KATJA HOYER: I am horrified but not surprised at the attempted putsch
I am horrified but not surprised… This won’t be the last time extremists attempt a putsch, writes Anglo-German historian KATJA HOYER
When I heard yesterday that dozens of alleged far-Right terrorists had been arrested in Germany, I was horrified – but not surprised.
Horrified because far-Right activity in my homeland always dredges up chilling reminders of the 1930s, when a fringe group of extremists came to power and went on to murder millions of people.
But unsurprised because many Germans have been feeling increased disaffection with the political class in Berlin for years – and something like this was bound to happen.
But let me be clear: the scale of this attempted putsch is deeply alarming.
Not only was it more organised than previous attempts, but it has revealed that extremist sympathies had taken hold more widely than many people realised. Outsiders often assume political extremism in Germany is confined to disenfranchised blue-collar workers, mainly in the former East Germany, where I am from. (I came to Britain ten years ago to continue academic research into German history.)
A small well-armed group were planning to storm the Bundestag and install Heinrich XIII Prince Reuss, pictured, as monarch
According to prosecutors, among the 25 people arrested are ex-soldiers and even a serving member of the KSK – Germany’s SAS
But the alleged plotters came from all social classes – including lawyers, teachers and accountants – while arrests have been made in 11 out of Germany’s 16 states.
According to prosecutors, among the 25 people arrested are ex-soldiers and even a serving member of the KSK – Germany’s SAS.
Prosecutors also say that the group recruited from the police and the army. This isn’t surprising: a legacy of Germany’s Nazi past is that politicians have long treated the country’s military as an embarrassment, rather than a source of national pride – a cause of resentment among serving soldiers.
On the face of it, their goals sound bizarre. According to prosecutors, the group had made ‘concrete preparations’ to storm the Bundestag – the parliament – with a small armed group and install as monarch a minor aristocrat named Prince Heinrich XIII.
Believing that the monarchy was illegitimately overthrown at the end of the First World War, this group refuses to recognise the modern German state. They were also allegedly well-funded. Had police not been alerted, the group might have succeeded in storming the parliament building.
Prosecutors say that the group is thought to have included members of the extremist ‘Reichsburger’ movement – the so-called ‘Citizens of the Reich’ – elements of which are known for their violence as well as their racist and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.
A legacy of Germany’s Nazi past is that politicians have long treated the country’s military as an embarrassment, rather than a source of national pride – a cause of resentment among serving soldiers
Given such bizarre beliefs, it is tempting to write off these alleged would-be terrorists as deluded idiots. That would be a mistake. However strange their views and absurd their aims, we cannot ignore the fact Germans are being drawn to extremism.
So what exactly attracted such disparate individuals to this ugly movement? Long-term distrust of central government has always existed in Germany, resulting from our strong regional loyalties.
Conspiracy theorists and devotees of the QAnon cult – an American import that believes a cabal of satanic paedophiles operate in government, business and the media – has a big following.
Meanwhile, two-thirds of ordinary Germans no longer trust their government, a historic high. Yet the elite in Berlin continue to treat their concerns with disdain.
A classic example is former chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door immigration policy of 2015 which saw many economic migrants enter the country. This was imposed without any consultation with communities and alienated many ordinary Germans.
Her successor, Social Democrat Olaf Scholz, elected by a slender margin a year ago, went further. He has pursued a Leftist-liberal agenda, lowering the voting age to 16, making it easier for immigrants to gain citizenship and liberalising cannabis laws.
Then there is the war in Ukraine. Energy prices are soaring in Germany due to its reliance on Moscow’s gas. The economic crisis – inflation stands at 11.3 per cent, higher than Britain’s 11.1 per cent – has drawn voters to the far-Right AfD, the so-called ‘Alternative fur Deutschland’, which is now the fourth largest party nationally.
Germany’s problems with the far Right are not going away and this, I fear, will not be the last plot.
For now, these extremist groups are disparate and disorganised – but when disaffected Germans unite behind a single leader, the result can be a cataclysm.
The political class urgently need to get a grip – or they might learn this lesson the hard way.
Katja Hoyer is an Anglo-German historian. Her latest book is Blood and Iron: The Rise and Fall of the German Empire 1871–1918
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