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Depiction of the Züriputsch (1839), through which the word putsch became internationally known

A coup or coup d'état (often French coup d'État [ ˌkudeˈta ]) is a mostly violent and surprising action by members of the military or paramilitary organizations and / or a group of politicians with the aim of overthrowing the government and taking power in the state take over. The coup plotters are mostly high military officers or leaders of paramilitary organizations.

A coup is often followed by a military dictatorship or the rule of an authoritarian regime . But there are also other putsches, for example the so-called Züriputsch in Switzerland in 1839, which eliminated liberalism in the canton of Zurich by 1845.

Antonym is revolution in which the regime change does not only originate from a small group, but from relevant sections of the people and which results in a more profound change.

The word coup is mostly only used for a successful coup, a failed coup is usually called a coup attempt or revolt . A failed coup is often followed by charges of treason . The word putsch also has a negative connotation; Putschists therefore usually use euphemistic terms for their actions.

A coup from above is the situation in which military personnel do not act as leaders, but instead heads of state or presidents who were originally democratically elected to their office undermine the institutions of their country. For example, President Maduro's disempowerment of the National Assembly of Venezuela in 2017 was described as a coup from above, as was the 2015 Polish constitutional crisis and judicial reform .

Origin of the term

The term originally comes from Switzerland, where the Swiss-German dialect word putsch actually means 'shock', 'collision'. Already in the 16th century it was used in a figurative sense militarily for a sudden advance, the impact against an obstacle or the initiative for a company, and then it was given the more specific meaning of 'people's run-up' or 'revolt'.

In the 19th century, the term putsch was used for various overturns and unrest such as the Freiämter Putsch (1830), the Neuchâtel putsch (1856) or the Ticino putsch (1890). Especially in the wake of the successful putsch of the reactionary forces in Zurich in 1839 ( Züriputsch ) , the word spread through newspaper reports in the German, French ( le putsch ) and English ( the putsch ) -speaking areas .

Coup and coup d'état

Depiction of Napoleon's takeover of power in 1799

There is no agreement on whether and to what extent the terms putsch and coup d'etat differ. The difference is often seen in the fact that in a coup the forcible overthrow of the government is attempted from outside (e.g. by the military), while one or more members of the current government are involved in a coup. The term coup is based on the coup of 18th Brumaire VIII , d. H. when Napoleon came to power in France in 1799.

  • The Duden gives the meaning of the putsch : "A coup [attempt] to take over state power carried out by a small group [of military]". In the case of a coup d'etat , on the other hand, the indication of the meaning is: "violent overthrow by established bearers of high state functions". Coup d'État is treated as (largely) synonymous with coup d'état .
  • The Brockhaus also notes that a coup d'état is a planned coup or attempted coup against the constitution . Meyers Konversations-Lexikon names unconstitutionality as a special feature of a coup. On the other hand, both describe a coup less specifically; the characteristic of an anti-constitutional overthrow plan does not necessarily have to be fulfilled.
  • The political dictionary also sees the difference in the fact that the actors in a coup d'état are already involved in power. As an antonym to the coup it is called a coup .
  • According to Walter Theimer's Lexicon of Politics , a coup d'état is carried out “in particular by the military or parts thereof”. The difference is that the putschists are "subordinate officer groups" or other rather powerless groups; In contrast, the prerequisite for carrying out a coup d'état is a high position of power on the part of the actors who - as with the deposition of Mussolini by King Victor Emanuel III. 1943 - could even be heads of state . The antonym of coup is revolution .
  • The dictionary of history defines coup as a special form of coup: It is a "coup from below by a smaller group".

Other authors treat the terms as more or less synonymous:

  • The criminologist Wolf Middendorf sees no significant difference in meaning, at best putschists often belonged to lower military ranks.
  • The vocabulary lexicon of the University of Leipzig describes both terms as synonymous .
  • The Eastern European historian Manfred Hildermeier also uses both terms synonymously when he describes the Moscow events of August 1991 as a "failed coup" or an "attempted coup".
  • The English and the French make no distinction between coup and coup, both called each coup d'état .

Military coup

Armed forces often have traditions that are older than the nation states whose task it is to secure their existence. The composition of the officers' corps can play a role, the size of the army, a tradition of previous military coups, defeats in wars or national crises that a civilian government is not expected to cope with. This can lead to civil governments either being eliminated directly by the military in coups, or being handed over to their internal enemies by the military.

More common than the direct coup with the overthrow of the government is legalized insurrection, in which the military uses its extensive powers to exert direct influence on political government decisions. In Turkey , Thailand , Chile and Burma , after military coups , the military had secured this kind of influence even after power was returned to civilians. Parliamentary seats and other institutionalized possibilities of influence ensure that the military can influence political power without the need to express a direct threat of violence.

During the dissolution of its colonial empire, France experienced two military coups by officers who wanted to stop developments. The first, the coup of Algiers , led to the overthrow of the Fourth Republic in 1958 , the second coup of the generals in 1961 failed, before Algeria finally gained independence in March 1962.

Palace revolution

The palace revolution is a special form of coup. It does not designate a revolution, but the overthrow of rulers or statesmen, which is not brought about by popular uprisings or uprisings of the population, but by intrigues in the environment of the respective ruler. Colloquially, rebellion against superiors in companies and organizations is also referred to as the palace revolution .

Coups in history

Although the word putsch has only been in use internationally since the " Züriputsch ", coups in earlier times can also be used.


  • David Hebditch, Ken Connor: How to stage a military coup. From planning to execution . Ares-Verlag , Graz 2006, ISBN 3-902475-23-4 .
  • Edward Luttwak: How do you stage a coup d'état or: The Coup d'Etat . Rowohlt, Reinbek 1969.
  • François Mitterrand : Le Coup d'État permanent (German: The permanent coup ), 1964.
  • Joachim Fest : Coup. The long way to July 20th . 4th edition (August 1998), ISBN 978-3-88680-539-6 .
  • Bruce W. Farcau: The Coup. Tactics in the Seizure of Power. Praeger, Westport 1994, ISBN 0-275947-83-1 , p. 2.

Web links

Commons : Coup d'Etat  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Putsch  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: Coup d'état  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Gundula Fienbork: Language as a haven of freedom. Language change and language change after 1989. Heinrich Böll Foundation , Berlin 1996, p. 73.
  2. Venezuela's parliament disempowered
  3. Poland's fear of the “coup d'état” from above
  4. a b For linguistic matters, see Schweizerisches Idiotikon Volume IV, Column 1936 ff., Article Putsch VII , ibid also its compositions and derivations.
  5. Duden online: Putsch (the addition of “by the military” in square brackets means that the term primarily refers to actors from the military).
  6. ^ Duden online: Coup
  7. Duden online: Coup d'État
  8. Klaus Schubert and Martina Klein, Das Politiklexikon , 4th edition Dietz, Bonn 2006 ( online , accessed June 2, 2010)
  9. ^ Walter Theimer, Lexicon of Politics. Political concepts, names, systems, thoughts and problems of all countries , 6th edition, Francke Verlag, Bern 1961, p. 673 f.
  10. Erich Bayer (ed.): Dictionary of history. Terms and technical terms (= Kröner's pocket edition . Volume 289). 4th, revised edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 1980, ISBN 3-520-28904-0 , p. 429.
  11. Wolf Middendorf, July 20 and Kapp Putsch in the perspective of criminology. In: Hans-Dieter Schwind, Günter Blau, Ulrich Berz et al. (Ed.), Festschrift for Günter Blau on his 70th birthday on December 18, 1985 , DeGruyter, Berlin and New York 1985, p. 257
  12. Vocabulary dictionary of the University of Leipzig s. v. Putsch ( Memento from December 17, 2015 in the Internet Archive ), accessed June 2, 2010
  13. Manfred Hildermeier, The Soviet Union 1917–1991 , Oldenbourg, Munich 2007, pp. 1 and 226.
  14. dtv lexicon in 20 volumes. FA Brockhaus GmbH, Mannheim, and Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag GmbH & Co. KG, Munich 1997, ISBN 3-423-05998-2 .
  15. Knaur's Lexicon. The knowledge of our time always up to date. Complete paperback edition 1987. Droemersche Verlagsanstalt, Munich 1985, 1987. ISBN 3-426-07739-6 .
  16. ^ Duden online: Palace Revolution
  17. Palace Revolution