Germany's Left party has for long been under surveillance for alleged extremist tendencies. The party is rooted in former East Germany's communist past. A court case is now to determine whether surveillance is justified.
The Left party is struggling to shed its far-left past
Surveillance of the Left party has been controversial for years. Its partial roots in the former East German Communist Party have led to concern over extremist tendencies amongst its rank and file. Yet the Left party has been elected into many city and state parliaments - it's even in a number of regional coalitions with bigger parties. And it's an established - though small - party in the national parliament, the Bundestag.
Several of the party's MPs have gone to court over the issue and on Wednesday, a verdict by the Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig is expected to determine once and for all whether or not there are enough grounds to justify surveillance of the party and its members.
Bodo Ramelow won the case for himself and is now fighting for his party
Left party politician Bodo Ramelow is at the center of the current legal battle. He went to court in 2009 and won - yet the verdict only applied to his person.
"They must be really afraid of potential threats coming from the left of the political spectrum," Ramelow said. "They're monitoring flyers and websites - that really is nonsense. There are other things wrong in this country that need much more attention."
Communists, Marxists, radicals?
Two years ago, the head of the domestic intelligence service, Heinz Fromm, suggested there may come a time when it would be out of proportion to monitor the entire party if there are only a few individual cases that cause concern.
"Should the situation really be that we're only thinking about individual cases, then we continually have to put this into perspective as to whether this justifies our agency being busy with this," Fromm said
The party stands accused of sympathising with left-wing extremism and violence
But so far, nothing has changed; the Left party is still under surveillance. In the current annual report by the domestic intelligence service, there are a full seven pages dedicated to the party.
"On the one hand the party is gearing its public appearance towards being perceived as a reform-oriented new leftist party. But at the same time there are still many indicators for left wing extremism. Those are in particular the unclear stance towards left wing extremist violence and the open acceptance of extremist alliances among its own members," the report says.
The extremist alliances referred to are for instance the "Communist Platform" or the "Marxist Forum" within the party.
Parliament's vice president also under surveillance
Petra Pau is a member of the Left party, and a member of the national parliament - in fact, she's its vice president. For years she's been trying to obtain access to the file that the intelligence service has on her. That file is believed to be some 600 pages long - and Pau has been permitted to see some of it, but some sections remain classified.
"One of the main entries is: 'Petra Pau has been elected vice president of parliament.' Now there might be an intelligence officer who doesn't particularly like that - but it surely can't be listed as a proof of my unconstitutional mindset," Pau said. "But the government is trying to use this information in a public debate. And I think that is not acceptable," she added.
Pau is vice president of parliament and still has a classified personal file
What Pau wants is to have access to her file and then have it deleted.
Stuck in the Cold War
The Left party is present on all political levels in Germany, it has 76 deputies in the national parliament - and it argues the political establishment should rather deal with it in a political debate rather than via the intelligence service.
"The fact that I could sue - and actually won - is proof that the judicial system in this country works," Ramelow says.
"But those observing us really still have their heads stuck in the Cold War."
Ramelow hopes the Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig will confirm the earlier rulings - and turn them into a general precedent that no member of the Left party can be put under surveillance for reason of his or her party affiliation alone.
Author: Marcel Fuerstenau (ai)
Editor: Susan Houlton