Fri Feb 15th, 2008 at 06:20:26 AM EST
With the entry of the Left Party into two more West German regional parliaments last month, the transformation of the German party landscape into a five-party system seems final.
However, any (locally) new party, having untested and unknown members, is exposed to the danger of some ticking bombs exploding and causing scandals. By now, all three Left Party factions in West German regional parliaments had high-profile cases; the latest in Lower Saxony. Though the party leadership is dealing with them, these actions may have been timely much earlier.
After the first few elections, a three-party system settled down in post-WWII West Germany: stable mainstays in the federal and regional parliaments were the Christian Democrats/Socialists (CDU/CSU, the latter in Bavaria, the former everywhere else), the Social Democrats (SPD), and the liberal Free Democrats (FDP).
In the eighties, the Greens became the fourth pillar.
After Reunification, the reform wing of the former East German one-party dictatorship formed the Democratic Socialists (PDS), which integrated some progressive-left and youth tendencies, but also some old "concrete heads". Contrary to the hopes of the West German establishment, PDS didn't disappear with an expected success of Reunification. However, it had a strong presence only in East Germany; this fact, long-time opposition status, and pragmatist local coalitions with the SPD kept it on a different path from its equivalents elsewhere in the former East Bloc.
In the first half of this decade, dissatisfied with policies of then-chancellor Gerhard Schröder's SPD-Greens government, a lot of people on the SPD's left wing left and formed the WASG party. And then, when Schröder called for snap elections in 2005, some leftist intellectuals practically forced the two left-of-SPD formations to unite, and also integrate further small leftist formations.
The process was long and conflict-rich, but ultimately successful. The Left Party is now represented in the federal parliament, and nine of the 16 states of Germany, including three of the ten West German ones.
Achieving 8.4% in the 13 May 2007 elections of the city-state Bremen was the Left Party's first West German success, I diaried it.
The major scandal emerging there was like out of a soap opera. Party whip Manfred Steglich (photo left from Hürriyet), of WASG origins, fell in love with Sirvan-Latifah Çakici, a fellow MP of Kurdish ancestry (right on photo via SPIEGEL). But the love was one-sided, and Çakici complained of harrassment in the form of serial text-messaging.
In November 2007, Steglich was fired. However, he wouldn't submit, he denied the charges (claims he sent one single text-message of love), sued against his firing, and pulled another MP with him, that was quite some infighting. The scandal also made it into the Turkish media.
The much-talked-about 27 January 2008 state elections in Hessen, in which the Left Party achieved 5.1%, were covered extensively on ET:
In the local Left Party, or at least its Frankfurt leadership, former members of the former West German communist micro-parties gained a rather strong presence. In the August 2007 inner-party vote for leading candidate, they achieved the defeat of the favourite, an ex-SPD union leader, and got Pit Metz elected, a member of the [West] German Communist Party (DKP) (left on a DPA photo from SPIEGEL).
Fortunately for the Left Party, Metz's scandal broke very early in the campaign. He criticised the presence of German troops in Afghanistan, making the rather crude comparison with East German soldiers' order to shoot at the Berlin Wall.
After the ensuing scandal, and outrage from the party base, Metz was forced to resign by the federal party leadership. Successor Willi Van Ooyen, a longtime peace and social activist, could then lead the party into the regional parliament.
Also on 27 January 2008, the Left Party entered the parliament of Lower Saxony by scoring 7.1% in elections.
This Thursday, state television ARD's Panorama magazine did a documentary on the DKP and its piggybacking on the Left Party. By today, the formerly Moscow- and Honecker-loyal DKP became a micro-party (the saner left for the PDS long ago) dominated by the old-timer nostalgics.
Those apparently include Lower Saxony Left Party faction member Christel Wegner, who was interviewed by Panorama, and stated that the Left Party's position is not enough, then laid out her (the DKP's) positions. The excerpts released in advance [pdf, German transscript!] were enough to cause a storm; with media focus on the two hot-button issues of recent history:
|Zur Wiedereinführung der Staatssicherheit [Stasi]: || ||On the re-installment of the State Security [Stasi]:|
|"Ich denke nur, wenn man eine andere Gesellschaftsform errichtet, dass man da so ein Organ wieder braucht, weil man sich auch davor schützen muss, dass andere Kräfte, reaktionäre Kräfte die Gelegenheit nutzen und so einen Staat von innen aufweichen." || ||"I just think that if we build a different form of society, then we will need such an agency, because one must have protection against other powers, reactionary powers, using their opportunity to water up such a state from the inside."|
|Zum Bau der Mauer: || ||On the construction of the [Berlin] Wall:|
|"Der Bau der Mauer war in jedem Fall eine Maßnahme um sozusagen zu verhindern, dass weiterhin Westdeutsche in die DDR konnten. Einmal die Wirtschaft schädigen, indem sie billig eingekauft haben - das war ja so - auch um zu verhindern, sass irgendwelche Kräfte über die Grenze spazieren, die man da nicht haben wollte." || ||"The construction of the [Berlin] Wall was in any case a measure to, as it were, prevent West Germans from continuing to enter East Germany. On one hand, to [not] damage the economy, by buying cheap - because that was the case then - and also to prevent that any powers one didn't want there from walking across the border."|
Beyond the immediate whopper of endorsing the Stasi and the Berlin Wall, note two things:
- she is buying and channelling the former official line on what the Stasi and the Wall were about,
- though she is speaking of a future socialist Germany, she ignores that the German federal state already has an agency that tracks reactionary elements as far as it is possible in a democracy, the Verfassungsschutz (Office for the Protection of the Constitution).
Ironically, some conservatives called for the (renewed) observation of the Left Party by the Verfassungsschutz
after Wegner's remarks.
The Left Party leadership however is not pleased itself. Already in the TV documentary, the reporters asked Gregor Gysi, the 'star' of the former East German PDS, who criticised the West German Left Party branches for accepting DKP members, saying:
|Ich hätte es anders entschieden... weil ich weiß, dass die Positionen haben, die mit unseren nichts zu tun haben... Es gibt für uns keinen Weg zurück zur DDR. Es gibt für uns keinen Weg zur Verstaatlichung der Produktionsmittel, denn wissen wir wo das endet. || ||I would have decided differently... because I know that they have positions which have nothing to do with ours... For us, there is no way back into East Germany. For us, there is no way to nationalise the means of production, because we know where that ends.|
The Lower Saxony faction leadership reacted even before the airing of the documentary, calling on her to resign, and declaring:
|"Es kann mit uns keinerlei Rechtfertigung für die Verbrechen der Staatssicherheit geben" || ||"No one with us can justify the crimes of the Stasi"|
|Vorstand distanziert sich in aller Form || ||Leadership distances itself in every form|
|Die Äußerungen des DKP-Mitglieds Christel Wegner sind inakzeptabel. Der Vorstand der Partei DIE LINKE distanziert sich davon in aller Form. Für DIE LINKE gilt ohne jede Einschränkung der vom Parteitag beschlossene Grundsatz: "Wir haben aus der Geschichte gelernt: Respekt vor den Ansichten Andersdenkender ist Voraussetzung von Befreiung. Wir lehnen jede Form von Diktatur ab und verurteilen den Stalinismus als verbrecherischen Missbrauch des Sozialismus. Freiheit und Gleichheit, Sozialismus und Demokratie, Menschenrechte und Gerechtigkeit sind für uns unteilbar." || ||The comments by DKP member Christel Wagner are unacceptable. The leadership fo the Left Party distances itself from those in every form. For the Left Party, the principle accepted by the party congress is valid without any restrictions: "We learned from history: respect for the views of those with different opinions [Rosa Luxemburg reference] is a pre-condition of liberation. We reject any forms of dictatorship, and condemn Stalinism as a criminal mis-use of Socialism. Freedom and equality, Socialism and democracy, human rights and justice are indivisible for us."|
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Are these stories birth pangs, or a signal of more trouble to come? Will the 'East German Realists' (quoting an article in SPIEGEL) succeed in "taming the wacky Westerners"? Commentators' opinions differ according to party affiliations, only the future will tell.
At any rate, the Left Party looks set to enter a fourth regional parliament: on 24 February, the city-state of Hamburg elects a new city parliament, and the last polls showed it at 7-8%.