Results from Germany’s recent election sparked a rush of headlines about a so-called “shift to the right” in European politics. There is some truth to this: the pro-business Free Democrats, who made huge gains, will now be part of the new coalition government with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, while the centre-left Social Democrat Party (SPD) recorded its worst result in postwar history. But while the SPD floundered, another party on the left—the far left—saw huge gains. Die Linke, which traces its roots back to Communist East Germany, earned a whopping 12 per cent of the vote. Two decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the strong showing by the most radically left party in the Bundestag suggests that some of the old divisions between east and west have yet to be bridged.
In a campaign where other parties were criticized for vague policies and platforms, Die Linke (“The Left”) adopted a strong stance on issues like the war in Afghanistan—it was the only party to call for an immediate German withdrawal. As for the slumping economy and unemployment, Die Linke adopted the election motto “Wealth For All,” a message that no doubt appealed to disaffected workers.
In the former East Germany, where Die Linke has traditionally found its support, “a core of the population remains uncomfortable with the free market orientation of the country,” says James Skidmore, chair of the department of Germanic and Slavic studies at the University of Waterloo. And while many have left for the apparently greener pastures in the West, those who remain, Skidmore notes, still feel some nostalgia for the past. “Lots of my old work colleagues are now supporting [Die Linke],” one laid-off worker told the BBC. “People are frightened that the gap between the rich and the poor is growing wider.”