In the era of globalisation, cities are pushed into constantly increasing competition at both national and international level. Nowadays cities are regarded as complex enterprises, as they are actively using their resources to achieve higher competitiveness in the economic, social or cultural fields, to keep current and attract new economic activities, residents and visitors (Benzidane&Ramdani, 2016). Dresden, capital city of the State of Saxony in Germany, is a destination that enjoys an increasingly favourable and promising position as a tourism, economic and educational centre (Dresden-CONCEPT, 2017). However, the city’s attractiveness has been undermined by the rise of the radical right populist movement PEGIDA, the “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West”.
Since its start in 2014, PEGIDA has mobilised thousands of supporters sharing a common cause, which combines Islamophobic and nationalist sentiments with a mistrust in the media and political institutions (Dostal, 2015). Every Monday demonstrators gather in Dresden’s historical city centre, waving banners with slogans such as “Refugees not welcome” or “Stop the Islamisation of Europe”. PEGIDA’s gatherings and xenophobic sloganeering made Dresden the epicentre of negative media attention and intensified conflictual tensions in the city, posing a challenge for the local government (Fähnrich & Lüthje, 2017) in terms of its future position as a destination.
The initial research focus was on the tourism industry and how PEGIDA influenced Dresden’s destination image. However, during the field research it became evident that PEGIDA had a significant effect on social and cultural spheres too. Therefore, the main goal of the thesis became “to investigate the economic, social and cultural impact of a socio-political movement in a contemporary European urban context, analysing the case of PEGIDA in Dresden”. This choice was also supported by the fact that no academic research had been conducted on the impact of PEGIDA on the city of Dresden and its residents. In fact, literature only discussed the movement’s origins, participants’ motivations and profiles (Dostal, 2015; Reuband, 2015).
The research is based on an ethnographic approach (Konu, 2015). Over four months in Dresden, primary data was gathered from in-depth interviews with government authorities and business representatives, informal discussions with locals and tourists, and numerous occasions of participant observations while visiting the weekly protests. This, in combination with an internship at the Dresden Marketing Board and participation in several discussion rounds on the topic, resulted in a vast amount of valuable data.
The large data set was analysed via a thematic analysis. The wide variety of narratives gathered was grouped into three categories: the big, the intermediate and the small stories. The stories exemplify the view of the main groups of research participants and enable a better comprehension of their position with respect to the conflict. Narrative analysis has been used by researchers to grasp the experiences of case actors in ethnographic conflict studies (Verloo, 2015) and social sciences (Bamberg, 2006).
The big stories are those of two stakeholders: the City Council and the Dresden Marketing Board. They are actively involved in the decision-making processes regarding the social conflict and hold the responsibility to come to terms with the conflictand cannot ignore it. They have the most power and resources to cause changes, as they have authority, a team of people and a sufficient amount of funds at their disposal. Intermediate stories represent the stakeholders who are – to some extent – involved in the social conflict, although the conflict does not represent a priority for their operations nor do they feel an obligation to engage in the social conflict. They are tourism businesses in the private sector and cultural institutions. The last and largest group are the small stories, representing the population at large. These stories are closest to the realities of the ordinary people who live in the city and are involved in in the social conflict but have little formal access to the top elite.
The PEGIDA effect
From the tourism perspective, PEGIDA caused an image crisis that threatened the attractiveness of Dresden and resulted in a mild tourism crisis, with a decline in domestic visitors and businesses such as hotels in the city centre lamenting revenue loss (in the years 2015 and 2016). Through letters, e-mails or comments on social media, Germans expressed their reluctance to visit Dresden as long as PEGIDA demonstrated and explained their disappointment in a city that could not stop the growth of a xenophobic movement. Events and congresses were also cancelled when PEGIDA demonstrations attracted a high number of supporters, as companies did not want their event to be connected to a city that made negative headlines in the news.
The term “PEGIDA effect” was used by the Dresden Marketing Board to describe how the negative destination image influenced the travel behaviour of (potential) visitors to Dresden. Tourism businesses representatives talked about a ‘problem of the press’, blaming the media because it transformed a local story into one of national interest, covering only the most sensational aspects and publishing photos of PEGIDA demonstrations in front of the city landmarks. This contributed to further stereotyping of Dresden as ‘citadel of right-wing extremism’.
As far as the social impact is concerned, research findings have identified that Dresden appears to be ‘split’, as topics such as asylum and immigration divide the local community. The rise of PEGIDA intensified the fracture among people for or against asylum seekers, and the undecided middle who are often blamed for not taking a clear side. According to the findings, PEGIDA triggered social tensions between community members, contributing to community polarisation and social conflict.
The ‘success’ of PEGIDA had other “PEGIDA effects” such as discrimination against minorities, as non-European-looking and non-German speaking individuals in Dresden reported being seen and treated as ‘the others’ and perceived an atmosphere of hostility in the city. At present, the Dresden Marketing Board is concerned with the fact that the social conflict has led to a poorer quality of life,undermining the attractiveness of the city in the eyes of students and skilled workers from other German regions as well as from abroad, as they are discouraged from moving to Dresden.
The iceberg model illustrates thesocial conflict
The social conflict triggered by PEGIDA in Dresden was illustrated by means of an ‘iceberg model’, where the conflict has two components. The visible component is the ‘tip of the iceberg’ and comprises the observable aspects of the conflict such as PEGIDA demonstrations, which are accessible to everyone through the internet. However, there are other aspects beneath the surface that remain largely concealed and are difficult to measure, such as the feelings and thoughts of people involved in the conflict (anger, fear, mistrust, among others). They form the hidden and much larger portion of the conflict and act as the engine in the development of the situation.
Findings have shown that when PEGIDA started demonstrating, the big and intermediate stakeholders were primarily preoccupied with the negative presence of Dresden in the media. The City Council, the Dresden Marketing Board and cultural institutions tried to counteract the negative image with a number of strategies: distancing themselves from PEGIDA ideas and actions, communicating positive pictures of a cosmopolitan Dresden, hosting spotlight events, and trying to influence the media coverage by inviting journalists to write about the city in a positive light. As these stakeholders were concerned with repairing the damaged destination image, it can be said that they acted on the visible component of the conflict. With their actions, they wanted to show a picture of Dresden that was different from the one promulgated by PEGIDA.
However, as PEGIDA marches continued, the City Council realised that ‘putting up a stage was not enough’ and that the roots of the social conflict had to be addressed, by means of a long-term plan. Showing how ‘cosmopolitan’ Dresden is did not resolve conflictual relations among community members. Therefore, big and intermediate stakeholders became concerned with relieving social tensions, by promoting dialogue, political participation, by bringing different cultures together, and by creating social spaces. Examples of these stakeholders are organisations such as the State Playhouse Theatre, initiator of the Monday Café project as a meeting point between Germans and refugees.
Based on the research findings, several recommendations for Dresden and other cities experiencing comparable developments could be proposed. As far as Dresden is concerned, reactions and counter-strategies by the city against PEGIDA were too scattered. They never formed one coherent response which could have been comprehended by the media. What is more, the research identified the citizens’ lack of engagement or willingness to actively bring a change. Therefore, it is important to establish platforms for discussion and dialogue with representatives of all perspectives to address the hidden social conflictthat is increasingly evident in Saxony’s capital.
The outcomes of this research represent a good opportunity for reflection for urban destinations that are afflicted by a social conflict of significant magnitude, which can undermine the attractiveness of a destination, and damage social relations between community members. A destination could benefit by using the “iceberg model” to first identify which aspects of the conflict belong to the visible component (demonstrations that pose a problem for security issues, negative presence in the media, etc.) and which aspects form the hidden component of the conflict (a process of community polarisation, tensions between majority and minority community members). This is a first important step in recognising the size and characteristics of the conflict. Thereafter, stakeholders should be categorised into the ones who have an interest in – or are more suitable to – act on the visible component of the conflict, as opposed to the ones who should deal with the hidden component. It is important that the two components are addressed at the same time, and that the hidden part of the conflict is not neglected. As the case of Dresden has shown, there may be a preference for dealing with the most drastic and visible consequences of the conflict first, such as a negative destination image. However, it has been established that the hidden aspect of the conflict is the largest one and it determines the overall development, maintenance and/orresolution of the conflict, depending on how it is dealt with.