World War I will be remembered again on June 28th. On that day, Europeans will gather in the poppy fields of France to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Great War that claimed the lives of millions of men in the blood-soaked fields of the Somme, Verdun, Gallipoli and a hundred other battlefields. The conflict saw the end to the entrenched and autocratic monarchies of Germany and Austria-Hungary. In particular, victory in the Great War by the Allied powers saw an end to the great imperial dynasty of the Austrian Habsburgs who were stripped of all power and exiled from their country. Monarchists throughout Europe have since that day longed for the resurgence of royalty in Europe.
For the new Austrian monarchist party, the Schwarz-Gelbe Allianz, June 28th is a day to commemorate the lost heir to the Habsburg line, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, whose assassination that day in Sarajevo by a Serbian nationalist sparked World War I and doomed the imperial family. The platform of the right-wing Austrian political group, named after the black and yellow of the Habsburg imperial crest, is no less than the creation of a constitutional monarchy in Austria under Karl von Habsburg (b. 1961). The group also seeks to reclaim imperial dignities to the house of Habsburg and resurrect the imperial subject states in Central Europe. Many Europeans who watch their colorful parades scratch their heads at this new monarchist resurgence.
Monarchist parties are not new on the modern European political scene. The UK Royalist Party, the French Nouvelle Action Royaliste, and the Italia Reale – Stella e Corona have been active in European political circles since after the Second World War. Many of the monarchist movements in Europe are characterized by conservative anti-American, anti-EU and anti-liberal beliefs. In terms of economic beliefs, they resemble American libertarians. Most are founded on conservative ideas of Christian heritage and supremacy, hyper-nationalism and anti-pluralism, which puts them in the company of other European far-right nationalist groups, as well as the American religious right. Their unique platform of monarchical restoration puts them on the extreme fringe.
For monarchists such as the Schwarz-Gelbe Allianz, founded in 2004, commemorations of World War I are a time of special importance. The era saw the last real political and military power of European monarchies but also the last dominance of Christian nationalism represented by the Habsburg dynasty. The recent resurgence of splinter monarchist groups and ultra-nationalist displays of European monarchism parallels the resurgence of right-wing political activism that has been gaining ground in Europe since the 1990s. Many members of once-royal families who are active in European politics have distanced themselves from the far right-wing views of monarchist political groups.
The grandfather of many of the modern continental monarchist movements in Europe is the French royalist group, Action Française, which was founded in 1899 by the ultra-Catholic nationalist Charles Maurras. In his writings, which he published regularly in a publication of the same name as his organization, he denounced parliamentarism and pluralism. He also argued for the return to France of a Catholic constitutional monarchy which could eliminate Jewish and foreign influence in French affairs.
Maurras backed France’s entry into World War I against Germany. His group allied itself with the fascist Vichy government of France during the Second World War. After the war, French royalists split from the fascist Action Française and formed their own groups. Among them were Nouvelle Action Royaliste, and the more recently established Centre royaliste d’Action Française (1998), Alliance Royale (2001) and Rassamblement Démocrate (2004). Many French royalists still hold onto Maurras’ views, while others distance themselves from his racism and anti-Semitism. All French royalists hold onto the ideas of constitutional monarchy which he espoused. Currently, French monarchists are split between Prince Jean Carl d’Orléans (b. 1965) and Louis Alphonse, Duke of Anjou (b. 1974) as claimant to the throne of France.
After the Second World War, Italian monarchists also split from associations with Fascism, forming the Italian Monarchist Union in 1946. The Monarchist Union eventually splintered into several groups, among them Italia Reale – Stella e Corona which formed in 1972. Their platform is the return of a constitutional monarchy to Italy under the House of Savoy, whose current claimant is Prince Amedeo of Savoy (b. 1943). Monarchist societies are found in most European countries, including Spain and the Netherlands.
Will constitutional monarchies be reintroduced into Europe? Not a chance. Turning the political clock back a hundred years, erasing all constitutional gains and protections Europeans have struggled for in the last century, and erecting a Christian empire under a Catholic imperial monarch would require a revolution and war of such magnitude that modern European countries would cease to exist. Such revolutions are discussed in monarchist Internet forums, but the dreams of such sweeping and violent political change lie far outside the meager political capabilities of such extremist groups.
For now, commemoration of the long-dead Archduke Ferdinand and the end of his imperial dynasty after World War I is all that is left to the Austrian monarchists. The resurgence of monarchist groups in Europe reflects only the growing discontent with the European Union by right-wing nationalist parties. The recent gains by the right-wing in French and British parliaments suggest that fringe beliefs such as monarchism will be around for a while longer in Europe.
By Steve Killings