Monday, February 27, 2023

The German Left loves Putin!

Germany: Left Party, Wagenknecht clash after 'peace' rally

Mark Hallam
After a contentious "peace rally" in Berlin that critics said was a platform for Russian propaganda, the socialist Left Party and prominent member Sahra Wagenknecht, who arranged the demo, continued to trade blows.

Leaders of Germany's socialist Left Party, die Linke, and prominent member Sahra Wagenknecht continued trading jabs on Sunday after the large and contentious "peace rally" organized by Wagenknecht in Berlin on Saturday.

There was also a debate over turnout, with Wagenknecht and her supporters claiming that 50,000 people had attended, wildly exceeding police estimates, which were closer to 13,000. 

Wagenknecht and a prominent German feminist publicist, Alice Schwarzer, had organized the rally, which was to show support for the Ukraine "peace manifesto" they had published a week earlier calling for a stop to military exports to Ukraine and calling for negotiations between Kyiv and Moscow. About 670,000 people had signed by Sunday.

Germany's government and mainstream parties had roundly criticized the action and the manifesto, calling the event a stage for Russian propaganda and the peace proposal "a chimera, ... a misleading of the population," as Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck put it. 

Demonstrators at a rally calling for talks between Russia and Ukraine in Berlin in large crowd, holding banners. February 26, 2023.
The event was largely peaceful and most placards and messages were relatively banal, though some contentious slogans and symbols were also on showImage: Monika Skolimowska/dpa/picture alliance

Linke co-chair says 'our fears were confirmed' 

But Wagenknecht also faced criticism from her own party, before and after the event. Leading members had warned that the rally would attract far-right factions of Germany's society. Observers noted many isolated cases of pro-Russian or right-wing symbols among the participants.

Germany's populist right-wing AfD was vocal in its support for the event while also noting the participation of its members.

Wagenknecht did say on stage, however, that extreme-right demonstrators had "no business" at the cross-party rally, claiming she thought "that went without saying." 

"Our fears were confirmed," Die Linke's vice chairperson Katina Schubert told the Süddeutsche Zeitungnewspaper, in comments to be published in Monday's edition. Schubert used German political jargon for leftist factions in inter-war Weimar Germany collaborating with conservative revolutionaries, "querfront" or "cross-front," and said: "Whoever starts a call appealing to the cross-front, reaps the cross-front." 

Schubert said that "the confusion of victim and perpetrator was a recurring theme in the speeches, so far as I followed them." 

Speakers at the rally on Saturday included Wagenknecht, Schwarzer, a US-based professor best known for spreading theories about COVID mirroring Chinese disinformation in recent years, Jeffrey Sachs, and a retired Bundeswehr officer turned private sector consultant, Erich Vad. All argued for negotiations with Russia, some were highly critical of NATO and the German government. 

"Comparisons of [Foreign Minister Annalena] Baerbock with Hitler, as could be seen among participants in the crowd, were not refuted at the stage. In my eyes, that's a horrendous relativization of fascism," Schubert said. 

The opposition party Die Linke, known as the successor to former East Germany's socialist ruling party, does hold a position comparable to Wagenknecht's on Ukraine: that Berlin should engage more for negotiations and less for weapons exports.

However, the party has often sought to distance itself from its outspoken former leader's comments on the war.

Wagenknecht and the party leadership have also been on a broader collision course over an array of issues like migration and how to contain COVID for several years.

A crowd in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, with one person holding a sign saying
Wagnknecht's rally was deemed as a response to demonstrations around Berlin in solidarity with Ukraine one day earlier (pictured here), on the anniversary of Russia's invasionImage: Jochen Eckel/IMAGO

Wagenknecht calls criticism 'embarrassing' 

Meanwhile, Wagenkencht told German public broadcaster ZDF on Sunday that she had found the criticism from her party allies unwarranted. 

"First of all, I don't think it will do the peace movement any harm if, finally, there is a really big peace demonstration," she said, asked about criticisms that her rally would harm hopes for peace in the long run. 

"And the debate, that was in part put forward by the leadership of Die Linke, I must say I simply found that embarrassing. Effectively, they were taking part in the intimidation being exerted upon the people participating," Wagenknecht said, again implying efforts to spoil her rally. 

On Saturday, Schwarzer and Wagenknecht had repeatedly touched on the idea of there having been a "hysterical" overreaction to their peace manifesto in the media and political debate. Both had sought to foster the idea of a "citizens' movement" that the mainstream was trying to silence. 

In one sense, at least, Schwarzer and Wagenknecht were proven right, as their demo dominated comment pages around the country on Monday. Multiple newspapers weighed in.

"Wagenknecht and Schwarzer really must ask themselves if Saturday's demonstration could stand up to the allegation of confusing victim and perpetrator. And they should ask themselves, whether they are turning themselves into involuntary supporters of Putin," one paper, the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger, wrote. 

Edited by: Rina Goldenberg

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