Freedom from Germany Author Calls for Independence for Bavaria

The southern German state of Bavaria has a bigger population and economy than many European countries. Now one veteran journalist has written a book calling for Bavarian independence. The Bavarians, it seems, still haven't gotten over the trauma of joining the German Empire in 1871.

Wilfried Scharnagl (right) presents his book in Berlin, together with CSU Bundestag member Peter Gauweiler.
Christian Thiel / DER SPIEGEL

Wilfried Scharnagl (right) presents his book in Berlin, together with CSU Bundestag member Peter Gauweiler.

By in Berlin


Last Thursday, the day when Bavaria's independence was proclaimed in Berlin, was a historic occasion. It was the day when Horst Seehofer, the famously outspoken leader of the conservative Christian Social Union, the Bavarian sister party to Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, had nothing to say for once.

For weeks, Seehofer and his CSU colleagues Markus Söder and Alexander Dobrindt have been outdoing themselves trying to come up with new insults, directed at the European Union, the Greeks or the rest of Germany, which the wealthy Bavarians resent because of the money they have to transfer to poorer regions under Germany's system of inter-state equalization payments. But noon came and went, and still there was no attack from Seehofer and his cronies.

It was the day when a man carrying a book took to a podium in Berlin. He wanted to finally draw the logical conclusions from all the things that make Seehofer and his colleagues so angry. The man was Wilfried Scharnagl and he was there to call for Bavaria's independence from Germany. "Bavaria does not have the place in the world, the rank and the role that would be appropriate because of its history, size and population," said Scharnagl, who was editor in chief of the Bayernkurier, a weekly newspaper published by the CSU, for 24 years.

Indeed, Bavaria is bigger than most European countries in terms of both population and economy. It has over 12 million people, out of a total German population of 82 million, and an annual economic output of over €440 billion ($550 billion).

In contrast to certain other current members of the CSU, who shall remain nameless, the 73-year-old Scharnagl possesses style and good manners. He is wearing a red pocket square in his jacket, and his tie pin is exactly in the middle of his tie. He speaks with a warm, friendly voice and refrains from making insults. He is the kind of man one would like to have as a grandfather.

'Maps Are Not Set in Stone'

Back in the days when Bavaria was on the receiving end of those equalization payments, namely in the 1980s, Scharnagl was the right hand man of Franz Josef Strauss, the late CSU leader and long-time governor of Bavaria who is still venerated by the party. Nowadays, Scharnagl is regarded as Strauss's representative on Earth. "Scharnagl writes what Strauss thinks," Strauss once said, referring to himself in the third person. "And Strauss thinks what Scharnagl writes."

Scharnagl's new book is entitled "Bayern kann es auch allein" ("Bavaria Can Also Go It Alone"). The cover shows a boom barrier featuring the Bavarian coat of arms in front of the white and blue pattern of the Bavarian flag. The barrier appears to be closing.

"Maps are not set in stone for eternity," says Scharnagl. "Who would have imagined, 25 years ago, that there would soon be a free Latvia, a free Estonia and a free Lithuania?" The implication is that, if even Latvia succeeded in freeing itself from the Soviet yoke, then surely Bavaria can shake off the suffocating embrace of Germany and the European Union.

Scharnagl has researched the topic at length. He provides possible solutions and makes reference to the independence movements in Belgium, the Basque Country and South Tyrol, a largely German-speaking province of Italy. Scharnagl is particularly fond of the Scottish approach, praising the "great tenacity" with which the Scots have fought to gain their current far-reaching autonomy. Bavaria could take a similar approach.

Lots of Advantages

Of course, Scharnagl's idea is not unattractive. All sides could benefit. Bavarians would have the advantage that Bayern Munich would be sure of victory in a Bavarian-only soccer championship, instead of having to face their nemesis Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga. And the rest of Germany would benefit from not having to pay so much attention to Seehofer's rantings. It would make governing Germany easier if Angela Merkel didn't always have to pander to the pesky CSU, with their constant populist demands. And yet, the solution appears too obvious, too convenient.

"As always, it is useful to take a look at history," says Scharnagl. And suddenly it becomes clear why we should be grateful to Scharnagl for writing his book and why the book is, despite its self-confident title, a plea for help and an attempt to promote understanding among the nations. Suddenly, even northern Germans can understand why their Bavarian fellow citizens sometimes act a bit strangely.

Listening to Scharnagl, one gets the impression of a state that, despite its lush meadows and its even lusher economy, is still not at peace with itself. Indeed, it seems to suffer from a deep-seated trauma.

Scharnagl delves far back into German history and puts his finger on the open wound: Jan. 21, 1871. On that day, the Bavarian Chamber of Deputies voted to become part of the new German Empire -- in Scharnagl's words, a "to be or not to be" decision for Bavaria. Because a majority of deputies voted to join the German Empire, it was ultimately a "day of disaster for Bavaria," Scharnagl says. He cites his compatriot Prince Otto of Bavaria, who took part in the proclamation of the empire. "What a mournful impression it made on me to see our Bavaria bow before the emperor ... my heart wanted to burst. It was all so cold, so proud, so shiny, so showy and ostentatious and heartless and empty."

Sense of Sadness

More than 140 years later, Bavaria apparently still hasn't overcome its sense of sadness. If one believes Scharnagl, Bavaria is still feeling the consequences of 1871 today. After all, it has to transfer billions of euros to cash-strapped foreign states such as North Rhine-Westphalia, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Berlin, whose citizens, as all Bavarians know, like to spend their days lounging around instead of grafting like the hard-working Bavarians. And ever since the euro was introduced, the Bavarians have also had to fork out for the even lazier Greeks, Spaniards and Italians. That, in a nutshell, is the opinion of Germany's south-east corner.

Germany is famous for the rigor with which it addressed its Nazi past. Perhaps it's now time to process the upheavals of the 19th century too. As we know, having unresolved traumas can be harmful and often leads to behavioral problems. With this in mind, the actions of CSU politicians like Markus Söder and Alexander Dobrindt become easier to understand and to forgive.

But pity alone never helped anyone. Just as with all wrong decisions, there are only two ways to deal with Bavaria's fateful choice. You can try to undo it, as Scharnagl would like, but that approach is rarely successful. Or you can choose the alternative: Accept your fate, look to the future and stop moaning.

By Thursday evening, there had still been no response from the CSU's usual suspects. That's a start, perhaps.

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