sábado, 23 de janeiro de 2016
A Faustian moment for the German Left
A Faustian moment for the German Left
Die Linke leader pushes to ‘Corbynize’ Social Democrats.
By JANOSCH DELCKER 1/22/16, 5:30 AM CET
BERLIN — When Sahra Wagenknecht graduated from an East German high school in 1988, she could recite Goethe’s play Faust by heart, and it was Thomas Mann’s novel based on the same legend that later convinced her to go into politics.
The parliamentary leader of Die Linke (The Left) — the far-left party that, by electoral accident, leads the opposition to Angela Merkel in the Bundestag — seems to have struck a Faustian bargain of her own, riding a populist wave of discontent with mainstream political parties into territory where Europe’s far-left and far-right meet.
Wagenknecht is trying to turn a party of pariahs into potential kingmakers and fend off rival offerings from the right by co-opting their stances on hot-button issues.
“I went into politics because I want to change existing conditions,” she said in an interview. “Of course, I could do that better as part of the government than in the opposition, where I only have very limited influence.”
Limited indeed: The ‘grand coalition’ of Merkel’s conservatives and the Social Democrats (SPD) dominates the 630-seat lower house with 503 seats. The Left and the Greens have a combined 127.
As parliamentary leader of the largest opposition party, Wagenknecht answers the chancellor first in plenary debates. Merkel makes a show of ignoring her, texting and chatting with her ministers so loudly that the front bench got a reprimand in October.
“If the SPD put a personality like Jeremy Corbyn at its head … things could get serious for Merkel” — Sahra Wagenknecht.
At the next election in 2017, however, the Left could in theory be instrumental in a bid to topple Merkel after the SPD, which has previously governed with the Greens, widened its coalition options by dropping a ban on federal coalitions with the Left.
One obstacle is that the SPD under Sigmar Gabriel and Wagenknecht’s party are so incompatible on the major geopolitical issues: While the Social Democrats are passionate about Europe and firm supporters of the transatlantic alliance, the Left opposes membership of NATO and Wagenknecht advocates an end to the euro.
The obvious answer from Wagenknecht’s point of view is not to make her own party more moderate — but to urge the SPD to move in their direction by taking its ideological cue from today’s British Labour Party.
“The politics of today’s SPD, and particularly the politics of Mr. Gabriel, follow a line that is not compatible with ours,” she said. “If the SPD put a personality like [current Labour leader] Jeremy Corbyn at its head … things could get serious for Merkel.”
The spirit of Lafontaine
Some Berlin insiders say that when Wagenknecht, who is 46, launches on one of her rants against Gabriel (who is German vice chancellor and economy minister) and the SPD, they hear her husband Oskar Lafontaine talking.
Lafontaine spent four decades in the SPD, where he was chairman, finance minister and a longtime powerbroker. He fell out with then-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and left in 2005. Lafontaine joined a party that merged with the remnants of the East German communists in 2007 to form the Left, ensuring him the lasting enmity of his erstwhile SPD comrades. The SPD still blames Lafontaine for undermining the party, which has since been stuck at around 25 percent support, humiliatingly low for the oldest party in the Bundestag.
Wagenknecht and Lafontaine are “an integrated whole,” said her predecessor as the Left’s parliamentary leader, Gregor Gysi.
Wagenknecht was a radical long before meeting Oskar, however.
Born in 1969 in the East German city of Jena, she was raised by her single mother in East Berlin. In 1990, a year after German reunification that she and others perceived as annexation by the West, she began to study philosophy and literature at university.
Her ambitions for a career in academia changed upon reading Doctor Faustus. Mann’s 1947 novel tells the story of Adrian Leverkühn, a composer who had an artistic breakthrough after striking a deal with the devil — and his death in isolation and madness.
“Initially, I just wanted to work in the humanities, in academia,” Wagenknecht said, “But then I felt that if I did that type of work in isolation — detached from what’s happening in the world around me — I could end up like Leverkühn.”
Critics accuse her of ideological isolation and striking her own Faustian deal with extremism. As one of the leaders of the ultra-left Communist Platform, the young Wagenknecht defended the GDR as “the most peaceful and most philanthropic polity that the Germans created in all of their previous history” and was dubbed “Stalin’s daughter.”
“I’m constantly blamed for having had a different position in my early 20s,” she told POLITICO. “Yes, it’s true, I advocated certain views back then — but today, I don’t hold many of those views anymore. People change over time.”
Elected to the Bundestag in 1998 and the European Parliament in 2004, she has been co-leader of the Left in the Bundestag since October, eclipsing the more moderate Dietmar Bartsch with her striking looks and strident tone.
Comparing the Paris terrorist attacks and the anti-ISIL coalition’s air raids in Syria, she told reporters last month: “One of them is terror by individuals, the other one terror by states.”
Who’s afraid of Sahra?
More recently, she has angered her own parliamentary group. Her remarks on the refugee crisis and the sexual assaults on women in Cologne on New Year’s Eve by gangs of men that included asylum-seekers echoed the rhetoric of right-wing groups like Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party and Pegida who oppose Merkel’s open-doors policy on migration.
“He who abuses his right to hospitality, has forfeited this right to hospitality,” she said, adding: “This is the clear position of the Left.”
It wasn’t the party policy, in fact, and Left MPs protested. Wagenknecht vaguely acknowledged her unfortunate choice of words about “hospitality” for people fleeing war, but reiterated that “the large majority of the population thinks that one can expect of those, who are being offered protection, that they respect the rules of our country.”
The AfD’s deputy leader Alexander Gauland congratulated Wagenknecht for her remarks on Cologne, saying she had “nicely put the situation in a nutshell.”
Her words are as likely to resonate with Left voters in eastern Germany nostalgic for the certainties of life before reunification as well as welfare beneficiaries in the West afraid that the refugees will compete with them for state resources. According to one poll, one in four Left supporters would consider joining a march of the anti-Islam movement Pegida if it took place in their neighborhood.
The AfD, which narrowly missed the 5 percent threshold to enter the Bundestag at the last election in 2013, now scores 10 percent or higher in opinion polls, putting it slightly ahead of Wagenknecht’s party. Its growing support makes it a bigger concern for Merkel than the Left.
“She has no reason to be afraid,” Wagenknecht said of the chancellor, adding that only the SPD could pose a threat to Merkel. “We [the Left] are not large enough. At this moment in time, why should she be afraid of us? She might have to suffer through our speeches in the parliament, but there’s not much else we can do to be a threat.”