Tag Archives: Germany

Franziska Ehnert, Climate Policy in Denmark, Germany, Estonia and Poland, Ideas, Discourses and Institutions (Northampton: Edward Elgar, 2019)

The book of Franziska Ehnert, entitled Climate Policy in Denmark, Germany, Estonia and Poland, Ideas, Discourses and Institutions approaches climate change in terms of interaction of institutional, policy and discourse aspects that form the path from reality to political priority, policy and solution. This topic is part of current political debates that began in the 1980s, despite climate scepticism or climate change denial, and despite the resistance to the transformation of lifestyles and infrastructures. Environmental movements succeeded in bringing science and policy together, to sustain a climate change critique of the status quo and to promote ecologist alternative values and solutions via environmental policy.

Climate policy analyses are paramount to assess the manner in which the “ministerial administrations” implement or change a policy to answer environmental issues, redefine problems and maintain the adequacy and efficiency of climate change policy.

Considering that previous studies have shown the tension between the expert public officials and the politicians, the research conducted by Franziska Ehnert argues that “policy change will be better understood by studying the actors formulating these policies, namely ministerial administrations. It captures, not merely party politics and interest group politics, but the departmental politics of policy change. The book therefore focuses on the coordinative discourses within governmental institutions (…) among the actors participating in the construction of a policy, which stand in contrast to the communicative discourses through which politicians communicate and justify their policies vis-à-vis the public”. (p. 5)

Thus, the investigation follows the factors and aspects involved in the continuation or change of a policy; how is policy shaped, how coordinative discourses, policy frames, institutional contexts and particular identities relate and evolve; and how can one assess the reframing of values, the redefinition of interests or the reinterpretation of the guiding ideas.

Methodologically the study combines ontological, epistemological and methodological characteristics of the positivist and interpretative research paradigms in a comparative research with qualitative and quantitative dimensions based on the singularities and not on the similarities of the cases. Literature reviews, document analyses and expert interviews are also combined. Moreover, state and non-state actors are taken into consideration via expert interviews. Interpretation plays an important role as well following the data-generation stage: meaning-focused methods are used to analyse empirical data (p. 15). The investigation has as its own particularity the fact that the researchers acknowledge the characteristics of the cases only in the process of data generation, which increases objectivity. The countries compared are similar enough as regards institutional democracy, rule of law and market economy, and, as EU members, they share similar political commitments to EU climate and energy policy. Having under investigation older and younger democracies, varied indicators such as historical backgrounds, territory, economic, political, military and financial power or population size, differences in policy styles and discourses are to be expected.

The analytic framework introduced in the second chapter investigates the causes and means for the continuation of policies, provided that ideas and narratives shape and do not merely reflect the field of action. Political power has an important dimension in the power of ideas. The agents have an activity expressing the “following of the rules” and the “reproduction of the institution”, but also one that indicates the meta-level of discourse, for they think about and outside their institutions too. In terms of “ideal types”, the entrepreneurial-style bureaucrats are more likely to perform as “policy brokers”, while servant-style bureaucrats are more likely to “refrain from mediation and brokerage” and be, more likely, policy followers. (pp. 21-31)

In contrast, the following chapters approach the empirical data and associated analyses and interpretations concerning the making of climate policy in two Western European countries (Denmark and Germany) and in two Central Eastern European countries (Estonia and Poland). The researcher finds that Denmark is performing an important role in climate policy (“a small, green state”) due to a consensus-seeking policy style, a coordination apparatus among cabinet committees, and extensive specialization of the ministerial administration on climate policy. (p. 36)

These aspects, next to the policy ideals, objectives and instruments that are investigated, indicate a multitude of actors sustaining and opposing climate policy, but at the same time a resulting strong societal support for climate policy arising from this polyphonic conversation. However, Denmark is not and does not aim to be a “green Leviathan”, but a green democracy and market economy, with a policy orientation towards consensus, openness and inclusiveness. (p. 61)

The coordinative and consensus-seeking discourses are the most important in this respect. In the case of Germany, the size of the country induces different consequences to the similar reality of the multitude of actors involved in the climate policy “conversation”. Political acceptance might be the result of the “early participation of stakeholders in policy deliberation” in improving policy implementation. In this respect, even if lobbying may be seen as a risk factor, it could be also a democratic-openness enhancement factor. (p. 94) The main climate policy discourse in Germany has become that of increased “participation and transparency in policy deliberation processes”, calling more attention to institutional policy aiming at a more consensus-seeking attitude.

The “small state” discourse is central to Estonian identity, influencing both politics and policies. The EU was the agenda setter in Estonian climate policy and in Estonian energy efficiency policy. Fighting the communist heritage of authoritarian rule, a paradoxical weakness of the culture of coordination, the institutional fragmentation, the limited resources, the poor interministerial  consultations, the weak citizen participation and the low professionalization of the environmental NGOs, the situation was improved slightly by the planning for the European Structural Funds (2014-2020), by the design and continuation of the National Development Plan of the Energy Sector until 2030, and by the academic expertise, making the discourse of the technocrats and departmental politics officials prevalent, to the detriment of other actors. (pp. 120-123)

Central to Polish identity is the idea of catching up with Western development and requirements. On the one hand, the “relationships between state and society were fluid and fragmented” and, on the other, we have the communist heritage of authoritarian rule “undermining parliamentary independence” and weakening the institutionalized character of the “informal practices of interministerial and public consultations” (p. 151) Environmental NGOs are professionalized in Poland, but they remain marginalized. Their discourse attempted to sustain a core idea of ecological modernization, which has gained more adepts with the support of the Ministry of Economy, academic experts and environmental NGOs (keeping the white certificate system in the EEA).

The volume advances a very interesting methodology approaching the climate policies in the EU and it emphasizes an important and original evolving perspective in assessing climate policy. Both environment issues and political “landscapes” are changing, inducing more debate over competing ideas and ideals, values, facts and interests. As a consequence, discursiveness becomes more important in the lives of the institutions, states and societies. At the same time, interpretive analysis emphasizes potential improvement on scientific arguments and agendas as a result of the improvement of the deliberation processes on climate change.

Holger Fleischer, Jesper Lau Hansen & Wolf-Georg Ringe (eds.), German and Nordic Perspectives on Company Law and Capital Markets Law (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2015)

In his chapter on Comparative Company Law in the Oxford Handbook on Comparative Law, Professor Klaus J. Hopt, in a plea for more internationalization and interdisciplinary research, concluded that “[w]hat is really important to know – at least in an internal market such as in the European Union, but also beyond in a globalized world – is not company law in the books, but how company law functions within the company, on the market and beyond the frontiers.” The volume on German and Nordic Perspectives on Company Law and Capital Markets Law edited by Holger Fleischer, Jesper Lau Hansen and Wolf-Georg Ringe is a convincing contribution to modern company law and capital markets law scholarship from these perspectives.

Continue reading Holger Fleischer, Jesper Lau Hansen & Wolf-Georg Ringe (eds.), German and Nordic Perspectives on Company Law and Capital Markets Law (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2015)

Sven-Olof Olsson (ed.), Managing Crises and De-globalization. Nordic foreign trade and exchange 1919-39 (New York: Routledge, 2014 pbk.)


Historical memory is unwelcome by people who have too much at stake in the short term to realise that they may have much more to lose in the medium and/or long term. Historical memory is also unwelcome by people who wish that economic history could fit neatly within the theoretical constructs that they favour because of ideological, political, moral or pecuniary commitments of theirs (cf. Francesco Boldizzoni, The Poverty of Clio: Resurrecting Economic History, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011).

  Continue reading Sven-Olof Olsson (ed.), Managing Crises and De-globalization. Nordic foreign trade and exchange 1919-39 (New York: Routledge, 2014 pbk.)

Jan Philipp Sternberg, Auswanderungsland Bundesrepublik. Denkmuster und Debatten in Politik und Medien 1945 – 2010 (Studien zur Historischen Migrationsforschung, Bd. 26, Paderborn: Ferdinand Schöningh Verlag, 2012)

Even for me, a migrant from Germany: when I saw the title, I have to admit, I misread it and assumed that immigration would be the topic of the book. German emigrants do not play a big role in the public perception compared to other European countries like Italy or Ireland. Moreover, in Germany, if one does speak of emigrants, then it refers mainly to Germans fleeing from Nazi Germany – as symbolised through Thomas Mann and Berthold Brecht – or, to a far lesser extent, the 19th-century adventurer leaving for the new World.

The nearly 800,000 Germans leaving the Federal Republic of Germany in the years between 1949 and 1961 do not belong to either of these categories. Sternberg, in his well-researched study, looks at the changing public image of emigrants in Germany and the political discourse around their emigration. He covers the year from 1949 until 2010, but his main focus are the years until 1961. After 1961, the numbers of emigrants drop significantly, since in 1961 full employment had been reached in Germany and only after Germany’s reunification in 1989 the numbers rise again.

Sternberg observes that in many respects immigration and emigration are treated in Germany as the two sides of the same medal. For a longer time both emigration and immigration were ignored or even denied as a political reality and, if spoken in the public discourse, treated as a fearful threat to Germany.

Sternberg contributes with his work to a cultural history of West Germany. The changing public discourse on emigration reflects the changes within society. The debate in the 1940s and 1950s was dominated by the notion of loss of human capital. In the new century, we speak instead of the “brain drain”, whereby the “most valuable members” of the German people are turned by the media into a sort of soap opera, since a documentary on emigration has all the dramatic ingredients that a program director could dream of. As Sternberg quotes the woman in charge for “Deutschland ade”: “Where else you find so much interest in adventure, daring and longing for happiness? What else provides stories like this, which carry a risk of failure in itself, tell of sorrow, hope, fear and happiness? All reasons why the SWR [the television channel] is enthusiastic about emigration as a subject. It is material for a serial par excellence.” (p.222)

One just wishes that historians and social scientists may realise this as well and start doing more research on it.

R. Bohlin, De Osynliga. Det Europas fattiga arbetarklass; M. Linton, De hatade. Om radikalhögerns måltavlor; B. Elmbrant, Europas stålbad. Krisen som slukar välfärden och skakar euron (All titles by Atlas, Stockholm, 2012)


The feminist journalist Rebecca Bohlin has looked into the working and living conditions of the least paid workers within the service sector, although reminding to us that many other jobs in different sectors meet similar problems. She has met cleaners, kitchen attendants and cashiers in Stockholm, London, Hamburg and at the same time has interviewed scholars and as well politicians and union representatives about the rise in income inequality and the worsening of working conditions, across Europe and in Sweden.

And to Sweden indeed is devoted the first chapter (Hur mår RUT?). The question of rising inequalities has become hot after 2007, when tax deductions for domestic service (RUT) were introduced, with the argument that the black market was to be stopped. In fact, however, according to the unions and to some research, the outcome has been an increasing in the number of workers (often asylum seekers or anyway migrants, very often women) exploited and with no safeguard: their formal job contract is legal, but their actual working conditions are definitely different, and for the worse. Yet in Sweden, as Bohlin acknowledges, living conditions of the low-paid workers are better that in most other countries.

In the second chapter (Så pressas lönerna neråt) Bohlin analyzes, again through witnesses and interviews, migration policy at the EU level and in some of its member States. She insists on the paradox of a rhetoric stressing the need of labour force from outside Europe, in order to face demographic challenges and to make companies more “globalized”, while at the same time the actual policy is based on a military defence of the “fortress Europe”, at the cost of thousands of human lives every year. And those who succeed in reaching Europe are often exploited both economically and, when women, sexually. And that even in a country that is a world master in workers’ rights and gender equality such as Sweden.

How are trade unions tackling this backward trend to a degree of workers’ exploitation similar to that in the 19th century? Around this unavoidable question the third chapter (Facket famlar efter en ny solidaritet) is built. The answer is not at all self-evident; on the contrary, here one goes on attempt by attempt. However, what comes out from the talks that the author has had with union leaders and members, in Sweden and in the UK, as well as with scholars, is that a trade union like the Swedish one, service-oriented, is not well-equipped to face the challenges that labour movements all over the world have to meet. More interesting it seems the experience of the “Social Movement Unionism”, a strategy that has been tested in South America and is made up of a mix of mobilization, learning, dialogue with local society, negotiations – and protest actions. Exactly what many all over Europe – either workers or unemployed, migrant or local – call for.


An even darker side of Europe is the subject of Magnus Linton’s work, that he describes in his Introduction as a book on “majorities and minorities, absolutism and relativism, boarders and lack of them, fantasy and reality”. The author, well-known in Sweden for his reports after the carnage in Utøya, has carried out an inquiry about right-wing radicalism in three European countries: Hungary, the Netherlands and Norway, moving from the awareness that the current economic crisis increases its appeal. Linton has met the main targets of xenophobic and neo-nazi groups, respectively Roma people in Hungary, muslims in the Netherlands and left-wing intellectuals in Norway. The first section (Parasiterna), after reminding shortly the persecution of Roma in history (culminating with their, neglected, massacre during World War II) and the recent deportation of Roma in countries such as France, Italy and Sweden, introduces the reader to the disturbing world of the Hungarian neo-fascist party Jobbik (Movement for a better Hungary), whose programme is openly “roma-centered”, so to say, and that in 2010 established itself as one of the main political forces in the country with 17% of votes. Jobbik’s growing influence resulted in a situation that Linton, with reference to what happened in the municipality of Gyöngyöspata, tells in the following way: “in 2011 in the middle of Europe fascists in uniform marched and families belonging to one of the poorest and most persecuted minorities in the continent were forced to escape what otherwise would have turned into a pogrom”. And Gyöngyöspata was only the beginning. However, the political scientist Zsolt Enyedi, interviewed by Linton, points out that these developments in Hungary were at the same time astonishing and predictable. Their roots can be found in a historical process starting from the fall of the Berlin wall; since then, populism has been a constant presence in Hungarian life and in the end has exploded due to the economic crisis. The fact that in 2010 the nationalist and authoritarian party Fidesz won 2/3 of the votes has made the situation even worse and transformed Hungary into a stronghold of radical Right in Europe.

Another country, another scapegoat: in the Netherlands, as it is well-known, the thesis that “our” problems could be solved if only “we” got rid of Muslims has found one of its most prominent champions, i.e. Geert Wilders, leader of the Freedom Party and major pointer for Dutch politics for years (see the section: Ockupanterna). Though making sure to distinguish himself from people like Anders Berg Breivik (who pointed at Wilders as his ideological source of inspiration) by stressing his own democratic attitude, Wilders has steadily run down Islam, equating it with Fascism. Together with Pim Fortuyn (murdered in 2002 by a left-wing extremist), he has personified the idea that multiculturalism is a luxury only the privileged few can afford and has transformed the Netherlands into the headquarters of islamophobia in Europe.

The Dutch historian Thomas von der Dunk, here quoted, urges to take into account that politics’ highest aim is economic security, as well as the capability for society to accept cultural uncertainty; but when the former decreases, then the need for a strong cultural identity rises.

Roma people and Muslims are easy scapegoats in a continent affected by geopolitical and economic turbulences; but how came that in the rich and enlightened Norway a right-wing extremist killed more than 70 young left-wing activists? What Berg Breivik aims at with his double attack (a bomb in Oslo and the carnage on the Utøya island) was, as Linton explains, to murder at the same time three generations of “betrayers” (hence the title of the section, Förrädarna), i.e. three generations of Social Democrats: the forthcoming (the young activists who met in Utøya), the present (the governmental headquarter in the capital), and the former (Gro Harlem Brudtland, former prime minister, who escaped assassination in the island due to a delay in Breivik Berg’s plan).

What has been betrayed are Norwegian culture and identity, quite obviously. Breivik Berg defines “cultural Marxism” what could otherwise be summarized as “politically correct”, in other words the idea that there are some topics that cannot be questioned, above all feminism and multiculturalism. Linton points out that coinciding with the perhaps unstoppable march of right-wing extremism in Europe is the discontent caused by what has been perceived as the hegemony of political correctedness, which has become more and more centered upon universities. After all, right-wing radicalism is not interested in discussing rationally a question (which is supposed to be the academic approach) but, on the contrary, in imposing its own understanding of reality. And it is succeeding in doing this. Linton recalls our attention to the fact that what is striking in Breivik Berg is not his insanity, but how much he reflects stereotypes and plot-syndromes related to Islam that unfortunately are represented in more or less all the European parliaments (as well as in the EU one).     


Not even the book by Elmbrant, one of the most prominent Swedish journalists, is intended to bring comfort to the reader. Here as well the impact of the economic downturn is looked into in a European perspective, yet with a particular attention to countries such as Greece (see chapter 1, Ett land faller sönder) and Ireland (chapter 3, Irland på liv och död). In chapter 2 (Hur hamnade vi här?) the author follows the making of the Euro and then compares the faith of two countries, Ireland and Iceland; both hit by the crisis, but the latter (outside the common currency) recovering better. Italy is not at all forgotten in this account: the doubts about its financial soundness have been recurrent amongst EU – and German in particular – leaders, for many years. However, Elmbrant warns (chapter 4, Skenbilden av krisen) against those, in Brussels as well as Berlin and Paris, who blame upon some countries ? the Southern European ones primarily ? the European financial difficulties, as the problem were simply that if one spends too much, then one has to pay back sooner or later. Elmbrant is well aware that Greece, with all the stereotypes surrounding it, has worked as a perfect scapegoat, but insists on the European dimension of the economic crisis. The trouble indeed is not the Greeks’ unreliability, but the EU powerlessness in the face of much bigger transnational financial powers. In this connection, it needs to be said that left-wing parties have definitely not been united and consistent in their (often late) condemnation of the abuse of power from private banks and finance at large.

It cannot miss, in this critical report about the EU state of health, a chapter on Angela Merkel, significantly entitled She who decides (5, Hon som bestämmer) and on Germany’s hegemonic role. The outcome of financial powers’ and Germany’s supremacy are described in chapter 6 (Europas stålbad), again focusing mostly on Southern Europe, but raising a more general question: the changing role of the Nation-State. Here Elmbrant mentions an article on The New Left Review by the German social scientist Wolfgang Streeck as crucial: the dismantlement of Europe’s social policies has restricted the ability of the State as far as mediating between citizens’ rights and Capital’s diktats is concerned, and by this move increased further the latter’s authoritativeness as well. There have been massive demonstrations against budget-restriction policies, at least in Greece, Spain and Portugal (chapter 7, De unga på marsch), but Elmbrant does not forget that up to now it is the Radical Right the political actor who seems to have taken more advantage from the crisis, and not the Left. Are the European Central Bank and Merkel right when presenting austerity as the only way out of the crisis or can young people protesting in Athens, Madrid and Lisbon point out to an alternative? The last two chapters are built around this question. 

After summarizing the different proposals currently discussed in the EU (in the end all related to the dilemma: more or less unity among member States? See chapter 8, Stopp i Brysseltrafiken), Elmbrant closes his report by handling the question of the future of the common currency (chapter 9, Har euron en framtid?). After looking at expert analysis and people’s mood his answer (well reflecting Swedish attitude to the EU) is: the Euro is doomed to collapse ? after all it has been a mistake from the beginning ? with consequences that in some cases will prove to be devastating.  And thinking at what is going on in many European countries we can easily believe that this apocalyptic scenario is not simply a kind of snobbery from the rich Nordic countries.   

Constance Gunderson, Human Trafficking: The Trafficking of Women in Northern Germany for the Purpose of Sexual Exploitation. Systematic Overview of Community Based Responses and Challenges (Bremen: Lit Verlag, 2012)

For this research, she interviewed thirteen people within the fields of policy making, law enforcement and victim personnel working in Bremen and other regions of Lower Saxony. Furthermore, in a total of four pages, a brief summery is given “with information regarding ten women’s perspective of supportive services they received following their trafficking experiences in Bremen and Lower Saxony.” Actually, only five are quoted in these four pages dedicated to the victim’s side.


With the interviews, the author wants to achieve three things: first, to inform the reader about the interaction of legislation, policy and law enforcement; second, to “explore inter-relational aspects among persons and organizations involved in the issue”; and last the information would be useful in “intercultural social educational fields” (p.89). And according to the backside of the book, the gained insight will also help to “end human trafficking”.


My problem with the book is that it does not shed light on the topic; on the contrary, it obscures it. The first hundred pages – half of the book – are nothing but an uncritical overview of the literature on human trafficking. In length, the author presents the literature on prostitution and human trafficking, but she does not analyse it. For example, one would assume that within the discussion of human trafficking and prostitution it might be interesting to look at the impact of the legislation about prostitution on human trafficking, since different approaches are possible. On the one extreme there is the Swedish way, where the buyer is punished; whilst on the other extreme there is the German way, where prostitution is legalized. Obviously, these two approaches have an impact on human trafficking and therefore should be relevant for the topic. The author mentions the two different approaches but is not interested to analyse the consequences for the prostitutes. More important for her is to give in this chapter a brief historic overview of the legal situation of prostitutes in Germany, where she claims that in “Eastern Germany” (I assume she means GDR or ‘East Germany’) “prostitution was formally prohibited, although escort services existed for the elite.” (p. 45) This was new to me; unfortunately, no source is given to support this claim.


One could say in her defence that it is not within the scope of this study to evaluate the impact of the legislation on human trafficking and I would agree with this if she wouldn’t draw a conclusion at the end of the chapter, where she refers to a research which assumes that “criminalization on the demand side of the issue has contributed to combating prostitution and human trafficking for sexual purposes.” (p.49) There is no source given and ten lines earlier she had quoted another study, this time with a source mentioned that concluded that the Swedish legislation leads to the redirecting of human trafficking away from Sweden and to other countries. The author refrains from discussing this obvious contradiction.


A PhD dissertation might be helpful for a moral cause, but in order to be helpful, it should provide proper facts and not moral outcry. A basic demand for a PhD is accuracy, which cannot be balanced out by good intentions alone. In her chapter on “What we know about human traffickers” for example, I read: “Human traffickers may be transnational criminal businesspersons; they calculate the market access, profits margins, and the level of risk before investing into trafficking in a particular place.” (p. 54) This sounds to me as very impressive, but I would like a source to support this claim. Instead I get a quote from Iris Yen, who supposedly claimed that bribing and falsifying of documents is involved in human trafficking. The only problem here is that the quote does not exist. Since I was curious to know how Yen supported her claim, I checked the quoted article, which is available on the web; unfortunately I could not find the quoted page. The author keeps on writing about “safe-houses” in Europe where human traffickers hide: “These ‘safe-houses’ during transit guard for secrecy and allow for her quick relocation, most often to another city or country.” (p. 60). This sounds more like a James Bond movie to me than a serious study; again, no source to support this claim is given.


When the author actually names sources she does it in a very selective or creative way. The author uses several times the report published by the Bundeskriminalamt (Federal Criminal Police Office) in 2010 on human trafficking. According to Gunderson, in this report it is written that “in 2009, the German criminal police documented 710 identified woman victims. Eighty six percent of the victims were of foreign descent.” (p. 58) This is not written in the report, for the report states that in 2009 there were 710 victims, 87% female and the German victims were with 25% again the biggest group. The only correct number given by the author is the page number of the report. The same report is used again to support another claim: “Over half of the victims were pressured by the perpetrators or their associates not to make a statement to the police (Bundeskriminalamt 2010, p.10)” This sounds very serious, but again the report states something different: “Half of the victims were willing to disclose if there has been any attempt made by the perpetrators to influence their willingness to make a statement to the police. (…) Around 12 % of the victim willing to answer the question stated that pressure was applied on the willingness to make a statement.” (Bundeskriminalamt 2010, p.10) Wouldn’t 12% have been enough, or do I as a reader need at least half of the victims being pressured in order to see the moral abyss in front of me?


The whole purpose of this book remains a mystery for me. If you need to invent your facts in order to make your point, why not writing a novel, or are basic scientific standards not required when it comes to a PhD dissertation on human trafficking?


“Karlson” – A Stasi “Kontakt Person”. An episode of Iceland’s Cold War legacy



Iceland’s geographical position gave this small nation a special strategic importance in the political and military chess game between east and west during the Cold War era. Placed in the mid Atlantic, Iceland constituted an important post for the NATO defence forces and surveillance activities. This importance can be seen in the presence of American troops at a NATO base in Keflavik from 1951 until 2004. The military base and the NATO alignment created stark divisions among the population and was one of two major cleavages that characterized Icelandic politics throughout the post- WWII era, especially during the Cold War. The other cleavage that marked Icelandic politics of the time was the left-right dimension. The four traditional parties of the Icelandic party system ranked in a different order on these two continuums, with the right wing Independence Party allying with the Social Democrats in its support for NATO and the military base, while the centre agrarian Progressive Party supported NATO membership but joined forces with the Socialist Party in the opposition to the military base. The Socialists however were stern opponents of both the base and NATO membership, while they expressed sympathetic views for the People’s Democratic Republics in the eastern bloc.[1] Left wing socialists held up ties with their sister parties in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, while bourgeois politicians cultivated their links with western or mainly American liberal democracy.  The political discussion was framed in terms of the Cold War and the press, which throughout most of the 20th century was a party press, continuously suggested that the political motives of their opponents were conspicuously linked to or derived from either the interests of Soviet or Eastern European communism or US capitalist imperialism.

It was in this circumstances that in the fifties and sixties young left wing people sought to undertake their university education in the Eastern block and more often than not the Socialist Party in Iceland (SEI) was in one way or another the go-between in arranging for such student positions. Many of these left wing students kept contact with each other even though they did not study in the same place or country. At a point in the late fifties these students had formed an organisation, SÍA, Sósíalistafélag Íslendinga Austantjalds (The Society of Socialist Icelanders in the Eastern Bloc) that had considerable influence within SEI, the Icelandic Socialist Party.[2] In 1962 members of the youth organisation of the conservative Independence Party managed to get hold of – in fact steal – some of the internal correspondence of the SÍA group and subsequently the correspondence was published letter by letter in the daily newspaper Morgunblaðið along with some political explanations from a right wing standpoint. The correspondence was also published by the Conservative youth organization, Heimdallur, in a special booklet labelled the “Red Book”. Remarkable as it may sound, the correspondence between the Icelandic students in SÍA shows a great deal of criticism of the socialist system as practiced in the Eastern bloc, though in general of course their views were very sympathetic to the People’s Democratic Republics. From the standpoint of the conservatives in Iceland the purpose of the publication of the SÍA correspondence was to show that the students in Eastern Europe, along with the Socialist Party of Iceland, were plotting a communist takeover in cooperation with their communist allies in the east, even though they knew that the system was not working well and had all sorts of flaws.[3] This whole affair exemplifies the frenzy and the tone of the political discussion in Iceland during the Cold War and the suspicion that was created around the students that studied in the Eastern Bloc.

The legacy of heated feelings of the Cold War has in many ways survived the Cold War itself. The demand for some sort of reckoning or historical rectification has frequently come up, particularly in relation to the publication of documents that have become accessible after the fall of communism. This has been felt in Iceland mainly at a general political level but its implications have also been personal – putting the spotlight on the individuals that supported communism and in particular those who studied in the Democratic People’s Republics, not the least the German Democratic Republic. This paper will examine to what extent demands for a historical reckoning are relevant by looking at a particular case that can be found in the Stasi archives. By conducting a case study of this kind, a light is shed on important factors that tend to be lost in the more ideological and normative public political discussion. The case examined is the one of a young student who became a Stasi informer in the early 1960s, know as “Kontakt Person Karlsson”.


“Kontact Person (KP) Karlson”

According to the archives of East Germanys State security service (Stasi) one Icelandic student cooperated with the Stasi while studying in East Germany.[4] His name was Guðmundur Ágústsson, who after returning to Iceland became a bank manager. In 1959 he arrived as a young student via Vienna in East Germany, where he first attended a language course in Leipzig before taking up his studies at the University of Economics in Berlin-Karlshorst. Later his sister followed him to East Berlin.

On the 9 February 1963, four years after entering East Germany, a note is found in the Stasi files concerning “making contact with the person”.[5] Before this remark in the files, the Stasi had already gathered information about Guðmundur Ágústsson , since a report explains that he seemed to be “open towards our problems”.[6] In this first description of Guðmundur Ágústsson to be found in the files, his appearance is described as “modest and dutiful”, also his “perfect moral conduct” is underlined,[7] contrary to the one of his sister who, according to the report, is “in some cases very impulsive”.[8]

According to the minutes of the first meeting between the Lieutenant Koch as representative of the Stasi and Guðmundur Ágústsson, Koch explained to the Icelandic student that lately pubic disorder in East Germany was increasingly initiated through West Berlin and therefore it was necessary for GDR “to take measures against the enemy’s intentions. In order to do so we have to involve foreigners, and since we knew that he [Guðmundur Ágústsson] was a member of our brother party SEI, we have turned to his person”.[9] According to the minutes Guðmundur Ágústsson answered positively to the request of the Stasi; he agreed to visit West Berlin and establish contacts with students there as well as to report on activities at the University of Economics where he studied.

Guðmundur Ágústsson was, according to the Stasi files, one of 25 Icelandic students studying at the time in the GDR. All were members of the SEI. They all came to East Germany through the mediation of the SEI or the Federation of Icelandic Trade Unions. During their first meeting Lieutenant Koch asked Guðmundur Ágústsson not to talk with anyone about his contact to the Stasi and they agreed to use the codename “Karlson” for him. After this meeting the Stasi run “Karlson” as a “Kontakt Person” (KP) in its files. “Kontakt Persons” were individuals used by the Stasi, sometimes without their knowledge, but also, as in this case, people who knowingly cooperated with the Stasi. “Karlson” knew, as the documents indicate, that his interlocutors were working for the Stasi.

“Karlson’s” first job assignment consisted of establishing a contact with an Icelandic student in West Berlin, “with the aim of assessing if this contact could be further exploited”. In order to do so “Karlson” should find out, “with whom he [the friend] has contact”, and further, he should report about groups and “their participation in actions against the anti-fascist protective barrier” (meaning the Berlin Wall)[10] and evaluate the general mood in West Berlin. “Karlson”, according to the minutes, agreed to do so. But he did not agree to introduce his acquaintances in West Berlin to the Stasi.[11] The reason he gave was that in his opinion the friend “was politically not ready”.[12] However “Karlson” proposed approaching another Icelander in West Berlin who might be willing to cooperate with the Stasi. According to “Karlson” this was a friend who had gotten an invitation from the Free University of Berlin to become a lecturer. The minutes state that at this time it had not yet been decided whether the acquaintance would accept the job at the Free University or not, because in the words of “Karlson”, a “decision on this matter would be made by the SEI”.[13]

Five weeks later at the following meeting “Karlson” could not report much, because he had not traveled to West Berlin. However, he had by now learned that his friend would take the position at the Free University in West Berlin. Until the year 1962 the acquaintance had been working as a lecturer at the University of Greifswald. Both he and his wife were members of the SEI. “The KP estimated the [name blackened] as a very humorous and outgoing person, who sometimes because of his comical appearance, his physique and his facial expressions is viewed as ridiculous.”[14]

Furthermore, “Karlson” reported in this meeting that he had recently received another visit from an Icelander, but he was politically not organized and in “his political development not yet mature”. Therefore “Karlson” declined bringing him into contact with the Stasi. In addition the Stasi noted in the minutes of the meeting that the KP would “soon get his own flat on the basis of his collaboration and his political work.”[15]

In May 1963 Lieutenant Koch gave his first evaluation of his Icelandic spy:

The [Kontact Person] is honest in the cooperation, but had not yet been reviewed. He takes his tasks seriously, makes his own proposals and he is venturous. His [cooperation] is based on conviction.

Control: Regular meetings every 14 days in the CA [Conspiratorial Apartment].

Range of duty: Supply of suitable candidates for recruitment. Naming appropriate candidates, as well as being used on special occasions in West Berlin.”[16]

In the following meeting “Karlson” and his Stasi officer discussed mainly how to establish the actual contact with the Icelandic lecturer at the Free University in Berlin. First of all, it was agreed that there was “no need to pretend to be a member of the press, but the KP should just contact him as an employee of the Stasi”.[17] “Karlson” agreed to organize the meeting. During the meeting they discussed three more Icelandic students living in West Berlin, but the minutes state that “Karlson” did not want to be the person who “arranges the meeting”.[18] Therefore they agreed on a different approach: while “Karlson” would celebrate the moving into his new apartment with the Icelanders from West Berlin, he would contact the Stasi as soon as his Icelandic friends would leave. On the way back to West Berlin the Stasi would have then the possibility “to address” the Icelanders at the checkpoint in Friedrichstraße: “this way the (KP) would be kept out from the conversation and the staff can safely carry out their own conversation.”[19]

At this meeting it was further agreed that “Karlson” would participate at the upcoming regional Social Democratic Party Congress as a member of the media and report to the Stasi about it. Furthermore he should monitor the preparations for the rallies on May 1 in West Berlin. One day before the first of May “Karlson” received specific instructions. In particular, he should find out where the loudspeaker van with the “inflammatory agitation” was stationed that was supposed to “disturb the activities on May 1 in democratic Berlin”.[20]

During this meeting the status of the recruitment of the Icelandic lecturer was also discussed. According to “Karlson” the Icelandic lecturer wanted to find out whether the people whom he would meet were “really from the Stasi”.[21] Furthermore, the Icelandic lecturer informed “Karlson” that the Senate of the Free University of Berlin had told him that they were informed about his membership in the SEI. They also warned him not to get involved with “Russian agents”.[22]

At the next meeting, on the 1st of May, “the Kontakt Person ‘Karlson’ had returned from his excursion to West Berlin and shared his observations about the deployment of the police, the position of the radio car, the tribune and more, which were then immediately submitted to the headquarter.”[23]

According to the minutes of the meetings “Karlson” reported about his intended trip to England, France and Italy. The minutes end with the note that the next meetings will be arranged by phone. Although there are no further minutes of meetings to be found in the archives, one can assume that the contact continued, since a receipt exists for the 28 January 1964 with the note: “The Kontakt Person ‘Karlson’ was given 50 DM for costs.”[24]

On 20th of November 1964, Lieutenant Koch closed the file, since “Karlson” had returned to Iceland. The file contains also the exact statistics of the border crossings by “Karlson” to West Berlin, and thanks to the collection of data by the Stasi, we also know that “Karlson” for example, on the 4th of February 1964, brought “2 nylon shirts; 2 pairs of women’s stockings, 20 PCs. cigarillos (Intershop); 250 gr coffee and 1 kg bananas”[25] from West Berlin to East Berlin.

The Icelandic lecturer at the Free University in West Berlin refused being recruited by the Stasi. On the 19 December 1963 one meeting had taken place between the lecturer and the Stasi at Café Sofia in East Berlin. At this meeting the Icelander stressed the “security of his person”. He said that “if the contact should become known it would have serious consequences for the party and him.” He also pointed out in this context the “unprofessional work of the security organs of the Soviet Union concerning the radar station in Iceland, where arrests had been made and which greatly damaged the reputation of the Soviet Union and caused great dismay for the comrades of the SEI.”[26] Lieutenant Koch was not very optimistic about a possible cooperation, since the Icelandic lecturer said that he “does not want to have anything to do with the secret service”.[27] But at least the reader of the files learns that the Icelander was very “sloppily dressed”, wore summer shoes in December and “a grey suit, a red shirt and a blue tie”.[28]


“Kontakt Person Karlson” revisited

In Iceland a discussion of the relations between Icelanders, Communist parties and secret service organizations in the eastern bloc have regularly surfaced – not only throughout the Cold War but also in the post Cold War era. Several times the issue has come up whether some Icelander had been working for Stasi.[29]

In early February 1995 a documentary film, “Í nafni sósíalismans”, (In the Name of Socialism) by the historian Valur Ingimundarsson and the journalist Árni Snævarr was shown by RÚV, the Icelandic State Broadcasting Television. The film was based on some documents that the authors had had access to after the opening of the Stasi archives in Germany and it spurred some discussion in the Icelandic media.[30] The name of the banker Guðmundur Ágústsson came up, as it appeared that he had been a Stasi agent in the period 1963-1964. The documentary claimed that Guðmundur Ágústsson had the codename “Karlson” in the Stasi files, and that one of his missions was to recruit Árni Björnsson, who at the time was a guest lecturer at the Free University in West Berlin. Árni acknowledges in the film that he had had some encounters with the Stasi, but that he had not answered indirect requests for him to become an informer for the secret organization. He does however mention an incident when his nice had been visiting him and had gone to a theatre show in East Berlin. When she did not return, Árni Björnsson became worried and went to a border control gate to ask about her. There Árni was detained for a while, until a Stasi officer came and asked if he had not received a message from them some while ago. Árni Björnsson acknowledged that and asked about his nice. There were no news of the girl, but in light of the circumstances Árni Björnsson thought it would be wise to agree to meet with the officer two weeks later. He says that he met with a Stasi officer two weeks later in a coffee shop and that was the end of it.

On the other hand, Guðmundur Ágústsson, alias “Karlson”, had refused to talk to the makers of the documentary, so his side of the story appeared in a newspaper only after the film had been shown on national TV. In an exclusive interview with the newspaper DV, Guðmundur Ágústsson explains that he had agreed to do some trivial exercises for Stasi in order to secure his own peace and eventually a safe passage home for him, his German wife and their child. Guðmundur Ágústsson refers to his contact person at Stasi (Lieutenant Koch) as the “young man with the cigarette”. He tells of a “spy mission” to West Berlin in the following way:

I met the young man with the cigarette and he asked me if I could go over to West Berlin and check if there was a military truck convoy in a certain boulevard in the southern part of the city. I was also supposed to stop by the Wall there in the neighborhood and see if a big hole was being dug in the ground behind a hill. I went to these places, but there were no army trucks, no digging and no hole. So I stood there like a fool. I went back and told the young man that nothing was there. That was the last I heard from Stasi. I probably did not pass the test or possibly Stasi was just training the young man in talking to somebody.[31] 

Later in the interview Guðmundur Ágústsson reflects on the documentary value of the Stasi files about himself. “I understand that there is a large folder on me in the Stasi archives. I do not think I want to see it. But the documents are there and people must then remember that the text that is written there is just what a man with a cigarette thought about me. He might even have been trying to look good in the eyes of his superiors. I never wrote a single letter for them.”

As it is apparent by now, two parallel stories have been told of the same course of actions involving  “Karlson”. On the one hand there are the files written by Lieutenant Koch, whilst on the other there are the stories and experiences as these are remembered by both Guðmundur Ágústsson, the student, and Árni Björnsson, the lecturer. Much of the factual evidence comes forth in both stories, but the interpretation and explanations of what actually happened and what it meant is very different.
Whose truth? – a discussion

After the Berlin wall came down and the Stasi archives were opened the news came to Iceland that Guðmundur Ágústsson had been a Stasi informer in 1963-1964. More than 30 years later, in 1995, Guðmundur Ágústsson had to explain to the Icelandic press that by cooperating with Stasi he had “secured himself peace and a safe passage home with his German wife and child”.[32] And still just over ten years after the explanations in the DV newspaper, Árni Björnsson, who was the friend of Guðmundur Ágústsson that worked and lived in West Berlin in 1963-1964, came forth in the scholarly magazine Þjóðmál to explain his involvement with Guðmundur Ágústsson and Stasi. Árni Björnsson was reacting to another article in the magazine where he was named as a likely Stasi informant.[33] The title of Árni Björnsson’s article is “Stasi and I. What is the truth?” He does not takes issue with the Stasi files themselves or even the reports by the Stasi officer that approached him, but points out that they are based on the officer´s personal interpretation, social conditions and circumstances. He therefore asks whether that interpretation is necessarily the whole truth.  In other words, Árni Björnsson is suggesting a cautious approach in interpreting the files and documents that can be found in the Stasi archives.

At least two lessons can be derived from comparing the two different accounts at issue. Firstly, it seems clear that Stasi did not necessarily ask its Icelandic informers to collect sensitive or hidden information, but asked for all sorts of public information, such as reporting about public student meetings and the curriculum of the Free University. This could make the Stasi request for cooperation look almost trivial to the student in question, so much that it would seem irrational to refuse such a small favour and risk being considered uncooperative by such a powerful organization as Stasi was then.

Secondly, the Stasi files give us a fragmented and indeed limited view of what really was going on. This is due to three main factors:

a) The nature of the reports to be filled out gives limited space for accounting for different and sometimes complex situations.
b) The evaluation and interpretation of the writer of the report is subjective and coloured by Marxist ideological phrases. Furthermore the reports are written by officers for their superiors and it can be expected that things that might be thought interesting for the secret police are overemphasized.
c) The fact that some of the files and reports may be missing limits their comprehensiveness.

In light of the latter point, an important lesson can be learned about the way in which documents and reports of official agencies not meant for publication, be they secret agencies or ordinary embassies, should be interpreted. To be sure, uncovering such secret files can provide valuable and important information, as recent WikiLeaks documents on embassies have shown, for instance. However, such documents call for careful consideration of the circumstances in which they were written and of the values and motivations of those who wrote the files. The limitation of the files makes them useful for political polemics, since they leave so much space for interpretation, but not for careful, detailed historical accounts of the past. And last but not the least, one may also just be stunned by their banality.



Guðmundsson, Birgir and Meckl, Markus, 2008, Á sumarskóm í desember. Ísland í skýrslum austurþýsku öryggislögreglunnar Stasi, in Saga, Tímarit Sögufélags, XLVI: 2, 2008, pp. 86 – 113.

Knabe, Hubertus,1999, West-Arbeit des MfS. Das Zusammenspiel von „Aufklärung“ und „Abwehr“Ch. Links Verlag, Berlin

Ólafsson, Jón , 1999,  Kæru félagar.Íslenskir sósíalistar og Sovétríkin 1920-1960, Mál og menning, Reykjavík

Snævarr, Árni and Ingimundarson, Valur, 1992, Liðsmenn Moskvu, Almenna bókafélagið, Reykjavík


[1] Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson (1977) The Icelandic Multilevel Coalition System. Expanded version of a chapter in E. Browne (ed) Cabinet Coalitions in Western Democracies. Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Iceland, Reykjavík.

[2] Ólafsson, Jón , 1999,  Kæru félagar.Íslenskir sósíalistar og Sovétríkin 1920-1960, Mál og menning, Reykjavík bls. 212-213

[3] Ibid pp. 214

[4] In the archives of the Stasi there are approximately 250 pages concerning Iceland. Among the material is one folder concerning the collaboration of an Icelander with the secret service. A complete overview over the material found is given in Icelandic in the article: Birgir Guðmundsson and Markus Meckl, Á sumarskóm í desember. Ísland í skýrslum austurþýsku öryggislögreglunnar Stasi, in Saga, Tímarit Sögufélags, XLVI: 2, 2008, pp. 86 – 113.

[5] Report on the contact of the person, BStU, central archives, 1496/65, BL. 9.

[6] Investigation report, ibid. 3.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid. p. 5

[9] Report on the contact of the person, BStU, central archives, 1496/65, BL. 10.

[10] Minutes of the Meeting, 20. 2. 1963, ibid. 13.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid. 14

[14] Minutes of the Meeting for the 15.3.1963, p. 15-16.

[15] Ibid p. 16.

[16] Assessment of “Carlsson”, dated on the 7.5. 1963, ibid p. 18. In the documents one can find different spellings for “Karlson”.

[17] Minutes of the Meeting for the 19. 4. 1963, ibid. 19.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid. 20.

[20] Minutes of the meeting, 30. 4.1963, p. 21.

[21]Ibid. 21.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Report from 6 May 1963, ibid, page 23.

[24] Recipt, 28.1.1964, ibid., page 27.

[25] BStU 12225/66

[26] Report of the 20 12 1963, BStU, central archives, 1496/65, p. 29 f. The matter the lecturer might be referring to here is an episode often called “The Hafravatns case” that came up in February 1963. Two deputies from the Soviet Embassy were expelled from Iceland for trying to recruit an Icelandic man as a spy. See: “Miklu fargi af mér létt”, Morgunblaðið 28th February, 1963 pp. 23-24

[27] Ibid. 33.

[28] Ibid.

[29] For a discussion of these connections between Icelanders and the Eastern Bloc see e.g.: Árni Snævarr and Valur Ingimundarson, 1992, Liðsmenn Moskvu, Almenna bókafélagið, Reykjavík; Jón Ólafsson, 1999, Kæru félagar, Mál og menning, reykjavík ; Rauða bókin :leyniskýrslur SÍA, 1984, Heimdallur, Reykjaví k; Helgi Hannesson, 1989, “Sósíalistafélag Íslendinga austantjalds og SÍA skjölin 1956-63”, Háskóli Íslands. Sagnfræðistofnun Ritröð sagnfræðinema, Reykjavík.

[30] See Morgunblaðið web page: http://www.mbl.is/mm/gagnasafn/grein.html?grein_id=176466 and DV, daily on the 6th and the 7th of February 1995.

[31] „Fékk frið og heimferð fyrir konu og barn“, DV 7th of February 1995

[32] DV, daily newspaper. 7.th of February, 1995 pp. 1-2

[33] Árni Björnsson, „Stasi og ég. Hvað er sannleikur“. Þjóðmál II:4 (Winter 2006), pp. 28

The “Third Reich” in the German Legal, Philosophical and Political Thinking

It is much less known that Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) himself was never in full support of this expression even though it proved quite effective both before and after the NSDAP (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei) takeover.[2] A circular letter that was issued by the Ministry of People’s Education and Propaganda of the German Empire (Reichsministerium für Volksaufklärung und Propaganda) on July 10, 1939 explicitly forbade the official use of “Third Reich”. According to this circular letter Germany’s official name is from this point on “Greater German Empire” (Großdeutsches Reich).[3] It is worth pointing out that the “Greater German Empire” (Großgermanisches Reich) used by the SS cannot be considered official either.

Years later, on March 21, 1942 the Ministry of People’s Education and Propaganda issued a circular letter with provisions for the official name of the “new Germany”. It was to be called “Empire”, quite possibly modelled after the British Empire.[4] The goal of using the expression of “Empire” was to illustrate to the world that the newly acquired lands include territories annexed or occupied by Germany without any international validity, altogether ca. 841 000 sq. km.[5] The same circular letter limits the use of the expression to Germany, emphasizing that there is only one Empire and that is Germany.[6] The use of the term “Third Reich”, however, implied a serial empire which is comparable both in deeds and leaders to the empire, an idea that was entirely incompatible with the self-conscience of the imperialistic national-socialism which fancied to be looked upon as the pinnacle of German history.

In a historical sense the First Empire was established by Otto I in 962 who was crowned emperor by Pope John XII in Rome. This empire is also known as the Holy Roman Empire (Sacrum Romanum Imperium, Heiliges Römisches Reich) which existed till August 6, 1806.[7] The “Second Empire” was founded on January 18, 1871 in Versailles after the Franco–Prussian War and remained the most influential political and military power in Europe until its dissolution in November 1918. In a sense the Weimar Republic can be considered an “intermezzo” (Zwischenreich) between the “Second Empire” and the “Third Empire”.[8]

Following the Christian doctrine of Trinitarianism the three empires can be thought of in a religious and messianic way as follows: the “First Empire” is related to the Father, the “Second Empire” to the Son, while the “Third Empire” to the Holy Spirit. According to such an interpretation the “Third Empire” would constitute the zenith of history and the perfect symbiosis between the real and ideal, satisfying the prophetic requirement of Ibsen and Lessing[9] that the contradiction between Christianity and Antiquity be dissolved. This “Third Empire” would follow a distorted era of Christianity that would be realized by the arrival of a new Messiah.

It is furthermore worth mentioning that in Ernst Krieck’s (1882-1947) Die deutsche Staatsidee (1917) the “Third Empire” appears not as a historical or political, but rather as a moral idea. Ernst Krieck alludes to Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762-1814), the author of Reden an die deutsche Nation, a work that was highly influential in the latter’s era. Also, by 1919, Dietrich Eckart (1868-1923) uses the “Third Empire” with a clearly political and nationalistic content.[10]

Ernst Fraenkel (1898-1975) a lawyer who immigrated after the National Socialist takeover, quite rightly uses the term Doppelstaat (“Dual State”) to describe the autocratic national-socialist system, emphasizing the double nature of the national-socialist political rule. To insure the normal functioning of the economy an abstract Normenstaat is in effect in the areas of civil, trade, corporate and tax law. On the other hand only professional experience i.e. personal knowledge plays a part in securing political power (Maßnahmenstaat).[11]

In the preface of his work Arthur Moeller van den Bruck (1876-1925) emphasizes that the notion of the “Third Empire” is ideological (Weltanschauungsgedanke), hence it rises above reality. Moeller van den Bruck’s work quickly becomes widely known in Germany and has a large influence on the thinking of the young intellectual class with nationalistic feelings.[12] The disappointment felt after the very harsh political and economic terms of the Peace Treaty of Versailles that was imposed on Germany after the First World War undoubtedly helped shape the thinking of this class. The same work only very slowly becomes known outside of Germany.

The Solingen-born author, who came partly from a traditional Prussian military family, was greatly influenced by the philosophy of Nietzsche. His affinity to the Pan-German ideas is also quite strong. He is rather well acquainted with the most influential European countries, since he visited England, France, Austria, Italy and Russia between the turn of the century and the outbreak of the First World War. He was never really concerned about the unique ethnic problems of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. With the exception of the Dual Monarchy and Germany, he vehemently criticizes the major Western European powers, especially their political system and structure. To him the ideal “power” is Germany, his homeland, without which – according to him – no stability can or will ever exist in Europe.

Moeller van den Bruck is convinced that Germany is predestined to lead Europe for the historical ties it has with the Holy Roman Empire (Sacrum Romanum Imperium). He states that in its history the Holy Roman Empire was never able to amalgamate itself into a real political community (politische Gemeinschaft). The Holy Roman Empire is, in his view, almost exclusively dominated by the notion of territoriality (territorialitas), the result of which is centurial territorial dismemberment. This limits the development of German ethnic identity. The birth of the “Second-Empire” – despite the given of political unity – failed to change this situation. The state further remains autocratic and is viewed as a “foreign body” by its citizens.

As a truly conservative philosopher, he feels deep antipathy for Western democracies, primarily towards France and England. He introduces the democratic system of these countries in an ironic, belittling way. According to him, it is only a fiction that the nation (natio) is made up of formally equal individuals. Consistently, Moeller van den Bruck condemns Weimar Germany too, in which all political views are superficial and not reflective of what he believes actual society to be like. He strongly criticizes the Weimar constitution of 1919 as well, since in his opinion it is unable to provide a united Germany with an acceptable constitutional framework. Only with the elimination of its pseudo-values can Germany fulfil its mission of reviving Europe; something it is obligated to do with its rich ties to the Holy Roman Empire. It is the duty of the young generation to revitalize the dormant German intellectuals. They have to intuitively oppose and revolt against the deceiving values. Only as a result of such a “revolution” can the “Third Empire” come into existence.

The birth of the Third Empire, however, automatically assumes the territorial unification of the German ethnic group, which implies the termination of the system of the Treaty of Versailles. The substantial growth of the German population can provide the nation with the necessary strength to attain its goal.

It is quite interesting from the viewpoint of the “Third Reich” to briefly analyze the Article 61 of the Weimar Constitution. According to this article German-Austria after joining Germany receives proportional representation in the Imperial Council (Reichsrat). Even till the accession German-Austria (Deutsch-Österreich) is endowed with the right of consultation (later Germany was forced to declare the passage void). According to Article 80 of the Treaty of Versailles, Germany binds itself to acknowledging and respecting the independence of Austria. Austria’s independence is inviolable. Only with the consent of the League of Nations (Völkerbund) can the status of Austria be modified. This condition, however, led the peace conference to the inclusion of article 88 in the text of the third draft of the peace treaty signed with Austria on September 2, 1919. According to this article Austria’s independence is inviolable and is always dependant on the consent of the League of Nations. This article of the treaty is in unison with the decree that Austria must make a commitment to refrain from any action that could directly or indirectly threaten its independence.

It must be emphasized that this section opens the floor to a very wide range of interpretations. The expression “Jesuit section” used by John Maynard Keynes is quite telling of this section.[13] It was viewed positively by the followers of Pan-Germanism, since it left the door open for the unification with Germany (Anschluß) through a rather peculiar interpretation.

The emphasis of Moeller van den Bruck’s philosophy is on social or more specifically nationalistic demagogy. According to Moeller van den Bruck the integration of the peripheral classes into society and the German nation would be the solution to serious differences within the society of the Weimar Republic. Closely related to this idea, of course, is the goal of developing a national identity as soon as and as efficiently as possible. All this is a kind of anti-capitalist reaction and a significant contribution to the conservative and heterogeneous trend of both the conservative and the popular revolutions. The author of Das dritte Reich is an active supporter of only the first one.

Moeller van den Bruck’s idea of a “perfect” empire had already been present in Lessing’s and Ibsen’s thoughts concerning the “Third Reich”, but was influenced primarily by Gerhard von Mutius’ (1872-1934) value-ideal worldview.[14] Despite the rejection of modern liberalist ideals and the formulation of a plan for a “new European order”, the leaders of Germany’s political and ideological life refused to accept Moeller van den Bruck’s idea of the “Third Empire” that was originally trademarked by idealistic rather than politically relevant thoughts. This general hostility was further reinforced by the publication of a strong critique of Moeller van den Bruck’s views in 1939. Still, the ideas of the conservative intellectual philosopher are especially popular with the conservative German “national” intellectuals.[15] During the Great Depression of the early 30’s Moeller van den Bruck is often cited by many adherents of this group. It may also be worth mentioning that the expression “Prussian style” (Preußischer Stil) comes from Moeller van den Bruck.

Followers of the idea of conservative revolution are the writers, historians, economists, and lawyers who had close ties with the Die Tat cultural journal published by Ernst Horneffer (1871-1954) in Jena between 1909 and 1939. A majority of these people consider themselves to be the intellectual successor of Horneffer in some way.[16] After Horneffer, Eugen Diederichs (1867-1930) takes over as the magazine’s editor. During Diederich’s editorial years the paper gains a more religious, social and cultural political appearance. From April 1913 the sub-title of Die Tat becomes “Social-religiöse Monatschrift für deutsche Kultur”, well reflecting the changes in ideology of the paper. During the First World War the paper is out of print. In 1921 the sub-title of Die Tat is changed by Diederichs to “Monatschrift für die Zukunft deutscher Kultur”, implying a change in style once again. The goal of the paper is changing Germany’s political and cultural life.[17] The articles published in the Die Tat welcome the fall of the empire and follow a new socio-religious aristocratic thinking. Diederichs provides space for both the national-socialists and the liberals.[18] The “community of people” (Volksgemeinschaft) wishes to bring a halt to the social and political decline of the bourgeoisie through the simultaneous creation of a national-socialist and authoritarian state. He furthermore demands a “revolution from the top” (Revolution von oben).

It is necessary to mention Eugen Rosenstock (1888-1973) who further developed the ideas of Diederichs. His work on the European revolutions, published in the early 1930’s was quite influential. The same can be said about economist Ferdinand Fried (1898-1967), who used empirical research to demonstrate the serious crisis of capitalist production in his main work, eloquently entitled Ende des Kapitalismus (Jena, 1931). According to Rosenstock, the solution to this problem is an authoritarian economic system. He is further disturbed by the gradual impoverishment of the middle-class, and the drastic strengthening of a rather small elite in the political and cultural life of Germany. This evermore powerful group barely constitutes one-tenth percent of a 60 million large Germany, yet it seems to create an unbridgeable gap between itself and the rest of society. He believes that the only solution to this problem is not only economic expansion, but also a substantial increase in exports. In order to achieve this Germany needs to become self-sufficient economically and must switch to an authoritarian system politically.

Carl Schmitt (1888-1985), a renowned professor of law and the author of the well-known work Der Hüter der Verfassung (1931) was also a person with close ties to the Die Tat. In this greatly influential work, through closely studying the Weimar Republic, he reaches the conclusion that in historic dimensions the state becomes “overpowering”, directly leading to the rise of a totalitarian state. In many respects Carl Schmitt’s Gegenspieler is Hermann Ignatz Heller (1891-1933) who quite appropriately writes that “the need for a strong person is the bourgeoisie’s way of expressing its desperation. Through the strengthening of the working masses they feel that not only they own political and economic interests, but also the entire European culture is threatened… The only thing left for the desperate bourgeoisie is to place all their faith into a strong person.”[19]

Heller, who becomes a full professor of public law at Frankfurt am Main University in 1932, is a committed supporter of the Weimar Republic. The fact that in the same year he was the legal representative of the faction of the social democrats of the Prussian provincial diet in the so-called Preußenschlagverfahren seems to only reinforce this fact. It must be pointed out that Heller thinks that the modern state and its era are entirely incompatible with the class-stratification. As he indicated in his rather fragmented work, Staatslehre which was published after his early death, a modern state is both a social and democratic constitutional state, which by definition excludes the possibility of a strong person-led authoritarian state.[20]

Certainly worth mentioning is Hans Zehrer (1899-1966), who became the editor of the Die Tat in October 1929.[21] He is regarded as a supporter of the “conservative revolution” and the opponent of parliamentary democracy. After World War II Zehrer becomes the editor-in-chief of the Die Welt, and modifies the sub-title (“Monatsschrift zur Gestaltung neuer Wirklichkeit”) established by his predecessor Adam Kuckhoff (1888-1943). In 1932 he adds the adjective “independent” (unabhängig) to the original subtitle. The Die Tat becomes the intellectual interpretative forum for national-socialist ideas although keeping a distance of from Hitler and underestimating the dangerousness of the NSDAP. As the solution to the instable political and economic system of the Weimar Republic, Zehrer envisioned a new system, the “Third Reich”, as a fundamentally different, religion based corporate political system. This new system, which is in essence a 20th century version of Luther’s directorate, would be led by a new elite with “folk roots”. In Zehrer’s opinion only a return to the Lutheran Reformation can stop both communism and national-socialism from fulfilling their ultimate goal of establishing an authoritarian system. In accordance with Zehrer’s interpretation the “Third Reich” would have an eschatological political structure that had its foundations in the Reformation.

The intellectuals of the Die Tat, especially Giselher Wirsing (1907-1975), the person who becomes the editor of the review after the Nazi takeover in 1933, concentrate on Germany’s relations with Central Europe. Starting 1934-5 Wirsing shortens the review sub-title to “Unabhängige Monatsschrift”. This is “confirmed” or seems to be confirmed by the unique, yet already true fact that the “transformation of reality” has already taken place. From 1936 the word “independent” disappears and only “Deutsche Monatsschrift” appears on the cover of the paper. In March 1939 the publication of the Die Tat comes to an end by merging with the Das XX. Jahrhundert magazine. Despite the political, ideological changes it has gone through the years the Die Tat becomes very popular in Germany, especially during Zehrer’s editorial years. The circulation of the paper reaches a yet unprecedented 30 000 copies. In addition Tat-clubs (Tat-Kreise) are born all throughout Germany, forming intellectual debate forums. According to Wirsing, Germany’s future is primarily influenced by South-eastern Europe (Südost-Europa). He is convinced that the goal of Germany’s enemies or perceived enemies is to encircle the country. It is for this reason that Germany needs to establish a closed national “living-space” (Lebensraum). He is convinced that self-sufficient German economy should open towards South-eastern Europe instead of the increasingly hostile financial world. At the same time Wirsing, similarly to most of his colleagues of the Die Tat, does not wish to continue or renew the old policy of annexation. Wirsing essentially revives the Mitteleuropa-Plan (1848-50) which states that Germany’s expansion should be directed towards Central Europe instead of the West. This latter option has been limited, anyway, by the Locarno Treaty in 1925. The ultimate goal of the expansion is to establish the so-called Großwirtschaftsraum (Greater Economic Space). The Mitteleuropa-Plan is generally associated with Friedrich Naumann (1860-1919); however, it was the Prussian-born Karl von Bruck (representative of Trieste in 1848 in the Viennese Parliament and financial minister of Austria between 1855 and 1859) who first developed the financial aspect of the plan.[22]

Moeller van den Bruck was the intellectual centre for the other group of intellectuals who sympathized with the idea of a “conservative revolution”. These people were united under the Berlin-based Juni-Club and were led by Moeller van den Bruck’s friend Heinrich von Gleichen. There is a close relationship between the Juni-Club, organized around figures of Moeller van den Bruck, Heinrich von Gleichen and Martin Spahn from Berlin and the Deutscher Hochschulring (DHR), an organization established and actively participating at most German universities after World War I.[23] The Ring-Bewegung is primarily characterized by conservatism, a nationalistic attitude and – due to disorientation – a trend-seeking at the beginning. The ties are particularly strong in Berlin which is illustrated by the fact that the centres of the Hochschulring are in the headquarters of the Juni-Club. The Juni-Club is rather active in Berlin, in particular it exhibits educational activities of political nature. In November 1922 Martin Spahn, one of the leading figures of the Juni-Club establishes a “Political Collegium”, where he regularly organizes lectures. From 1923 the Collegium’s name changes to “Hochschule für nationale Politik”, where he holds “private university” classes. These classes are visited primarily by youth who sympathize with nationalist ideals, such as Werner Best, a lawyer and one of the most well-known national-socialists having a law degree.[24]

A prominent member of the Juni-Club is Edgar Jung (1894-1934). The Austrian economist, philosopher and sociologist, through the influence of Othmar Spann (1878-1950), propagates the rebirth and revival of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation.[25] This view is quite similar to Moeller van den Bruck’s call for the establishment of the “Third Reich”, since both of them reach back to the Holy Roman Empire for ideological support. Without going into an extensive analysis of the question, it must be pointed out that the linking of the Holy Roman Empire with the Germans as an ethnic group is entirely unhistorical.

Even based on this brief summary it can be ascertained that the idea of the “Third Reich” dates back a long time. In traces it is already present in Fichte’s philosophy. The idea of the “Third Reich” has quite an influence on the thinking of the conservative cultural philosophers, primarily Arthur Moeller van den Bruck. It is also present in the works of the era’s most influential literary, political and economic scholars. However, not even the often eschatological “Third Reich” is a uniformly interpreted idea. For political and philosophical reasons the national-socialist regime isolates itself from the idea of “Third Reich” already by the end of the 1930s. The “conservative revolutionary” branch of the Deutsche Bewegung (“German Movement”) – including all branches of the “conservative revolution” – becomes then unacceptable as an ideological base for the national-socialist rulers.

The “völkisch” branch of the Deutsche Bewegung is an entirely different matter. This latter one cannot be considered a uniform movement either, since it includes the Schwarze Front trend that later comes into conflict with the national-socialist ideals and the Landvolkbewegung,[26] a movement unfolding at the end of the 1920s in Schleswig-Holstein and one that wobbles between anarchy and corporatism as well. Of all these different movements, it is the Führerprinzip (“the leader’s principle”), espoused by Hans F. K. Günter (1891-1968), Richard Walter Darré (1895-1953) and Alfred Rosenberg (1893-1946), which becomes the official ideology of national-socialist Germany, in which the idea of the “Third Reich” no longer plays a role.

[1] An earlier version of this essay was published in Acta Juridica Hungarica 42(1-2), 2001, pp. 91-101.

[2] During Hitler’s official visit to Italy in May 1938, the German press repeatedly referred to the Holy Roman Empire of the German nation (Heiliges Römisches Reich Deutscher Nation). See V. Klemperer: LTI. La langue du IIIe Reich, Paris, 1996. p. 158 (In German original: LTI – Notizbuch eines Philologen. Leipzig, 1975.)

[3] In contemporary German legal textbooks the term “Greater German Empire” (Großdeutsches Reich) was used instead of Germany. See E.R. Huber: Verfassungsrecht des Großdeutschen Reiches, Hamburg, 1939.

[4] It is noteworthy that the name of the weekly paper released by Germany for foreign countries between 1940 and 1945 was Das Reich. This paper of the Nazi Germany contained a wide range of political, historical and literary information and was in print even in April 1945.

[5] According to a German official statement the territory of Germany in 1942 without Elsace, Lorraine, Luxembourg, the Czech-Moravian Protectorate (Reichsprotektorat Böhmen und Mähren) and Poland (the total size of these lands was 160 000 sq. km) was 681 000 sq. km. Previous to the Peace Treaty of Versailles the size of the “Second Reich” (which is often called “altes Reich”) was 540 000 sq. km. This substantial change is primarily due to the annexation of Austria (Anschluß), the Czech-Moravian regions following the Munich Agreement and the Polish regions (e. g. Warthegau) after the beginning of World War II. After the creation of the “Social Republic of Salò” (Repubblica Sociale di Salò) a part of Northern Italy, the so-called “Voralpenland” which includes Southern Tirol and the coastline of the Adriatic (“Adriatisches Küstenland”), became part of Germany. It is, however, difficult to decide whether these territorial acquisitions, from a legal viewpoint, were occupied or annexed.

[6] In legal terminology, primarily in administration, one comes across the euphemistic expression “Verreichlichung” quite often.

[7] For the international legal status of the Holy Roman Empire see F. Berber: Internationale Aspekte des Heiligen Römischen Reiches. In: Festschrift für Th. Maunz zum 80. Geburtstag, München, 1981, pp. 17-25. Regarding the relationship between the idea of the renovatio imperii and the Holy Roman Empire see Földi A. – Hamza G.: The History and Institutes of Roman Law, 5th revised and enlarged edition, Budapest, 2000, p. 114.

[8] For the most recent literature see R. Dufraisse: Le Troisième Reich. In: Les empires occidentaux de Rome à Berlin. Sous la direction de J. Tulard, Paris, 1997, p. 449.

[9] In his work “L’education du genre humain” (p. 86) Gotthold Ephraim Lessing foretells the “new eternal Gospel”, which means the “third era” (p. 90).

[10] It is worth pointing out that the title of Stefan George’s (1868-1933) work is “Das neue Reich” in which the expression “völkisch” occurs.

[11] See: E. Fraenkel: The Dual State, New York, 1941. (reprint: 1969). This work only appears in German translation in 1974 (Der Doppelstaat, Frankfurt am Main–Köln). For Ernst Fraenkel’s view of the state see: A. v. Brünneck: Ernst Fraenkel (1898-1975), Soziale Gerechtigkeit und pluralistische Demokratie. In: Streitbare Juristen, Eine andere Tradition, Baden-Baden, 1988, pp. 415-425.

[12] In the 3rd edition of Das dritte Reich (1931) Hans Schwarz emphasizes that national-socialism accepts the name “Third Reich” and named the federation’s paper “Oberland” based on the title of Moeller van den Bruck’s work.

[13] The decision, formulated by the Supreme Council on December 16, 1919 deals with the interpretation of the mentioned article. It was sent to Chancellor Karl Renner on the same day with a lettre d’envoi, that included the Allied Powers’ guarantee for the territorial integrity of Austria.

[14] See G. von Mutius: Die drei Reiche, Berlin, 1920, p. 226. Von Mutius writes: “One who frees himself of his own self stands in the Third Reich.” (Wer sich von seinem Selbst geschieden hat, der steht im dritten Reich.)

[15] Carlo Schmid writes in his memoirs, that in the 1930’s the members of Tübingen Wiking-Bund, a nationalistic student group, read the works of Moeller van den Bruck. See C. Schmid: Erinnerungen, Bern–München, 1979, p. 143.

[16] Essays and critiques are published in the Die Tat by distinguished writers and philosophers such as Hermann Bahr (1863-1934), Paul Ernst (1866-1933) and George Simmel (1858-1918).

[17] According to Diederichs the current leading bourgeoisie (bisher geistige Schicht des Bürgertums) cannot be the carrier of culture in the future. (Träger der Kultur nicht walten kann). See: E. Diederichs: Die neue „Tat”. In: Die Tat, Heft 7, October 1929, p. 481.

[18] K. Fritsche: Politische Romantik und Gegenrevolution. Fluchtwege in der Kriese der bürgerlichen Gesellschaft: Das Beispiel des „Tat”-Krises, Frankfurt am Main, 1976, p. 45.

[19] Hermann Heller writes: “Von grosser Wichtigkeit ist es, dass neufeudale Kraftpose und den Schrei nach dem starken Mann als den Ausdruck einer Verzweiflungsstimmung des Bürgers zu erkennen. Erschreckt durch das Avancieren der Arbeitermassen, glaubt er nicht nur seine eigenen politischen und ökonomischen Herrschaftsansprüche bedroht, sondern sieht zugleich das Ende der gesamten europäischen Kultur nahe. […] Begreiflich, dass diesem verzweifelten Bürger nur die Hoffnung auf den starken Mann übrig bleibt.” See H. I. Heller: Rechtsstaat oder Diktatur? Tübingen, 1930, pp. 17-18.

[20] For the importance of Heller’s view of the social state with respect to the German constitutional thinking see: Staatslehre in der Weimarer Republik. Hermann Heller zu ehren, Hrsg. von Ch. Müller und I. Staff, Köln, 1985.

[21] Adam Kuckhoff takes over the editing of the Die Tat from Diederichs in April 1928. Kuckhoff only works at the journal for one year. In August 1943 he gets executed by the Nazis as a member of the “Rote Kapelle”.

[22] It must be mentioned that Constantin Frantz, a political opponent of Bismarck, feels nostalgic towards the Holy Roman Empire. According to Frantz the three “Germanies” (Prussia, Austria, and the “third Germany”), which include the South and Central German states, may provide the real defence against the French and Russian expansion. Frantz’s idea is anti-Nazi and was rather popular in German circles outside of Germany. See: F. Genton: L’Europe Centrale, une idée d’Europe, Dijon, 1997, p. 362.

[23] At some universities the name of the Deutscher Hochschulring is Hochschulring Deutscher Art (HDA).

[24] See: U. Herbert: Best. Biographische Studien über Radikalismus, Weltanschauung und Vernunft. 1903-1989, 2. durchg. Aufl. Bonn, 1996, p. 55.

[25] In contrast with Adam Smith and David Ricardo’s liberal economics Othmar Spann, the founder of social economics and universalism in philosophy, develops a new view for studying the so-called Ganzheitslehre. In his opinion the construction of a “real state” (wahrer Staat) assumes the new, profession based establishment of the economy and the state (Ständestaat auf berufsständiger Grundlage). Through opposing the various trends of liberalism and Marxism Spann exerts great influence on the conservative Austrian thinkers. Following the Anschluß Spann was stripped of his professorship in Vienna. Thereafter he took an active part in the formulation of the so-called Korneuburger Eid, an oath of the Austrofascist Heimwehr.

[26] Here we point out that the trend represented by Ernst Niekisch (1889-1967) is part of the Deutsche Bewegung’s “völkisch” revolutionary branch. Ernst Niekisch is also one of Moeller van den Bruck’s students.