1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

That's democracy, Mr. President!

Volker Wagener / es
November 2, 2014

A state election with consequences: "Die Linke," the Left party, will lead a federal state for the first time in German history. President Gauck isn't happy about it, but that's irrelevant, says DW's Volker Wagener.

Joachim Gauck
Image: DOKfilm

There he is again, the politically opinionated president: Joachim Gauck, educated pastor, civil rights activist of the GDR and former supreme guardian of the Stasi files. He makes no secret of his biography. The man can't be anything but authentic. He should always be neutral in his demeanor, balanced in conflicts, presidential even. But Gauck has, for quite some time, tried to push the edges of the possibilities afforded to him by the highest office in the land.

He chose, rather ironically, to read the Russians the riot act on the anniversary of the beginning of World War II. Speaking only with the Ukraine conflict in mind, he seems to have gone too far, ignoring history. And now Gauck has identified as a problem the claim to power by Leftist party "Die Linke."

Some background: Now, only 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the legal successor to Erich Honecker's Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) is about to appoint a state minister president. The majority needed to form a government in the Thuringian Parliament has been put together by designated leader Bodo Ramelow, along with his junior partners the Social Democrats (SPD) and the Greens.

Bodo Ramelow
Come December, Bodo Ramelow will be the first Left party leader of a German federal stateImage: picture-alliance/dpa

That's how democracy works. Yet the events in Thuringia have not only aroused the interest of the eastern-socialized Gauck. Particularly in the West, self-appointed apostles of justice of the most hypocritical kind have taken it upon themselves to decry the election in Thuringia. They speak of shame and corruption. In this way, what's happening in Thuringia is most atypical.

Twenty-five years after the fall of the Wall, the Left still has quite a respectable position in East Germany. It was - and is - used in coalitions, and within communities it is considered a party that cares. The all-too-human propensity to cling to those with whom you've grown up still remains with voters.

All this ensures the continued acceptance of the heritage of the SED. The Left is still a political force in the East. The system change has pruned it, but not marginalized it.

A somewhat different leftist

Bodo Ramelow now indeed at center stage. If all goes well, he will be the first member of the Left party to lead a federal state. And there are reasons for that.

Ramelow has made himself interesting because he doesn't really fit the eastern German leftist sociogram. Meaning, he doesn't carry the smell from the SED stables. He comes from the West, is a practicing evangelical Christian and his economic policy is conservative. He almost breaks all taboos, contradicts every cliche about the Left - but understands the East.

For years, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Germany's domestic security agency, has kept an eye on Ramelow: the rebel from Hesse who could already tie neckties by age 14. What an East German/West German story!

Now he wants to become state premier in September. And that has angered conservatives.

That the children of the peaceful revolution of autumn 1989 would now be governed precisely by the heirs of the SED has outraged the conservative parties on the anniversary of the fall of the Wall. And they ask: How much SED remains in Ramelow's Left?

That's also what Gauck is asking when he speaks of the level of trust towards the Left. He's referencing the case of lawmaker Frank Kuschel, who East Germany's Ministry for State Security assigned to "incriminate people without reservation." Or Ina Leukefeld, who voluntarily left the GDR to report for the Stasi. She and others are the inherited pollution of the Left party, which still generates bad blood 25 years after the implosion of the East Berlin regime.

This is the stage on which the Social Democrats now appear as a junior partner of the Left-Social Democrat-Green coalition in Thuringia - a fact which has been rather trivialized, because the SPD as backers of the Left at least makes political sense.

But the Eastern SPD members always thought of themselves as dissidents, as the opposite of the SED. In that sense, it is an absolute disgrace for some Thuringian Social Democrats to rule together under Ramelow. It is a risk at any rate. But an opportunity as well.

An attempt to escape the CDU?

On a politically smaller scale, the state can let itself experiment a bit. Was not the Social Democrat-Green coalition in Hesse in the 1980s the trial run for the later Schröder-Fischer era? No one's putting it quite so frankly within the SPD, but what is happening in Thuringia could be a laboratory for Berlin.

Volker Wagener
DW'S Volker WagenerImage: DW

When the Left government takes over power in Erfurt - probably mid-December - the unofficial operation "freedom from the CDU," in which the SPD has seen itself for some time, will begin. For a long time, Social Democrat-Green coalitions have not constituted majorities, and allying itself with the conservative Union parties has been the only way for the SPD. That's because the SPD is only half a people's party and must position itself carefully in order to maintain its usual 25 percent of the vote.

Left- Social Democrat-Green is the only foreseeable way into a coalition where the SPD could once again appoint a chancellor as they would like to. This is a coalition option that gives President Gauck nightmares. But this is democracy, and the president and his partisanship should step out of the way.

Skip next section Explore more
Skip next section DW's Top Story

DW's Top Story

Ex-President Donald Trump giving a speech at his Mar-o-Lago home
Skip next section More stories from DW
Go to homepage