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'Alpha male' Gregor Gysi

Bernd Gräßler / cdOctober 14, 2013

For those hoping for verbal fireworks in Germany's lower house, Gregor Gysi is a dream come true. Known for sparring with Chancellor Merkel, he might soon come to the apex of his power - and comic, rhetorical potential.

A balding older man wearing a business suit gestures with his finger to make a point while speaking publicly before a gray background. Photo: Soeren Stache
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

"Today begins a new relationship with us in society - a little bit," is how Gregor Gysi phrased it before the cameras, appearing to be quite moved. The newly-elected head of The Left - "last star of the Left Party," as Germany's Der Spiegel weekly news magazine called him - is a good candidate for the role that may be required of him.

Though German Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU/CSU alliance has yet to announce its coalition partner following elections in September, many in Berlin - including the Left - are assuming it will be the Social Democrats.

With 64 of his party's representatives in Germany's Bundestag to the Green Party's 63, Gregor Gysi will likely be called upon to play the role of opposition leader in parliament - and that in the autumn of his constantly-changing career.

An eloquent opponent

Gysi lets it be known that he's ready and looking forward to the new responsibilities. The Left can expect to play an important role in parliament, he says, particularly with their important chairmanship of the budget committee. For Gysi, there's also the personal satisfaction of being pitted against Chancellor Merkel.

Photo: Rainer Jensen
Literally and figuratively: Gysi will be Merkel's oppositeImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Both he and Merkel hail from the former East Germany, and ever since the peaceful revolution of 1989, they've been political opponents. In an oft-clicked Youtube video, Gysi takes Chancellor Merkel to task for chatting away in the plenary chamber during his own speech.

In the future, he can hope for even more attention: Whenever Chancellor Merkel's government delivers a policy statement, Gysi will be the first allowed to answer to it. Whether through eloquence, or comic relief, he is sure to leave the chancellor looking rhetorically pale by comparison.

That's because Gysi is in possessions of the rare political gift of irony. It wasn't an accident that the Verband der Redenschreiber deutscher Sprache (VRdS), or "Organization of German-language Speechwriters," named Gysi the best speaker of the 2013 elections. He gave it his all during those elections, as usual.

The 65-year-old politician even manages to appear nearly unchanged since when, under his leadership, the defunct socialist SED party of the former East Germany became the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS).

Stasi shadow

Even politician Peter Gauweiler of the Merkel-allied CSU party said during a dual interview with Gysi in Playboy magazine that he saw the Left politician not as a certain estranged functionary, but rather "an interesting contemporary who, during a fateful period, took on an important role." Recognition of that sort from the conservative side of the hall does not occur often in Germany.

In a black-and-white photograph, a male politician wearing a suit raises a large broom above his head
The large broom presented to Gysi was symbolic of the clean-up required of the old state partyImage: picture-alliance/dpa

But also haunting Gysi is the shadow of his alleged work with the East German Stasi, or state security apparatus. In 1998, a majority of Bundestag parliamentarians saw reason to believe that Gysi had engaged in unofficial activities for East Germany's secret police. Gysi, in turn, fought back and accused his critics of having "no idea what the life of a lawyer was like in the GDR."

Three heart attacks and a divorce can also be added to the Left politician's history - but so, too, the successful unification of the East German and West German Left parties in 2007, creating today's "Die Linke."

And now, adding to that list, is Gysi's biggest parliamentary moment.

Peeved radicals

To the new parliamentarians under his wing, Gysi has a clear request: They must react far more quickly to government decisions than ever before.

"We can't discuss things for two days," he said. "If the decision's announced in the morning, we have to be in a position one hour afterwards at the latest to expound on it."

To rally his faction quickly will be an effort, though. Gysi's strategy is to attack members of the government on the one hand, but to also do so in a way that does not alienate Social Democrats, who will likely be the junior partner of the majority coalition. For 2017, the group plans a coalition of Social Democrats, The Left and the Green Party - a fact that doesn't sit well with radical elements of the Left Party.

A woman dressed in a black dress sits alongside a man wearing a gray suit.
Sahra Wagenknecht had hoped to share the party leadershipImage: picture-alliance/dpa

But neither is the re-election of "alpha male" Gysi as the chairman of the Left Party in any way assured. His refusal to share the party's leadership with Sahra Wagenknecht, a powerful force in Left politics, does not sit well with her followers.

That said, the first exam of his parliamentary group, Gysi says, took place in a "quite factual and pleasant atmosphere."

"That makes my day," he said on camera. "That motivates me, and, I believe, you all too."

At that he looked over in the direction of his colleague and inner-party rival, Wagenknecht, for confirmation. But her expression did not change.