100 years after WWI, far right seeks to 'glorify German Empire'

AfD leader Alexander Gauland calls the Hitler regime a "mere speck of bird s***".
AfD leader Alexander Gauland calls the Hitler regime a "mere speck of bird s***".
The imperial chancellor Otto von Bismarck is praised in speeches by far-right officials.
The imperial chancellor Otto von Bismarck is praised in speeches by far-right officials.

Right-wingers revive debate on whether Germany triggered war

BERLIN • Germany's far right is trying to rehabilitate the German Empire and its role in World War I, resuming a decades-old debate ahead of the centenary of the armistice.

The magazine Compact, which is close to the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD), is publishing a special November issue dedicated to the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, which held the Reich responsible for the Great War and compelled the country to make colossal reparations.

The aim is to re-evaluate the German Empire (1871-1918), which for decades has been seen as the first of the destructive powers of the 20th century.

Hamburg University historian Fritz Fischer in the early 1960s wrote the controversial thesis that imperial Germany carried the sole responsibility for the war and the horrors of the Somme, Verdun and Gallipoli battles.

In his work Griff Nach Der Weltmacht (Bid For World Power), Professor Fischer argued that the Germany of Wilhelm II, dominated by a racist and imperialist elite, had deliberately instigated World War I in a bid to become a world power.

He said Berlin used the crisis sparked by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand to go to war with France and Russia to create a German-dominated Europe and Africa - and that this unfulfilled ambition paved the way for the Nazi regime to follow.

This overturned the then entrenched national belief that Germany had fought a defensive war.

Prof Joern Leonhard of Freiburg University said Prof Fischer's views - at heart a "virulent criticism of the German Empire, militarism and imperialism" - are "still broadly shared today by the left".

By contrast, the AfD wants to "glorify the empire" as a state that "was modern, had strong industrial development and was very conservative", said historian Klaus-Peter Sick.

 
 
 
 

Representatives of the extreme right in their speeches praise the former imperial chancellor Otto von Bismarck (1815-1898) and the era of "Prussian Palaces".

AfD leader Alexander Gauland went so far as to describe the Hitler regime as a "mere speck of bird s***" relative to "1,000 years of glorious German history".

Prof Sick said the goal of the far right, at a time when the last eye-witnesses are disappearing, is to ensure "that the Germans are proud of their history and the German nation and stop seeing the spectre of Nazism everywhere".

While Germany has gone to great lengths to remember and atone for World War II, remembrance of World War I is far more low key. Even in this centenary year, commemorations remain minimal. The Foreign Ministry hosted a conference, but it was not open to the general public.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will participate in only one ceremony, alongside French President Emmanuel Macron, on Nov 10 in Rethondes, the site of the signing of the Armistice.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 27, 2018, with the headline '100 years after WWI, far right seeks to 'glorify German Empire''. Print Edition | Subscribe