These days it is easier to find remnants of the Berlin Wall and the exhaust-spewing East German Trabant in a museum than in Europe’s most powerful capital. Yet only a two-hour drive away, the Left Party, the successors to the former communists, are poised to gain power in the state of Thuringia, a cradle of German history ranging from Bach to Bauhaus.
Twenty-five years after the Cold War, Germany has emerged as an economic powerhouse within a once-divided Europe, but many citizens in former East Germany (or the German Democratic Republic) have not found a political home within the traditional parties of western democracies. Instead, voters in the five German states once behind the Iron Curtain are gravitating toward the extreme right and left. Recent elections in Thuringia, Brandenburg and Sachsen put the Left Party in league with the catch-all left- and right-of-center parties, the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats, while the populist Alternative for Germany party hovered below or above 10 percent.
Never shy of controversy, Federal President Joachim Gauck unleashed a debate this week about the possibility of the Left Party leading a state coalition government in Thuringia, although it is the largest opposition party in Germany’s federal parliamentary system. Gauck, a pastor who grew up in
East Germany, has embraced his role as moral compass for the populace on numerous occasions. During a news interview at a church in Berlin that provided safe haven for many of the activists during the freedom movement in 1989, Gauck questioned if the Left Party had really removed itself from the trappings of the past.
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In addition to other political groupings, the Left Party has its roots in the former communist Socialist Unity Party of Germany, which governed East Germany until 1989. One of its current charismatic leaders, Gregor Gysi, recently mused that East Germany was not necessarily a state that didn’t adhere to the rule of law. The Left’s platform does not support the notion of NATO, and party functionaries have been less than sympathetic to Ukraine vis-a-vis its entanglement with
Russia. According to an October public opinion poll, a majority of voters in former East Germany could envision having a minister president with Left political party stripes governing their state. In a reunified Germany, the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats, along with the United States, have to do a better job conveying the significance of democratic norms and values to voters in the former East and millennials all over
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