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Home News German far-left set to head first regional state

German far-left set to head first regional state

Published on 18/11/2014

Bodo Ramelow, 58, a member of the Linke, the successor to the former East Germany's ruling Marxist-Leninist Social Unity Party (SED), will break political taboos by signing a deal that will see him appointed regional prime minister in the state of Thuringia next month.

The move is part of a power-sharing deal with the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) and environmentalist Greens to be signed this week and then formalised in a regional parliamentary vote on December 5.

Even though the Linke traditionally fares well in the former east of the country and has already regularly participated in regional government there, the prospect of one of their members being appointed regional state premier for the first time has fuelled heated debate across Germany.

On November 9, when the entire country was celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall, around 4,000 people rallied in Erfurt, the regional state capital of Thuringia, to protest against the party.

‘Out with the Stasi’

“Out with the Stasi” they chanted, referring to the former German Democratic Republic’s much-hated secret police.

The anti-capitalist and pacifist Linke, which is German for “The Left”, was set up in 2007 as an alliance between former members of the SED and voters disillusioned with the Social Democrat SPD party of the west.

“It’s been a long journey, but we’ve reached a point when we can now open a new political chapter in Thuringia,” Ramelow told AFP in an interview, just days before the coalition talks are wrapped up.

In the regional elections on September 14, the Linke came second with 28.2 percent of votes behind the centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) of Chancellor Angela Merkel, who won 33.5 percent.

The CDU has held power in Thuringia since 1990, when the first-ever free elections were held in the ex-GDR.

The centre-left SPD, currently sharing power with the CDU on a national level, saw its share of the vote nosedive to 12.4 percent from 18.5 percent in in 2009.

Both the SPD and the environmentalist Greens voted unanimously to throw in their lot with Bodo Ramelow.

The alliance angered Merkel, who described the new coalition as “bad news” for Thuringia, a small rural state with a population of 2.1 million.

German president Joachim Gauck was even more outspoken.

The former dissident Lutheran pastor from the East broke the neutrality of his office to ask whether the far-left party was fit to lead its first state government.

“People of my age who lived through the GDR find it quite hard to accept this”, he said in a television interview, asking whether the Linke had “really distanced itself from the ideas the SED once had about repression of people… so that we can fully trust it”.

Project of reconciliation

Ramelow countered: “I’m not a representative of the GDR and my party isn’t a club of nostalgists who want to resurrect East Germany.”

Ramelow, a trade unionist who grew up in the neighbouring west German state of Hesse, said the so-called “red-red-green” coalition would be a “project of reconciliation” and it would pursue “regional and pragmatic policies.”

“It’s difficult to give power to a party which hasn’t cleared up its past,” said the CDU’s regional parliamentary leader Mike Mohring, claiming that former Stasi collaborators are among the Linke’s leadership.

“This beautiful region deserves something better than being some sort of laboratory for an experiment in government,” Mohring told AFP.

But while such a power-sharing deal has been rejected on a national level, there does seem to be some support for it in Thuringia.

On Erfurt’s streets, Gernod Siering, a 39-year-old librarian who grew up under the communists, believed it would provide an opportunity “to go in a direction that wasn’t possible with the CDU.”

“I can understand that people who suffered in the GDR are scared. But the coalition’s policies would be realistic,” he said.

“And if something doesn’t work, there is always the possibility of protesting,” he said.

Eloi Rouyer / AFP / Expatica