Working for the Impossible: Is A New German Monarchy Thinkable?
Germans never have had a real say in their constitutions when they were drafted, neither in 1918, nor in 1948 nor in 1990, when Germany was re-united. The present constitution, the so-called Grundgesetz or "basic law", was drawn up by 65 unelected representatives of the Länder or states in 1949 and adopted by a majority of the Parlamentarische Rat (Parliamentarian Council) and by a majority of state parliaments (not by the Bavarian state parliament, by the way), never by a referendum of the people. Although the 1949 version of the basic law explicitly stated the constitution would lose its validity the day "the German people unifies in one state" nothing of this kind happened when the GDR joined the federal republic. Chancellor Helmut Kohl was against a new constitution, even against any major change to the basic law. And so this sentence was eliminated from the basic law and everything went on as before.
Harold Schmautz, Tradition und Leben
A commission had been set up to review the constitution after the unification and the German monarchist organisation "Tradition und Leben" handed in suggestions and advocated for a monarchy. The commission didn't even bother to reply.
On one hand, opinion polls say that about 70% of Germans were happy with their constitution, on the other hand however, dissatisfaction with the way Germany is governed has been a constant factor since the early nineties, after the honeymoon of unification turned sour. Isn't it contradictory: A high rate of approval and at the same time disillusion with politics, which results in falling voter turnout in elections?
Yes, this contradiction is hard to understand. Let me try to give you an explanation: Germans are a conservative lot. They stick to what they have and what they know. That's one of the reasons why Gerhard Schröder was re-elected against all odds in 2002 and why Helmut Kohl stayed in power for 16 years although he was highly unpopular. "It might be worse" - is one of the key sentences that explains the German aversion to change. "We know what we've got, but we don't know what might come with the other one." This attitude supports politicians in power, but also the republic as a system that has been in place for the last 86 years.
The republic is portrayed as a system without alternative. Those who advocate a monarchy are backward minded, nostalgic people, so it is said. The last Kaiser, Wilhelm II, was certainly not an ideal monarch, but he was a child of his time. To understand him – and his era – we cannot measure him by today's values. He must be compared with other heads of state of his time, and then he rates not much worse than his contemporaries both republican and monarch.
His image is a big obstacle to promote the monarchist idea. I don't want another Kaiser Wilhelm, but I want a monarch who is well aware of his constitutional role, who is the safeguard of the constitution and the civic rights of the people. I don't want a monarch who is heading a party, but a man or a woman who is above party politics. Here in this conference, you all know how a monarch should act and we all have extremely successful monarchs we can refer to: first of all HM Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Australia, but also the Belgian Kings, Baudouin I and Albert II, the Queen of the Netherlands, Beatrix, or the Scandinavian monarchs. All are good examples, but if you start discussions in Germany about the advantages of a monarchy, Germans don't turn to their neighbours, but to the past.
If you have ever watched royal weddings, funerals or even the annual Trooping the Colour on German television, you will have come across Rolf Seelmann-Eggebert, the best commentator for all royal events in Germany. He has produced impressive documentaries on all ruling European houses and a good number of former ruling German Houses for the German equivalent of the ABC or BBC. He is a better defender of the British Royal Family than the most ardent British or Australian monarchist. At the same time he declines to give any answer to the question whether Germany wouldn't be better off with a monarchy. "Too much time has passed", he said in an interview. "We cannot go back to the monarchical tradition," was his defensive reply.
"No going back" – Now, here we have the "best" argument a republican can throw at you, when he or she is claiming that a monarchy is "backward" and re-establishing a monarchy would be a step backwards, a loss of democratic rights, a return to a feudal system. If we ever want to have a chance, we must face this accusation and make it clear that a monarchy is nothing less but a step forward. To mention the example of Spain can help, but does not convince everyone.
We cannot go back in history and we do not want to go back to old times. That's impossible and not many monarchists want to resume where the monarchy in Germany ended in 1918. But it is stuck in the heads of the people. "A monarchy? Yes, certainly good for Britain, and for Denmark and Sweden or Spain, but in Germany we have no monarchical tradition any more." That's the usual reply when you talk to people.
Not only in Germany, but especially there, monarchists can be the best enemies of the monarchy. That was the case in the 1920s and 30s, when monarchists allied with the Nazi party. They were used by Hitler, but after he was in power he dropped all advances to monarchists – and members of the former ruling families – and in the 1940s many monarchists could be found in resistance groups. I refer not only to the men and women of 20th July 1944, but also to Bavarian monarchists who opposed the Nazi regime very successfully. Many Bavarian royalists paid for their opposition to Hitler with imprisonment or even with their lives.
Monarchists have been tending to support conservative parties. They tend to have an elitist point of view. In Germany after WWI and the Versailles treaty monarchists were in opposition to most Weimar republic governments, many supported the Deutsch-Nationale Volkspartei (German National People's Party), but also the Catholic Centre Party or smaller liberal parties. Leading Monarchists didn't try to bridge the gap between the conservatives and the parties that represented the working class, making it very easy for the Social Democrats or the Communists to paint the monarchy as a cause of the rich, the militarists and the aristocrats.
Although I believe that the majority of the Germans in the 1920s wanted the monarchy, monarchists didn't succeed in creating a massive popular force, instead they were used as "vote banks" for certain parties that courted them.
After WWII the situation was more or less as in the 1920s. I have the results of opinion polls of the years from 1949 to 1955. Roughly a third of the West Germans were monarchists, a third republicans and the rest undecided or without opinion. However, monarchists again tended to be concentrated in some conservative parties, especially the Liberal FDP and the Deutsche Partei, which was absorbed in 1961 by Konrad Adenauer's CDU.
"Tradition und Leben"
But the monarchist approach should have been more widely set out. When in 1949 a certain Heinrich von Massenbach started to distribute "Letters for 'Tradition und Leben'" he couldn't know that this would be the start of the only monarchist organisation in Germany that is still working in all parts of the country – literally from the Danish border in the North to Munich in the South. In 1956 an association was founded – readers of the "Letters for 'Tradition und Leben'" wanted to have a permanent group - and called it "Tradition und Leben – Arbeitsgemeinschaft zur Förderung des monarchischen Gedankens" (a working group for promoting the monarchist idea - I will come back to the significance of this name). The 1950s saw many monarchist organisations, even parties, coming and going. Some had weeklies which reached thousands of people. They all disappeared and are nowadays known only to real experts; aside from "Tradition und Leben" only some regional groups survived.
"Tradition und Leben" – or after its abbreviation: TuL – concentrated right from the start on a non-partisan working basis. Although Prussian from its basic attitude and certainly conservative, TuL had been open to members of all parties and all monarchist attitudes; for example I am a Württemberger who has nothing to do with Prussia. That was one way of surviving the roaring 60s, when not only the rebellion of the youth began, but also Massenbach died. He left the organisation without a successor, and it was difficult to start again in the 70s.
Lessons told by history
If a monarchy is to stand a chance, it cannot be the cause of a particular part of the population. Nobody should be afraid of a monarchy. To rely on a particular party or section of the people could be a fatal mistake for a monarchy and for a monarchist movement. Bearing this in mind, I cannot say that any party picked up the idea of a German monarchy. So, TuL has no "natural" ally. Potentially everybody can be a monarchist, no matter for what party he or she votes in elections.
I must come back to TuL's title: working group for promoting the monarchist idea. TuL officially isn't advocating for a German monarchy, but stands for the more nebulous "monarchist idea". That may sound strange to you, but is in fact a protection. Here in Australia you had a referendum on the question of whether the Communist Party should be outlawed and the answer was NO. In Germany the Communist Party was declared illegal, and so was a neo-Nazi party in the 1950s. Parties aren't easily declared illegal in Germany, a High Court ruling is necessary, but associations or other groups can easily be dissolved. All that is needed is a declaration of a home affairs minister (either federal or one of the 16 states). I don't know whether the founding fathers of TuL were aware of this threat, but it certainly helps today's members to run this organisation. You must know that only in May this year the German High Court ruled that a change from a republic to a monarchy would be illegal and impossible, no matter what the people wanted. Being a Verfassungsfeind "enemy of the constitution" is one of the greatest smear words to anybody. Whilst it does not endanger people's lives, it can endanger their job and living. Many have been removed from public service because they were called Verfassungsfeinde, and that includes not only teachers, but also postal delivery workers.
If monarchists are declared Verfassungsfeinde it would certainly bar many people from becoming involved with any monarchist activity. How does it come to pass, that no monarchy bans republican activities or the wish to change from a monarchy to a republic, but many republics declare monarchist activities illegal? Besides Germany it is also Italy or Austria who state explicitly that no matter what the people want, a monarchy is out of discussion. Why are republics so insecure? If the people want the republic, let them have it, but if the people ask for a monarch to rule again, then this wish of the people should be fulfilled and not barred by lawmakers.
So far, no monarchist organisation in Germany has been banned, but when you talk to people you can hear: "Well, in reality you are Verfassungsfeinde, because you are against the constitution". Being a democrat and a monarchist is not a contradiction and therefore no democrat should call another democrat who happens to be loyal to the royal house, an enemy of the constitution. To be honest, I'm afraid the monarchists are such an insignificant group that the republic's guardians don't consider them to be a threat. Their activities have been tolerated, but I am sure the attitude would change the moment organised monarchists began to gain major support.
What do Germans Think?
What do the Germans really think about a monarchy? It is not easy to find an answer. Maybe they see it as a utopian dream: Something desirable, but out of reach. I don't know of any recent serious opinion poll on the question of whether Germany should become a monarchy. When the present Bundespräsident Köhler was chosen on 23rd May 2004 – one day after the Spanish wedding and one week after our Crown Princess Mary married in Copenhagen – two very different television stations asked the viewers to call in and say whether they preferred Köhler or König (president or king). I guess to everybody's surprise about two thirds said yes to a king. One was a commercial TV station, the other on the Bayerische Rundfunk. So, different audiences obviously could warm to the idea of a German monarch.
This could be a good basis for monarchist work. However, in its nearly 50 years of existence, TuL never could make use of the public's monarchist feelings. It was in 1969, when 69% of the readers of the biggest German daily, the infamous BILD-Zeitung declared they wanted Prince Louis Ferdinand as president, TuL was unable to cash in on this public support, nor could it make use of this year's dissatisfaction with how the political parties selected a new Bundespräsident.
Why? Lack of funds, lack of members, lack of knowledge how to run a political campaign, lack of interest within the formerly ruling houses and many other reasons may be named. So far, TuL can claim as its main success, that it still exists. And my hope is that with every year of existence TuL can prepare itself for a better work. My immediate aim can therefore not be the re-establishment of the monarchy. My primary aim should be more achievable: I want to be able to talk about the monarchist idea. I want it to become a topic of mainstream politics just like unemployment, the environment or the war in Iraq, not more, but also not less. Being identified as a monarchist and being considered as a serious political activist, not as a dreamer, not as a loony backward-minded person should be an achievable aim. Once we can discuss freely our ideas, we can set new goals.
Harald Schmautz, Chairman of the German monarchist organisation "Tradition und Leben" from 1984 to 1988.