Open borders for all? The debate dividing Germany’s Die Linke

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Noah Gordon - [email protected]
Open borders for all? The debate dividing Germany’s Die Linke
Die Linke's parliamentary chairperson Sarah Wagenknecht (left) and party leader Katja Kipping. Photo: DPA

Germany’s Die Linke (The Left party) has traditionally supported open borders. Some members think that position is driving voters away - while others accuse them of betraying the party’s roots.


At this weekend’s party conference in Leipzig, members of Die Linke voted for a motion calling for “open borders”. The question is, open for who?

Typically, the party has understood open borders to mean open for everyone, whether people fleeing war and persecution in their homeland or people simply looking for a better life, and a better job, in Germany.

Sahra Wagenknecht, the party’s parliamentary co-chairperson, sees things differently.

“There have to be open borders for the persecuted,” she said, “but we certainly can’t say that anyone who wants to may come to Germany, claim social benefits, and look for work.” That point of view is “detached from reality”, she claimed.

Wagenknecht has practical concerns: she worries that the Left’s support for open borders, beyond the recognition of right to asylum, is driving voters away from the party. She also fears that uncontrolled migration increases the pressure on Germans looking for work.

Nevertheless, many members consider open borders for all a fundamental part of the The Left's identity, an ideal they are not willing to give up. Party leaders Katja Kipping and Bernd Riexinger, belong to that group. In her speech, Kipping personally criticized Oskar Lafontaine, Wagenknecht’s husband and one of modern Germany’s most famous left-wing politicians - she complained that Lafontaine was “questioning this party’s democratic decisions” about refugee policy.

One of Kipping’s allies then accused Wagenknecht of splitting the party. Wagenknecht responded that open borders don’t help starving people in Africa who can’t make it to Europe, upon which some members booed her loudly.

It’s unclear which wing of the party will have the upper hand in the long run. The motion backing “open borders” leaves room for interpretation in terms of who may cross them. Such uncertainty is only permissible as long as The Left are an opposition party and don't have to write a migration law. And while Kipping and Riexinger were re-elected at the conference, they got fewer votes than ever.

Wagenknecht, meanwhile, remains The Left’s most recognizable face and most charismatic speaker, but she is not party leader. Rather than running for party leader, she is creating a separate left-wing movement meant to attract voters from other left-wing parties, in order to give left-wingers a better chance of taking power. Kipping is concerned that Wagenknecht’s movement will do nothing but divide Die Linke against itself.

Divisions are already evident, but there is one area where Die Linke is more unified. They want, in Wagenknecht’s words, to reduce the far-right Alternative for Germany to “a bird shit in the course of German history.”


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