Berlin Wall divides parties ahead of German polls

16th August 2011, Comments 0 comments

The Berlin Wall might be history but the debate over its construction 50 years ago still weighs heavily on Germany's collective consciousness as seen this week in an unseemly political row.

With two regional elections set for next month, the Social Democratic Party (SPD) has lashed out at the left-wing Linke party, a sometime ally, for recently defending the building of the Wall.

"A clear condemnation of the Wall is something the Linke owe not only potential coalition partners, but all the victims of the Wall and their relatives," an angry SPD general secretary Andrea Nahles told the press on Monday.

Otherwise the SPD, the main opposition force to Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative-led government, would reject all talk of forming a coalition government with the Linke following elections in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania on September 4, and in Berlin two weeks later, she said.

The latest opinion polls suggest the SPD will be returned to power in both regions which -- with the exception of West Berlin -- used to belong to former communist East Germany.

The SPD currently rules Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania with Merkel's Christian Democrats, and Berlin in an alliance with the Linke.

Nahles's remarks came just two days after Germany marked the 50th anniversary of the building of Berlin Wall with a memorial service and a minute of silence in memory of those who died trying to flee to the West.

The commemoration was marred by a handful of Linke delegates at a party conference in Rostock, northeastern Germany, who refused to stand up in honour of the victims, and the publication by a Linke youth newspaper of an article thanking former East Germany for building the Wall.

The Linke leadership only just managed to avoid a motion justifying the construction being debated at the conference on the very day the rest of the country was marking the Wall's anniversary.

The PDS, a party made up of former East German communists which later merged with the Linke, condemned the 1961 building of the Wall which divided East and West Berlin for 28 years ahead of the Berlin election in 2001.

Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit, a Social Democrat in charge of the regional government, on Saturday described the Wall "as part of a dictatorial system, an unjust state."

"The Wall is now history, but it must not be forgotten," he warned.

At least 136 people died trying to cross the Berlin Wall. Several hundred more were killed trying to breach the border elsewhere in divided Germany.

"Questions surrounding the building of the Wall are highly charged," Nils Diederich, a political scientist at Berlin's Free University, told AFP.

"And repudiating the Wall is identical to repudiating efforts to restore the socialist system," he added.

Many believe that by attempting to justify the Wall "the Linke are just trying to salvage the old East German identity," he added, mobilising diehard voters.

Some Linke members, including leader Gesine Loetzsch, have said building the Wall helped prevent an armed conflict during the Cold War, while others have justified it as "a historical consequence" of Nazi Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union.

SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel, for his part, has said forming a coalition government with the Linke at the federal level is out of the question.

It would be "incomprehensible" to form a coalition with a party "whose relationship to democracy and to German history is so open to question," he told ARD public television.

The SPD has traditionally sided with the pro-environment Green party when looking for a coalition partner.

But the SPD, over the past 20 years, has also agreed to form regional governments with the Linke in five of eastern Germany's six regions at various points, something which makes the party's latest "emotional political pronouncements a little less credible," said Diederich.

© 2011 AFP

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