The pensioners' putsch. Modern Germany, a cabinet of curiosities

Photo: PAP/DPA

Viewed from abroad, modern Germany is increasingly reminiscent of a cabinet of curiosities. And it is not only compassion for the unwitting participants that prevents the foreign observer from grabbing a packet of crisps and enjoying the show, but also the serious fear of being forced onto the stage.

Germany: 25 arrested in suspected plot to overthrow state - further arrests expected

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What is it all about? On December 7, 2022, a large deployment of 3,000 police officers carried out more than 150 searches and made two dozen arrests. In the crosshairs was a “terrorist group” that was allegedly planning the “overthrow” of the Federal Republic of Germany and wanted to impose a new government. It was the largest special police operation in modern German history, and almost the entire German press was duly shocked by this horrific near-miss.

Even the venerable FAZ (German newspaper) wrote that it was a “coup d'état'' by the book. Based on patriotic associations, on the army, on murder and violence, crowned by an assault on the Bundestag, a new order was to be established in Germany.”

But what was supposed to look like a scene from the youth of Napoleon III turned out - on closer inspection - to be more of a surrealist farce (at least as far as we know). Most of those arrested are well past retirement age; Prince “Henry XIII”, expected to be the future monarch of Germany, is an elderly aristocrat of 71 years of age, obviously slightly deranged, who tried to “escape” from the police by using his stairlift; the “terrorists” sought advice from two fortune-tellers before accepting new conspirators. The preparations for the presumptive future “terror” and the “coup” consisted (in total) of just over a few thousand Euros in cash as well as food supplies, a (presumably legal) firearm and a few imitation guns.

Despite this relatively limited threat to the survival of German democracy, on December 7, 2022, Germany's ruling Social Democratic Party grandly tweeted: “Our democracy remains defended! The biggest anti-terrorist operation in our history has prevented a coup.” But how could this handful of disgruntled pensioners really set out to overthrow the Federal Republic of Germany and thus justify the intervention of 3,000 police officers (while the cities’ “problem districts” are being left chronically unsecured)?

Would the 20 to 30 senior putschists show up amidst groups of Spanish and Japanese tourists in front of the parliament, chancellery and key ministries to dislodge the security forces with crutches, walkers, carnival guns and canned ravioli, “occupy” the labyrinthine facilities with a coup de main, and then “dissolve” the government - with no more than two geriatric “terrorists” per ministry? It is hard to imagine that any of this was ever anything other than an overblown fantasy of a handful of elderly opponents, frustrated with the government.

Of course, the surreality of the situation should not obscure the real possibility that one day, one or other of the pensioner putschists might indeed have caused some material damage, or even bodily harm, so the elucidation of this bizarre collective role-playing is most welcome.

However, history teaches us that a real coup d'état is prepared a little differently. And if we really want to send hundreds of police officers after any group of pensioners indulging in compensatory political fantasies on the net, then what should be made of the statements of many of the green-left groups close to the government, for whom terrorism, revolution, dictatorship and expropriation are not only part of their daily rhetoric, but are openly on the agenda and even applauded by the mainstream media - not only in Germany?

German police planning further putsch-related arrests

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However, there is more to this whole crazy story than just mass hysteria. Think of the immediate assertion by politicians, the media and civil society that the “terrorist threat” that had just been averted was proof that the greatest danger to German democracy comes from the “right”, which, according to Interior Minister Faeser, already had sympathisers “deep within the centre of our society”.

There is already serious talk of changing German law so that anyone suspected of anti-democratic beliefs can be dismissed from public service without justification: from now on, it would be up to the accused to prove his or her innocence, not up to the employer.

Right-wing extremists, anti-vaccines, Euro-sceptics, pro-life activists, conservative intellectuals, traditionalist Catholics, aristocrats, Christian Democrats and even liberals - all are now being cooked up in the same sauce in order to give credibility to the spectre of an imminent “fascist” overthrow of the Federal Republic. And of course, this overthrow can only be prevented by (you guessed it) an even more resolute green-leftist ideological streamlining of the federal institutions and the further exclusion of all those who do not explicitly demonstrate their ideological allegiance in their professional, social, family and public life.

The fact that the “putschists” did indeed include a former member of parliament from the conservative populist AfD party, as well as a few retired police and army officers, came in handy. Indeed, the resulting scandal not only reveals the disturbing presence of unsavoury, even dangerous forces within the AfD (to say the least), but also points to the position the party has now taken in the German political landscape, and into which the media, the politicians and the public institutions (essentially the “constitutional protection”) have literally pushed it.

It serves as an official scarecrow to create a pool into which any oppositional current can be diverted without the risk of it going underground and thus becoming dangerous. Its massive discrediting at the same time ensures that the party will never marshal a certain critical mass of support on a national scale.

The “right” is what the new caste of untouchables is henceforth called, and the left does not want to banish them from the city, but rather to pillory them visibly for all to see in order to close its own ranks and serve as a warning to those who are still politically undecided. Thus, the grandiloquent “repression” of the pensioners’ putsch is a new and perhaps decisive milestone on the way to the institutional consolidation of woke ideology in Germany.

It can be expected that the event will be exploited in the same way as the “attack on the Capitol” in the U.S.: as a permanent state of emergency, kept artificially alive, which can be used at any time to discredit oppositional persons, parties or ideas, without banning them altogether - the ideal safety valve to let out as much steam from the boiler as is needed to make the pressure vaguely bearable.

Prof. Dr. David Engels (born 1979) is the chair of Roman History at the University of Brussels (ULB) and currently works as research professor at the Instytut Zachodni in Poznań, Poland. Author of numerous scholarly publications and essays for the larger media, he is most well-known for his books "Le Déclin" (Paris 2013); "Studies on the Seleukid Empire" (Leuven 2017); "Renovatio Europae" (Berlin 2020); "Oswald Spengler" (Stuttgart 2021) and "Co robić" (Gdańsk 2022). Photo: Prof. Engels's private archive