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Deciphering Die Linke

Germany's far-left party grows.

11:00 PM, Nov 8, 2009 • By GERALD ROBBINS
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Reunification hasn't resolved this issue. Forty odd years of separation produced respective histories that won't easily blend. There's a sentiment among Germans that the integration process went too quickly, disregarding moods and sensitivities. "It's ironic, but many Easterners resent having been rescued by their Western brethren," a retired government official observed. "Unlike their then-Communist neighbors, there was no at the barricade moment for them in 1989. Call it revolutionary cleansing, but they were spared the trials and excitement of forging their own future."

There are subtle examples of cultural assertion, the most noticeable being Berlin's Ampellmann (little traffic light man). The Ampellmann is one of the few remaining vestiges of East Berlin's disappearing life, a flickering icon with a wide brim hat installed at pedestrian crossings. When Berlin unified, Ampellmann was to be replaced by the West's more generic figure. Protests ensued, and Ampellmann was allowed to stay within his old urban boundaries. The mascot eventually became a fixture throughout the rest of Berlin, the kitschy representative of a forlorn past.

Perhaps Die Linke is more in the mold of Canada's Parti Quebecois than revamped Communists. It's essentially a populist party with a cultural subtext. Since populism is prone to factional splits, will Die Linke become a short-lived phenomenon or profoundly transform German politics?

Gerald Robbins is an associate scholar at the Foreign Policy Research Institute.