issues in Six European States (Klagenfurt, 2000), 162-164.


Farid Hafez, “Österreich und der Islam—eine Wende durch fpövp? Anmerkungen zur Rolle von Islamophobie im politischen Diskurs seit der Wende” in Die beschämte Republik: Zehn Jahre nach Schwarz-Blau in Österreich, ed. Frederick Baker and Petra Herczeg (Vienna, 2010).


Della Porta and Diani, (see note 8) Social Movements, 165.


David S. Meyer and Debra C. Minkoff, “Conceptualizing Political Opportunity,” Social Forces 82, no. 4 (2004): 1457-1492, here 1457.


Doug McAdam, Political Process and the Development of Black Insurgency, 1930-1970 (Chicago, 2010).


Meyer and Minkoff (see note 27).


Tarrow (1994), 85, cited in Meyer and Minkoff (see note 27), 1459.


Meyer and Minkoff (see note 27), 1459.


Ibid., 1461.


John D. McCarthy and Mayer N. Zald, “Resource Mobilization and Social Movements: a Partial Theory,” American Journal of Sociology, 82, no. 6 (1977): 1212-1241.


David Weberman, “Liberal Democracy, Autonomy, and Ideology Critique,” Social Theory and Practice 23 (1997): 205-233.


Lars Geiges, M. Stein, and W. Franz, Pegida—die schmutzige Seite der Zivilgesellschaft (Bielefeld, 2015), 179-207.


Ibid., 18.


Rudolf Heberle, Social Movements: An Introduction to Political Sociology (New York, 1951), 23-24.


Mayer N. Zald and John David McCarthy, eds., Social Movements in an Organizational Society: Collected Essays (Piscataway, 1987).


Martin Dolezal and Swen Hutter, “Konsensdemokratie unter Druck? Politischer Protest in Österreich, 1975–2005,” Österreichische Zeitschrift für Politikwissenschaft 36, no. 3 (2007): 337-352.


Hafez (see note 16).


Farid Hafez, “Islamophobic Populism in Austria: Discourse Strategies of a Far Right Politician,” in Instances of Islamophobia Demonizing the Muslim ‘Other,’ ed. Seyyed-Abdolhamid Mirhosseini and Hossein Rouzbeh (Lanham, 2015), 37-52.


Liesbet Hooghe, Gary Marks, and Carole J. Wilson, “Does left/right structure party positions on European integration?,” Comparative Political Studies 35, no. 8 (2002): 965-989.


Dolezal and Hutter (see note 39).


Ibid., 171


Pegida Graz, 19 March 2015; available at accessed 25 March 2015.


Pegida Österreich, “Positionspapier” (2015); available at http://www.Pegida ö, accessed 25 March 2015.


Cas Mudde. The Ideology of the Extreme Right (Manchester, 2000), 99.


See Winter (see note 12).


Alberto Spektorowski, “The New Right: Ethno-Regionalism, Ethno-Pluralism and the Emergence of a neo-fascist ‘Third Way’,” Journal of Political Ideologies 8, no.1 (2003): 111-130.


Alberto Spektorowski, “The Intellectual New Right, the European Radical Right and the Ideological Challenge to Liberal Democracy,” International Studies 39, no. 2 (2002):165-182.


Farid Hafez, “Shifting Borders: Islamophobia as Common Ground for Building pan-European Right-Wing Unity,” Patterns of Prejudice 48, no. 5 (2014), 479-499.


Elisabeth Carter, The Extreme Right in Western Europe: Success or Failure? (Manchester, 2005), 13-63.


Farid Hafez, “Zwischen Islamophobie und Islamophilie,” 120 in Islamophobie in Österreich, ed. John Bunzl and Farid Hafez (Innsbruck, 2009), 105-125.


Dolezal and Hutter (see note 39).


Hafez (see note 14).


Hafez (see note 16).


krk/ho. “cdu verteidigt Gespräche mit Pegida,” Junge Freiheit, 10 March 2015; available at gespraeche-mit-Pegida/, accessed 24 November 2015.


Benedikt Narodoslawsky, “‘Gartengallier’ und Gotteskrieger: Geeint gegen den Islam im Brigittenauer Stadl,” Der Standard, 8 April 2011; available at, accessed 24 November 2015.


Jana Kübel, “‘moschee.ade oder’: eine Konfliktanalyse auf der Suche nach Islamophobie in Österreich” in Islamophobie in Österreich, ed. John Bunzl and Farid Hafez (Innsbruck, 2009), 127-143.


Christian Böhmer, “Wie die fpö von Pegida profitiert,” Kurier, 3 February 2015; available at, accessed 24 November 2015.


Dolezal and Hutter (see note 39).


apa, “Norbert Hofer hält Pegida-Anliegen für berechtigt,” Salzburger Nachrichten, 31 December 2014; available at, accessed 24 November 2015.


Böhmer (see note 60).


Herbert Lackner, “Heinz-Christian Strache: ‘Ich habe nur gepafft’,” Profil, 14 February 2015; available at, accessed 24 November 2015.


Michael Sprenger, “Strache: ‘Wir würden Pegida in Österreich unterstützen’,” Tiroler Tageszeitung, 30 December 2014; available at, accessed 24 November 2015.


Mayday Graz, “Die Neonazis bei Pegida Graz—von rfj bis Hooligan,” Mayday Graz, September 2015; available at, accessed 24 November 2015.


Bettina Figl and Clemens Neuhold, “Protest im Dunkeln,” Wiener Zeitung, 6 November 2014; available at, accessed 24 November 2015.


Redaktion, Islamfeindliches Schreiben an die IGGiÖ!, Haber Journal, 2014; available at,, accessed 6 January 2015.


Mayday Graz (see note 66).


Winter (see note 12).


Irmi Wutscher, “Ordentlich in den Sand gesetzt,” fm4.orf, 3 February 2015; available at,, accessed 24 November 2015.


orf, Hitlergruß bei Pegida-Demo: 18 Monate bedingt, orf Steiermark, 15 September 2015; available at,, accessed 24 November 2015.


Mayday Graz (see note 66).


Interview with Andreas Peham, 26 November 2015.


Winter (see note 12).


Exists on Puls4 Channel, 2 February 2015; available at, accessed 25 March 2015.


Hanna Herbst, “Georg Nagel erklärt, was schiefgelaufen ist,” Vice, 4 February 2015; available at zurueckgetreten-ist-720, accessed 24 November 2015.


apa, “Parteigründung: Pegida hinterlegt Satzung im Innenministerium,” Der Standard, 26 March 2015; available at, accessed 30 October 2016.


„Pegida definiert Nazi neu,” 10 April 2015,; available at, accessed 18 December 2015.


Michael Möseneder, “Freiheitsentziehung: Rabiater Zwist im Pegida-Lager,” Der Standard, 14 November 2015; available at Pegida-Lager, accessed 18 December 2015.


Amara (see note 13).


Susanne Winter, comment on Pegida Graz, “Positionspapier,” Facebook, 19 March 2015; available at{%22tn%22%3A%22R1%22}, accessed 25 March 2015.


Markus Rohrhofer, “Soloturner Strache in der Rieder Jahnhalle,” Der Standard, 18 February 2015; available at, accessed 24 November 2015.


Herbst (see note 78).


Mayday Graz (see note 66).


Walter Müller, “Politologe: ‘Das Projekt Pegida ist grandios gescheitert’,” Der Standard, 31 March 2015; available at, accessed 24 November 2015.




Dolezal and Hutter (see note 39).


Daniel Steinlechner, “Der Verschwörer. fpö-Strache: ‘Wir sind die wahre PegidaPegida’,” 16 January 2015; available at strache-wahre-PegidaPegida, accessed 24 November 2015.

If the inline PDF is not rendering correctly, you can download the PDF file here.

Contributor Notes

Farid Hafez, Ph.D. is a researcher at the Department of Political Science, University of Salzburg. Hafez has taught at numerous universities in Austria and beyond (Indonesia, Turkey, Germany, u.s.). He was a visiting scholar at Columbia University in 2014 and will be a Fulbright Professor at the University of California, Berkeley in spring 2017. He is the editor of the Islamophobia Studies Yearbook ( and since 2016 co-editor of the European Islamophobia Report ( Hafez serves on the advisory board of the project “The Bridge Initiative” at Georgetown University that aims at educating the public about Islamophobia. He has received the Bruno Kreisky Award for the political book of the year for his anthology Islamophobie in Österreich (Innsbruck, 2009) co-edited with John Bunzl. Recent publications include an anthology on young Muslims in Austria: Jung, Muslimisch, Österreichisch. 20 Jahre Muslimische Jugend Österreich (Vienna, 2016).