2022 was a good year for the European far right
In a massive operation last week, German police targeted dozens of people from a far-right group thought to be plotting a coup d'état. According to reports, a paramilitary group, the "Reichsbürger," spent months planning for "Day X," when they intended to overthrow the German government. On Wednesday morning, several individuals were detained, including former soldiers and a member of the Bundestag. According to the attorney general, they had been planning a coup since November 2021 by conducting secret meetings and practicing shooting.
When the news of the coup attempt broke, it stirred the world's press, and observers quickly focused on the growing influence of the European far right. Only a few weeks had passed since the Italian far-right's triumph in the legislative elections before the new development in Germany. In recent months, populist and far-right parties have had notable wins in France, Sweden, and Hungary. Meanwhile, the radical right in Poland continues to be a considerable concern for the EU.
The years of unbridled neoliberalism, along with Europe's fresh challenges, such as the pandemic's consequences, the economic crisis, and the conflict in Ukraine, have strengthened the forces of populism and nationalism, which are now fiercely contending for power. The Left's incapacity also influences the rise of the extreme right to meet the needs of significant portions of society.
Advocating the 1871's borders, rejecting the modern German state
"Although the state order and the constitution are too strong for a real coup d'état to succeed in Germany, these folks think it is workable. That shows how enmeshed they are in their illusion. However, attacks like the one that occurred on January 6, 2021, at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., would also be feasible in Germany," according to sociologist Timo Reinfrank, executive director of the Amadeu Antonio Foundation.
Reinfrank concludes by examining the goals and movements of the gang (Reichsbürger) members who were apprehended. The initial information suggests they were preparing a real coup d'état a century after Adolf Hitler's unsuccessful coup in Munich. Most Reichsbürgers advocate for the restoration of the German empire formed in 1871 and reject the country's parliamentarism and judicial system. They also think that the Western Allies, who won the war and overthrew Nazi Germany, still hold power in secret today.
The organization, which has over 2000 hardcore members, rejects liberal democratic values and responds to the results of current neoliberal policies, according to the most recent sources in the German press. Although the group's members differ in their inclination for militancy and violence, they are all united by the conviction that the Federal Republic of Germany is not a sovereign state. They disapprove of the government's institutions and the constitution.
A real coup d'état plan
As a result of the three years of demonstrations against COVID-19 restrictions and radicalization, the number of the Reichsbürger sympathizers has grown. Several significant crimes have been connected to Reichsbürger in recent years. For murder or attempted murder, many people have gone on trial. Between 2020 and 2021, the number of offenses that Germany's domestic intelligence service recorded significantly increased.
The Federal Public Prosecutor's Office of Germany scrutinized the Reichsbürger in conjunction with an alleged coup d'état attempt and planned attack on the center of German democracy, the federal parliament. A member of the Special Forces Command (KSK) of the German Armed Forces and many Bundeswehr reservists are involved in the inquiry. According to reports, the suspects also include a former far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party member who served in the Bundestag and oversaw the security of the Jewish communities in Lower Saxony. According to the German authorities, a hereditary prince and co-leader of the Reichbürger was also scheming to topple the German government.
Berlin experienced political unrest in the shadow of the arrest of several organization members. In their first public statements, representatives from the German parties call on the government to investigate every aspect of the coup plan, focusing on the connections between the Reichsbürger and the AfD, representing the far-right ideology in the German parliament.
The rise of the far right, from Germany across Europe
The Reichsbürger fits into the larger picture of far-right and populist organizations and political parties that have recently been more visible in the sociopolitical landscape of Europe. With their victories in the democratic elections held in several important European countries in 2022, these movements sparked further trouble.
The year started with the victory of the nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban in the parliamentary elections of Hungary. The alliance formed by Fidesz and led by Orban could cross the 50 percent threshold and maintain power. Orban, who has frequently faced criticism from the European Union for presiding over democratic regress and alleged corruption, after his fresh victory declared, "We scored a victory so huge that you can see it from the moon, and you can certainly see it from Brussels."
The former head of the French movement "Rassemblement National" impressed European citizens during the summer, not long after Orbán's triumph. Marine Le Pen, a far-right politician, increased the number of seats held by her movement in the French parliament from 6 to 89 after just losing France's presidential race.
Midway through September, the Swedish far-right and populist parties' coalition enjoyed election success just a week after the Rassemblement National's impressive victory. The center-left government of Sweden was defeated in a general election by a loose coalition of right-wing, populist parties. This triumph altered Swedish politics and the nation's standing as a shelter for progressive ideas. The Sweden Democrats, a formerly fringe anti-immigrant party, after the election, is the second-largest party in the assembly and the loudest voice from the right.
Twenty-four hours after the right-wing populist forces in Sweden won the election, Giorgia Meloni, the leader of the far-right in Italy, declared victory and became the nation's first female prime minister. Since World War Two, Meloni has led Italy's most right-wing administration. Given that Italy has the third-largest economy in the EU, the development frightened many in Europe.
The spectacular wins of nationalist rhetoric in Europe occurred when right-wing and populist forces were still vehemently undermining the sociopolitical structure of the continent that was progressively constructed following the end of World War II in another European nation. Poland's populist government, PiS, has been in power for a fair amount of time. PiS, which implements social measures for lower classes and maintains opposition to the EU in its discourse has been in power alone since 2015. Like its far-right and right-wing populist European rivals, PiS benefits from the weaknesses of the Left in meeting the demands of Europe's economically weaker classes and pledges to protect the interests of the Polish people.
*Dr Nikolaos Stelgias was born in Istanbul. He is an independent researcher, writer, historian and journalist. His doctorate is in the field of the modern Turkish political system (Panteion University, 2011). His latest book “The Ailing Turkish Democracy” was published by the Cambridge Scholars Publication in 2020. Dr. Stelgias was a correspondent of the newspaper "Kathimerini (Cyprus edition)" for Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot community from 2009 to 2021. Currently, Dr. Stelgias works at the Cyprus News Agency. Dr. Stelgias publishes in Turkish news articles and analyses on Cyprus and Greece.