Former communist elected in Germany
Weeks after the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the eastern state of Thuringia’s regional legislature elected the Left Party’s Bodo Ramelow with a single-seat majority.
Ramelow built a coalition with two center-left parties, the Social Democrats and Greens, following an indecisive state election in September. His ascent ends a 24-year reign over Thuringia by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative party.
Ramelow, 58, himself has no communist past. A West German native, he went east when Germany reunited in 1990 as a labor union official and later joined the Left Party’s ex-communist predecessor.
Memories of communist rule have faded gradually and the Left Party has evolved over the years. It already has served as a junior coalition partner in three other states. But the prospect of it having a state governor, an influential position in federalized Germany, drew criticism — most prominently from President Joachim Gauck, a former East German pro-democracy activist.
Thuringia’s new state government agreement sought to calm such concerns by stating that East Germany was a country of “injustice” while Ramelow faced the issue head-on in a speech to lawmakers.
Addressing a friend in the gallery who was held by East Germany’s secret police, the Stasi, Ramelow said: “I can only ask for forgiveness from you and all your companions.”
The Social Democrats, Germany’s main center-left party and currently junior partners in Merkel’s national government, have been keen to say the change in Thuringia does not imply a future left-wing German federal government. In Berlin, the Social Democrats and Left Party have major differences on national issues like foreign policy and defense.