Xenophobia in (East) Germany


Theoretical background and objectives

The emergence of the PEGIDA movement in 2014, the right-winged terror of the NSU, as well as the violent protests against refugees in 2015 demonstrate how easily anti-immigrant attitudes become politically mobilized. However, the recent wave of refugees from Syria and other countries has also sparked a high level of solidarity and civic engagement among many Germans who have welcomed refugees with open arms and gifts. Apparently, the very same social reality triggers feelings of fear or dislike in some and feelings of sympathy in others. Yet such individual differences in reactions to immigration and ethno-cultural diversity are also region-specific. At first sight it seems that the hostility is more wide-spread in the East, whereas acts of solidarity are more common in the West.
The question that we like to ask in our project is why this is the case. In other words, why do East Germans appear to have feel more threatened by ethnic diversity, otherness and different immigrant and refugee groups? Previous studies have shown that xenophobia is particularly strong among Eastern Germans compared to their Western counterparts; and that is also true for societal attitudes such as generalized trust. Often these findings had been related to the harsher socio-economic realities of the East and the lack of intergroup contact. However, other research indicates that particularly East Germans maintain a relatively high support for overall social solidarity especially when it comes to redistribution of resources and reducing the divide between the poor and rich.
How can these two divergent findings be reconciled? What is behind the East/West divide on such societal attitudes and how do they translate into support for various political solutions to the refugee crisis?
Furthermore, is xenophobia in East Germany a discrete phenomenon or rather part of a larger (a)social syndrome?

Research design, data and methodology

Drawing on well-established theories on social identity, life events and contact, threat, or deprivation, we will apply a mixed method design (combining different data sources and methodological approaches) in order to disentangle the dynamics that make some Germans and particularly East Germans vulnerable to xenophobia—while simultaneously asking about the characteristics at the individual and contextual levels that make some people resilient against it. We plan to use existing surveys, focus groups, new surveys, experiments as well as statistical regional analysis to answer these questions.