BERLIN Feb 24 In case there was any doubt
about the ideology of Germany's Left Party, its leaders have
brought out a cookbook that includes such favourites as
"anti-Atomic waffles" and Soljanka, a feisty Russian soup that
was popular in communist East Germany.
Hardly subversive. Even Chancellor Angela Merkel admits to
"Ostalgie" (nostalgia for the German Democratic Republic, where
she grew up) when it comes to the soup.
But apparently the Left are still deemed enough of a threat
to the German constitution that everything their top lawmakers
say or write - perhaps even the cookbook - is worthy of
surveillance by the state.
Germany's domestic intelligence agency in January confirmed
it has more than a third of the Left's 76 MPs in the Bundestag
(lower house of parliament) under surveillance as part of its
job keeping tabs on any group suspected of harbouring views, or
associating with people who harbour views, that could be
construed as anti-constitutional because they question the basic
tenets of Germany's parliamentary democracy.
"They haven't understood that the Cold War is over," said
Gregor Gysi, who began his career in East Germany's Socialist
Unity Party (SED), the Left's predecessor, and finds himself
still under suspicion more than two decades after reunification.
It had long been an open secret that the government kept
close tabs on some of the more hardline Left MPs, but the
revelation that no fewer than 27 elected lawmakers from the
party - including parliamentary leader Gysi, a deputy speaker of
parliament and other moderates - were being watched has led to
widespread criticism and scrutiny of the Federal Office for the
Protection of the Constitution's (BvF) work.
The news compared unfavourably with the failure of the BvF
and other agencies to combat right-wing violence - in particular
a 10-year anti-immigrant murder spree by a small neo-Nazi cell
that police stumbled across last November in Zwickau in east
Centre-right and centre-left lawmakers are now questioning
the priorities of the security services and asking whether
leftist MPs like Gysi pose such a threat to public order that
federal agents should be assigned keep watch on them full-time.
The revelations have created a rare wave of solidarity for a
party that in the west is ignored or reviled as extremist.
"The manner in which the Left Party is being observed is not
acceptable," said Siegfried Kauder, conservative chairman of the
Bundestag's legal affairs committee. "After all, parliament is
supposed to monitor the constitution; the Office for the
Protection of the Constitution does not monitor parliament."
Many politicians echo his concern about parliament being
undermined - a serious charge in Germany, whose experience of
totalitarianism makes it acutely aware of the need for checks
and balances and transparency when it comes to executive powers.
The Left has challenged the legality of the surveillance,
which the Constitutional court is expected to rule on this year.
PEACEFUL? OR DESTRUCTIVE
The centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens still
generally keep their distance from the Left, and one senior MP
from Merkel's party, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said
the party was "deeply destructive" and had to be watched.
Speaking at his legal practice in west Berlin, where clients
have to ask if they can speak freely, Gysi said it was natural
that he should have been viewed with suspicion in the immediate
aftermath of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
"But the ideology of the Left today is peaceful, democratic
and social, and not a threat to the constitution," said Gysi.
The main platforms of the party, which represents about a
tenth of German voters, are welfare reforms, an end to overseas
military missions and more investment in depressed areas of the
former East Germany where most of its followers live.
"Show me where the constitution says we are obliged to have
a capitalist economic system," he said.
The interior ministry and the BvF argue that it is only
fulfilling its legal obligations - reinforced by a federal court
ruling from 2010 - and cites the hardline views of Left factions
like the "Communist Platform" and what it says are documented
contacts between Left politicians and foreign terrorist
organisations, such as the militant Kurdistan Workers Party.
"The law says that if there are grounds to suspect a party
has extremist tendencies then our office has to place it under
surveillance. Under the law there is no choice," said national
BvF chief Heinz Fromm in a recent interview on national radio.
The surveillance methods used are not intrusive - no
wiretaps, tailing, informants or other classics of the spy genre
- but use information also available to academics and the media,
said a security source speaking on condition of anonymity.
But in the federal structure of Germany's security services,
some states say they have opted for full "intelligence methods"
- such as wiretaps and informants - to monitor the Left.
In the conservative heartland of Bavaria, applicants for
civil service posts like police and teachers are prohibited from
membership of "extremist" organisations - including the Left.
Forming coalitions with the Left at federal level or
co-sponsoring bills with them in the Bundestag has been taboo,
though there have there have been power-sharing deals with the
SPD in state assemblies in the east, including Berlin until last
year, and the main parties have decided to con-sponsor a bill
with the Left on the Zwickau neo-Nazis.
Alexander Dobrindt, secretary-general of Bavaria's Christian
Social Union - the sister party of Merkel's Christian Democrats
(CDU) - goes further, saying the Left's "very disturbed
relationship with our free democratic order" means it ought to
be banned outright.
This equates the Left with the right-wing extremists of the
German National Democratic Party (NPD), which is threatened with
a ban for its links to the Zwickau cell.
Sebastian Edathy, an SPD politician chairing a panel looking
into the German security services' failure to stop the neo-Nazi
killers, sees grounds for outlawing the NPD but not the Left.
"On the fringes of the Left there are people who cannot be
persuaded to conform to the structure of our democratic state of
law. But that doesn't mean the whole party should be suspect and
a third of its MPs put under surveillance," he said.
The Left complains that conservatives are just abusing state
resources "to destabilise our voter base and incriminate us
politically", said Wolfgang Neskovic, an independent MP allied
to the Left who is a former federal court judge.
"I understand we are uncomfortable for the conservatives,
but they should thrash it out politically instead of using the
intelligence agency to stigmatise us," he told Reuters.
Politics professor Gero Neugebauer sees the treatment of the
Left as part a political culture dating back to West Germany's
ban of the communist party in 1956. The prohibition was later
narrowed to only groups suspected of links to the GDR, but
anti-communism has pervaded the centre-right and centre-left.
Germany's conservatives "lost their enemy in 1990 and had to
reconstruct one. But they're doing the Left a favour by putting
pressure on it and creating something like solidarity," he said.
Neugebauer, a teacher at Berlin's Free University, said the
MPs under surveillance were mainly former East Germans with a
pragmatic outlook, campaigning for social change - on issues
like unemployment and pensions - within the constitution.
When the Greens burst onto Germany's political scene in the
1980s, some of their radical anti-nuclear, ecologist and
feminist firebrands also attracted the attention of the security
services. But they managed to make their appeal mainstream in
less than two decades and have now held power on the national
and regional level, with especially strong support among
well-educated, prosperous, middle-class Germans - unlike the
While disapproving of the wholesale surveillance of MPs, the
main opposition sticks to its public position that the Left is
unfit to govern.
The party argues that labelling it as extremist discourages
the kind of moderate membership that would help it integrate.
"A police officer or teacher in Bavaria won't want to be a
member of the Left Party," said Gysi.
"So we'll only get members who aren't bothered about being
watched by the intelligence service - and that will change our