Croatia’s Patron Saints; the House of Habsburg and the Idea of the Reich

Tom Sunic, Ph.D.

St. George (engraving) by Albrecht Dürer

What follow is the English translation of my lecture given in the German language for the gentlemen of the Order of St. George, held on September 29, 2012 in the city of Varaždin, Croatia, under the patronage of the House of Habsburg and the crown prince Karl von Habsburg. The speech was subsequently published in the December 2012 issue of the Austrian literary monthly Die Aula.

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The word ‘Reich’ (empire) and “the idea of the Reich” have become ugly ideas. In accordance with new politically correct language rules, these words trigger feelings of unease among German and Austrian politicians. If one were to push it further in a poignant manner, one might just as well dispose of the German language altogether. In the United States, but also in England, the word ‘Reich’ reminds many people of something sinister, something threatening, of the proverbial Hitler — and of the Third Reich. Yet the idea of a Reich has a thousand-year long history and one encounters this word in the Weimar Republic and in post-war Western Germany. In fact one could say that the EU bears also some traits of the Holy Roman (German Reich) Empire, or at least should have had them in the first place.

The idea of the Reich is also a question of identity. For a long time this idea was — in a figurative sense — a patron saint of Central Europeans. The word ‘identity’ or the “imperial idea”, however, is not appropriate for deeper social analyses, since these words are ambiguous and may convey distorted meanings.


In Central Europe of yesteryear, during the time of the Danube Monarchy and within the Holy Roman Empire, every city, every village, every estate had its respective patron saint who provided each peasant, each citizen, each knight with prowess and power. In today’s Europe the patron saints are no longer the saints like St. George, or St. Michael, or St. Isidore, but soccer players, filmmakers, Hollywood stars — or the European Central Bank speculators. This was aptly predicted, one hundred years ago, by Oswald Spengler, namely that the rootless citizens of Europe would strive for “second religiousness” (Der Untergang des Abendlandes,  p. 941) (The Decline of the West). Now, instead of the old identities new patron saints or “idols” must be worshiped.  Spengler adds: “To this corresponds in today’s Euro-American world the occult and theosophical swindle, the American Christian Science, the mendacious lounge bar Buddhism, the religious arts and crafts.”

One encounters such “second religiousness” or “substitute patron saints” everywhere in Europe today. Our new patron saints are the reflection of a mindset that comes from America and manifests itself in a particular political moralizing  and fancy feel-good talks. The American political class and their eager imitators in the EU posture today as new patron saints for a new kind of the world improvement.

The idea of the Reich as an Opportunity

The revival of the imperial idea is the best solution for all European nations today. It can be a good remedy against both roolness globalism and chauvinism. In Eastern Europe the interethnic situation continues to be tense. Here are some examples:

  • The national identity of a Polish nationalist, who may otherwise agree on all issues with his counterpart from Germany, such as their common criticism of globalism or their anticommunism and anti-capitalism, is often rooted in his anti-German feelings.
  • One third of Hungarians—more than 2 million people—reside in Slovakia, Serbia and Romania; their national identity is often framed by their rejection of their neighbors.
  • Despite an apparent peace between Serbs and Croats, these similar and neighboring peoples have two completely different historical narratives and two completely mutually hostile victimhoods. In short, Serbs and Croats, despite their astonishing similarity display two radically and mutually exclusive identities. For a Croatian nationalist, it is difficult to become “a good Croat” without first describing himself as a “good anti-Serb”.

After the collapse of the Habsburg Empire in 1918, the imperial idea came to an end. But the era of eternal peace did not materialize. Quite the contrary. Without the Habsburgs, the course of the 20th century soon shifted into fifth gear. The year 1945 was a biological disaster for the Croatian people, but also for countless German-born Croatian citizens who had settled in this area during the reign of Emperor Leopold and the Empress Maria Theresa. Here we are facing time and again a timeless yet useless subjunctive question: What would have happened had the monarchy not collapsed? What would Prince Eugene of Savoy say regarding the present situation inside the gates of Vienna?

The St. George’s Order inherited the legacy of the 14th-century crusaders who opposed the infidels who had pushed their way into Central Europe — of course, not to preach human rights or integration, but rather to impose on Europeans their own values and their own religion. At that time Saint George knights had no intention of acting as world improvers preaching multicultural diversity. Rather, they needed to defend themselves against the incoming Turkish threat. Had the Order of Saint George pontificated about pacifism, the city of Varaždin would look very different today. In a state of emergency, “to live means to kill” as the German writer Ernst Jünger  once wrote. Or, more aptly put, “a free man is a fighter”, as Nietzsche once wrote and as the Croatian volunteers demonstrated 20 years ago during their war of independence.

The Reich, the opposite of the Empire

The idea of the Reich has nothing in common with the idea of the empire, a notion which is to be found in the history of France and England.  And therefore the word ‘Reich’ remains untranslatable, just as its political application should not be confused with the English or the French word ‘empire’. Centralism had always played a major role in the development of the French “empire” — and later on during the birth of modern nationalism. This had never been the case with the Hapsburg Empire where multiethnic, supranational and federal currents had remained for centuries a guiding principle of the ruling elites.

The idea of the Reich excludes rabid nationalism and searches instead for its main goal in the diversity of its imperial peoples. In retrospect, one can see the disastrous legacy left by the nation- state, which has left us, over the last hundred years, devastating civil wars, false national myths, permanent territorial disputes, land grabbing and petty state particularism. In an ideal, yet feasible European future, the revival of the European Reich in Central Europe should be the only solution. This would enable the warring European nations, such as Serbs and Croats, Hungarians and Romanians, Slovaks and Czechs, Poles and Germans to retain their national and territorial sovereignty, to continue upholding their specific identity, and to best accomplish their spiritual endeavors.

But any revival of the idea of the Reich requires unconditionally a new hierarchy of values, values which stand in sharp contrast to today’s liberal values. In today’s egalitarian and economy-driven systems, where money rules and where the sameness of individuals and cultures plays the leading role, the idea of the Reich cannot take root. The Reich not only presupposes a geopolitical large space, but means first and foremost a spiritual and transcendental duty for all its citizens.

Otto von Habsburg was a big proponent of the idea of the Reich—but also of the EU. Yet he was also a strong critic of the EU. Many Eurocrats should learn something from him. Shortly before his death, the Crown Prince Otto von Habsburg made critical comments about the Eurocrats. In an interview given in the Bild daily newspaper, on June 27, 2007, he said: “Take for instance our bureaucratic language. This is a unique language that no one understands. No sane person can decipher a letter from an (EU) authority. From the Empress Maria Theresa comes the beautiful sentence: ‘A law is valid only when the last swineherd from Galicia understands it.’ ”

Instead of Galicia, one can substitute the word “Croatia”. It is no coincidence that at present time half-hearted Croatian diplomats speak not a single word of the German language, speaking instead with their Austrian or Hungarian countermarts in broken English. This is a long way from the Diplomatic Academy founded by Maria Theresa, not to mention the multilingual emperors and generals such as Charles V, Prince Eugene, and Otto von Habsburg. These people were genuine Europeans, in contrast to present day Brussels and Zagreb bureaucrats.

What does the idea of the Reich mean for the Croatian people today? Nothing. Many of them have no idea whatsoever about its meaning. In order to receive a good certificate for their politically correct behavior from the Euro-commissars, present day Croatian politicians must bend over backwards in order to keep their public discourse in line. They use empty words and phrases, such as ‘globalism’, ‘multiculturalism’, ‘European-Atlantic integration’, ‘transparency’, or “free market democracy” — without knowing what these words stand for. In any case most Croatian politicians are contaminated by communism. Shortly before the collapse of Yugoslavia they had raved about the eternity of Titoism. Now they pontificate about the eternity of the EU and liberal democracy. A new form of mimicry, a new form of mental terror has arisen, very similar to the mimicry in the former Yugoslavia, only this time couched in different words.
The EU: the replica of Yugoslavia

The EU Commissars have found good company among the Croatian post-communists. But they were already good friends during the Tito era when Tito was hailed by many Western opinion makers and politicians as the great patron saint of the Yugoslav peoples. Both sides today, be it in the East or in the West, harp on the preservation of the EU because this supranational apparatus greatly resembles ex-Yugoslavia and is apparently slated to cover best the common “un-politics”, especially in the realm of the “transfer union.” Yes, indeed the Germans and the proverbial “Michels” (self-derisory name for the German people. N.B) must pay and pay forever!

The break-up of Yugoslavia and the ensuing war in the Balkans, as well as the rise of extreme nationalism, were a logical consequence of the absence of the idea of the Reich. A state miscarriage, dubbed Yugoslavia, was for 50 years financially kept afloat by the liberal West and also upheld and secured by the communist terror at home. Similar to their predecessors, the current Croatian elites have inherited a solid pedigree from the communist period. Despite their ultra-liberal phraseology they can barely hide their communist convictions. Their rootless morphology, although wrapped this time in diverse modalities, can daily be observed in Croatia.

The Reich of those times, i.e. from the 15th until the 19th century, and its peripheral peoples like Croatians, was not a fun place where one went skinny dipping on some Croatian beach and drank oneself to death 24 hours a day. The entire space stretching from Carinthia to Macedonia was a horror place where one had to exercise military talent in order to survive. Reich citizens in Carinthia described the Turkish hordes which had almost made it to the Alps and nearly reached Venice with the words “runners and fire-setters“ (Renner und Brenner). Incidentally, it would be a wise idea for actual German diplomats based in Zagreb to engage as patron saints in the excavations of the German-Austrian Wehrmacht soldiers. Thy were murdered by the Communists in Yugoslavia in the summer 1945 with their bones still lying behind the hotel “Imperijal” in the town of Rab, on the Croatian island of Rab.

But the idea of the Reich in Central Europe cannot be revived as long as the whole of Europe continues to feed itself spiritually and psychologically on the communist and liberal heritage. Despite the collapse of communism across Eastern and Central  Europe, it is still impossible to bring a single former Yugoslav Commissar to justice. Not a single old Communist in today’s Croatia has been brought to justice for his participation in the crimes against the Croatian people.

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In conclusion, one can say that the idea of the Reich offers the best solution for the mutually hostile European nations. Moreover, it is also the best way to preserve their identity. Throughout its history the imperial idea of the St. George knights was never fueled by chauvinism or multiculturalism, or for that matter self- hating motives, which are now common among the political class in Europe.

From the point of view of international law,Croatiahas achieved little with its independence. The country is mentally ill and semi-sovereign, so that 20 years after its declaration of independence, as well as 16 years after the war, one must raise the question what did the Croats actually achieve with their independence.Croatia’s sovereignty is exercised no longer in Belgrade, but in Brussels and in Washington.

There are many parallels among Germany, Austria and Croatia. Geographically Croatia— all the way eastwards to Transylvania — is part and parcel of the Danube basin, which has been fully permeated by the Central European spirit. It is above all the idea of the Reich that has kept the Croats alive until today. In the eyes of Croats,Austria and Germany are not only the most important European countries, but the embodiment of Europe altogether. Granted, small in-between-European nations, like Croats or Slovaks will never play a decisive role in high politics. Whatever happens in Berlin or Vienna will have its effects only on the following day in Croatia. And this has always been the case in Croatia’s history.

For Croats, Serbs, Germans, Hungarians, Romanians, Slovaks and other Central Europeans, the only path to their sovereignty lies in their rejection of petty nationalism, as well as in their throwing off of abstract globalism. The goal for all Croats and all Central Europeans should be their common assertion of the idea of the Reich.

Dr. Tom Sunic ( is former professor of political science and a Board member of the American Third Position Party. He is the author of Homo americanus: Child of the Postmodern Age (2007).

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