Ghosts of Berlin: The Resurgent PDS. (Global Notebook)

Article excerpt

On August 13, 2001, exactly 40 years after the Berlin Wall was built, Germany held a national ceremony to remember its suffering under the rule of East Germany's socialist leaders.

Most German political parties used the commemoration ceremonies to launch their campaigns for the October 21 mayoral elections in Berlin. Earlier in 2001, Berlin's city government, a coalition of Germany's two major parties, the CDU (Christian Democratic Union) and the SPD (Social Democratic Party), broke down because of the city's financial crisis. Investment expenditure within the last decade, made in the hope of transforming Berlin into a modern capital, far exceeded the city's revenues. While the CDU and the SPD were busy blaming each other for the city's problems and foreswearing future cooperation, Germany's PDS (Party of Democratic Socialism), the successor to the German SED (Socialist United Party) that had governed East Germany, loudly proclaimed its readiness to fill the power vacuum. A Berlin city government run partly by the PDS, however, would put a serious strain on the continuing efforts to reunite Germany socially and culturally. To the rest of the country and the international community, the symbolic message of a coalition in Berlin that includes the PDS could make the integration of east and west more difficult.

Roughly 80 percent of today's PDS members are former SED partisans. When the SED was banned after reunification in 1990, the PDS became Germany's new socialist platform. Even though the PDS distanced itself from the SED's Stalinism, it appointed former SED members to its leadership and inherited the SED's assets. While it would be extremely difficult for the PDS to expand into the west, its popularity in east Germany nonetheless continues to rise. Following the breakdown of the Berlin coalition and the outcome of the October 21 mayoral election, the PDS now sits in a position to gain partial power in the capital. The SPD, which received almost 30 percent of the votes in Berlin, may ultimately choose a coalition with the PDS over a potentially unstable coalition with the Greens and the liberal FDP (Free Democrats).

The prospect of having a governing party in the capital that still considers the Berlin Wall a necessary consequence of the Cold War has caused great apprehension, especially in the West. Yet, despite the heated public debate that accompanied the October elections, a key question to address is why the people in former East Germany today still vote for a socialist party. Regular discussions concerning the legitimacy of the PDS and its relation to SED crimes have not sufficiently explained the PDS's recent advance and its 22 percent share of the vote in Berlin's mayoral election. …