Is there a realistic alternative to government?

Ramelow: The AfD offers nothing but outrage

The Prime Minister of Thuringia, Bodo Ramelow (Die Linke), in an interview with the Eßlinger Zeitung: The outrage in politics about the outraged AfD is not enough for him as a reaction. About AfD voters Ramelow says: "The voters have a right to express themselves exactly as they want."

Erfurt's state elections in Brandenburg and Saxony, the focus is on Thuringia, where voters will be called to the polls on October 27th. Bodo Ramelow wants to continue to govern as the only Prime Minister of the left - and does not rule out a minority government.

How do you rate the election results in Saxony and Brandenburg?
I think it's good that more people voted again. For me, increasing voter participation is a sign that democracy is supported and lived by the citizens. For me it is remarkable that both prime ministers have received the government mandate again. That prompted me to congratulate both of them at seven a.m. on Monday morning and say that they have provided evidence that prime ministers who work hard can trigger a mobilization. And this despite the fact that there were numerous predictions that neither of the two had a chance and that the East was ungovernable.

But the winner is the AfD. How did she come to the enormous profits?
The AfD offers nothing but outrage. The glue that holds the AfD together is outrage. Outrage over Ms. Merkel, outrage over the system, outrage over the old parties. In this context, however, it is not enough for me if the answer from the other parties, including mine, is essentially that they are outraged that the AfD is so popular. Far too much is talked about the AfD and too little about democracy. Again and again one reads: The east is brown. The East are Nazis. The east is sad and everything goes wrong. On the other hand, there is hardly any talk about the achievements of the new federal states and the people living here.

As for the increased turnout - can the AfD adorn itself with these feathers?
Right. It made the polarization stronger, it ensured that voters were mobilized. I can't complain about voting behavior afterwards. I also have no desire to abuse voters. Voters have a right to express themselves exactly as they want.

The AfD also likes to present itself in the East as an Eastern party, i.e. what your party, the Left, has long emphasized. Is that she?
A party that, like the AfD, would like to forego European funding for the East, has absolutely no Eastern competence. If we lost the European funding, we would have a really big problem. People would notice. For example, when the village square is no longer paved because the funds from the European Social Fund or the Fund for Regional Development are no longer available.

The elections are still ahead of Thuringia. What lessons do you draw from the elections in Saxony and Brandenburg with regard to the Thuringia election?
I do my job. And I tell and show people how this work works. I have followed this principle since the beginning of my term in office. That's why I don't get hectic just because there are elections or because there were elections. The work that needs to be done is being done. The decisive factor is not party-political or ideological aspects, but only the practical added value for the country and the people living here.

For example?
We have to reorganize a few things in education. Hire trainees faster, renovate the schools and make them fit for the digital age and we have to get the funding for the kindergartens - this requires great efforts. We are in the middle of a process. When I started as Prime Minister there were 17,200 teachers in the school service. During the government of Prime Minister Lieberknecht from 2009 to 2014, 1491 teachers were hired. In the five years since 2014 that I had the chance to work on the topic, we have hired 3809 teachers. And still at 17,200 because so many have retired. If I had continued at the slow pace of the CDU government, the number of lessons lost today would be more than twice as high.

So far, government has only been possible with a majority in parliament. They are used to relying on three parties - the Left, the SPD and the Greens. In Saxony and Brandenburg such governments still have to be formed in order to achieve a majority. If you were asked how this can best be done, what would your advice to Dietmar Woidke and Michael Kretschmer?
I would point out that the three-party coalition was a model I was striving for. It wasn't an industrial accident. For years I worked on the formation of the three-party coalition because I was deeply convinced that we needed a different political culture in Thuringia. Gone are the days when a large party and a small party formed government. The big ones have made themselves small, the small ones have become diverse, this process was predictable and it required convincing new answers. I am pleased that we succeeded in doing this in Thuringia.

And what would you say to the two colleagues in Saxony and Brandenburg who haven't worked on a coalition vision for ten years?
That there is a big difference from before. We need a new and different way of dealing with one another. The colleague in Schleswig-Holstein, Daniel Günther, has formed an apparently incompatible coalition of the CDU, FDP and the Greens. But he's got the hang of it. Günther leaves all three partners with their noses on their faces. And that is also my credo. I am Prime Minister for the whole of Thuringia and I lead a cabinet that is supported by three parties, so I make sure that no party is favored or disadvantaged. We always only talk about the content.

Minority governments are also becoming more likely in the future. Many fear such a situation. Is that justified?
It's a German phobia that has puzzled me for thirty years. In the Nordic countries, minority governments are normal. Here in Germany it is considered an anomaly. I would have liked Angela Merkel to have led a minority government after the general election and the failure of Jamaica. Because I think the country is stable enough for that.

Is Thuringia stable enough for every conceivable case that could occur after the elections on October 27th?
As I said: minority governments are not a nightmare for me. But I don't strive for it either. I fight again and with all my might for red-red-green.

Are you also talking to CDU politicians?
I've always been in conversation with CDU politicians. In 2002, when the left was still called PDS, Thuringia was shaken by the massacre at the Gutenberg high school. There were many questions to be answered. We drew the conclusions in the state parliament across party lines in great agreement. The arson attack on the Erfurt synagogue in 2000 also brought us closer together. This resulted in the Thuringia Monitor, which regularly queries the attitude of the Thuringian population to social and political issues. I can give you further examples: dealing with the NSU or the municipalization of the energy company TEAG. This shows that democrats can work together even if they occupy separate roles as government and opposition. That when it comes to the country, they have to stand together.

Time on a different topic that was discussed a lot in the run-up to the East German elections. The contrast between East and West. Are there still any misunderstandings?
Yes! And that hurts too. I often hear the question why people in the East are so ungrateful? Or why do we still need an East German Prime Minister's Conference?

There are still many differences in living conditions. Once the problems that arose from the division and the subsequent transformation process have been resolved, we no longer need an East German conference of prime ministers.

When is the division over?
When the awareness is anchored in the public consciousness that both the West and the East contribute to a relevant extent to the economic and political prosperity of the community. There is still a way to go. Of 500 corporations dominating Germany, 462 are based in the west. Daimler's Stuttgart accounting is also so good because they get such inexpensive parts from the East. And then you look at us from the Stuttgart point of view a bit like the Far East. Or you can say it badly: In some places it is as if we were the colony. This view has to change, we should develop recognition for one another.

Now it is not possible to force a corporation to relocate its headquarters. What now?
New large companies have emerged that also pay taxes in Thuringia. Jenoptik AG, Carl Zeiss Meditec AG and N3, a subsidiary of Lufthansa and Rolls-Royce. But these are exceptions. Everything else are small and medium-sized businesses. Here again we are leading. Thuringia ranks first for every 1000 inhabitants in terms of the frequency of such establishments. The task of state politicians is to provide these companies with good support so that they become stronger.

For 30 years there has been talk of converging East and West. The economy is just one of many areas. Do we need alignment everywhere, for example in the culture or the way people interact?
A unified story that makes everyone the same is nonsense. What we need are the same living conditions. And equal living conditions means I need buses, trains, health and general services, internal security and democratic participation. In Bremerhaven as well as in rural Thuringia. And - as a result - we need a development that means that people can live from their hands.

The interview was conducted by Johannes M. Fischer.

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