Greek government finds ideological allies in Germany’s Die Linke

As Athens grapples with financial uncertainty, ideological partners in Germany show sympathy

During the Greek economic crisis, most Germans have supported their leaders’ hard line. But Die Linke’s anti-austerity stand shows that view is not universal.
Yermi Brenner

BERLIN — When the first results from Greece’s controversial referendum were revealed, the headquarters of Die Linke, a German left-wing party, erupted with roars of victory.

Several hundred people who gathered for a viewing of the poll results cheered, hugged and celebrated with shots of ouzo, a Greek spirit. Die Linke’s deputy chairman, Tobias Pfluger, was initially hesitant to celebrate but was clearly excited about the numbers.

“That means a clear answer to the institutions — ‘We do not accept your austerity policies!’” he said.

Germany is most often seen as the principal opponent of Greece’s Syriza-led government in its clash with European institutions over its debt crisis. But support for Greece from such ideological friends as Pfluger belies common depictions of the conflict as being between uneconomical Greeks on the one hand and tight-fisted Germans on the other.

A poll conducted by ZDF last week found that 85 percent of Germans surveyed said they oppose any more European Union concessions to Greece. The same poll found that Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble — the architects of the austerity measures imposed on Greece — have the highest approval ratings of any politicians in the country.

“The vast majority of German voters are in favor of the government’s position regarding Greece,” Kai Arzheimer, a professor of political science at the University of Mainz who regularly tracks German public opinion polls, said in a phone interview. “I think people are slightly stunned because most people in Germany expected the results to be closer.”

But not Pfluger and his fellow supporters of Die Linke, though they are concerned that their vocal support for Greece may have domestic repercussions. He worries that Die Linke’s stance could cause the party to lose voters in upcoming German regional elections.

As results poured in and victory was assured, the viewing at Linke headquarters turned into a party. Syriza flags and signs declaring “No!” and “United against austerity” were raised. For Christine Grundmann, a 30-year-old Berliner, it was an exciting moment.

”I have been following the Greek issue since Syriza got elected,” said Grundmann, a translator by trade. “I was very disappointed in the way our German government was treating the elected government of another country.”

She decided to go to Linke headquarters because she wanted to view the results of the critical referendum with other Germans who feel a need to protest their government’s handling of the Greek debt crisis. She said she’s frustrated that Germany’s political leadership won’t see that imposing austerity measures on Greece has failed and instead hurt the Greek people.

“Maybe they didn’t know what was going to happen,” said Grundmann. “But at some point they saw this was going very wrong and the economy was being very badly affected, and they did not change it.”

Others saw the result of the Greek referendum as a boost to leftist movements across Europe. They see the crisis in Greece as an opportunity to ask broader political questions about Europe and not frame it as just a conflict between countries.

“It is very dangerous to think that it is a problem of nationalities, of countries,” said said Brian Janssen, a co-founder of the Solidarity Committee for the Greek Population, a Berlin-based grass-roots initiative. “It is not a problem of Greek people and German people. It is a problem of rich against poor.” 

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