BERLIN - It wouldn’t have to be a real monarchy. But a little royal glamor, just a taste of that feeling that we too had a special family with grand historic traditions: that would be nice. And how great it would be if we had something like a due date that stirred commotion nationwide, and a birth that caused collective tears of joy to flow!
Well, we don’t. And maybe that’s a good thing. After all, history did teach us that a king isn’t always good for Germany – and mass hysteria even less so.
But a baby Prince? A little fellow who belongs to the nation, whose first steps, heart-warming antics and adolescent capers we watch as if the child were our very own?
Truth be told, there's actually no reason for us Germans to be envious of the Brits and their joy at the newest addition to the royal family. Because even if they wouldn't like to admit it, we’re entitled to rejoice as well: William and Kate’s newborn is -- genealogically, at least -- also one of ours.
The British royal family is so German that until World War I, it even had a German name: Sachsen-Coburg-Gotha. On July 17, 1917, King George V changed that to Windsor, after Windsor Castle, the royal family residence in Berkshire. But the name change couldn’t undo the German roots.
Albert von Sachsen-Coburg (Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha in English) was the one who gave the British Royals their name. This was back in 1840, when the German prince married Queen Victoria. He was the love of her life, and her subjects loved his free spirit. He had significant influence on both architectural reforms and the administration of the kingdom.
House of Hanover
The couple had nine children. Their son Edward was the first British king of the Sachsen-Coburg line. Their eldest daughter, also named Victoria, married Friedrich III -- thus becoming German Empress and Queen of Prussia. Queen Victoria could hardly have imagined that one day, on August 4, 1914, her country would declare war on Germany led by her grandson Emperor Wilhelm II.
But there’s more. Victoria, ruler of the British Empire for 64 years, was herself German, daughter of Prince Edward, the fourth son of King George III, and Princess Victoria von Sachsen-Coburg-Gotha. When in 1837, aged only 18, she acceded to the British throne, ties with the House of Hanover ended: Kings George I, George II, George III, George IV and William IV had been both Electors of Hanover (Germany) and Kings of Great Britain and Ireland.
Another German ancestor of the new British prince is Maria von Teck. This granddaughter of Duke Alexander von Württemberg married the prince who would later become British King George V. Britain’s present Queen, Elisabeth II, is her granddaughter, which makes Kate’s firstborn her great-great-great-grandson.
The as-yet-unnamed boy also has a great-grandfather with German roots -- Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, the Queen’s husband, who is a member of the House of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg. His mother was born a Battenberg.
The name Battenberg was anglicized as well – and Mountbatten-Windsor is today the official name of the British royal family. They may have changed Sachsen-Coburg-Gotha to Windsor and Battenberg to Mountbatten, but never mind: the kid's still ein little bisschen German.
Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.
"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.
Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.
But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.
The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."
Criticism of any 'royal project'
The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.
Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.
In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release
Freedom of speech at stake
"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."
The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.
The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.
Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.
Shift to social media
While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.
The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.
Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".
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