The Left Party wants to downsize the army – in favor of a "Willy Brandt Corps." Now there is a dispute about who "owns" the former SPD chancellor.
Bad mood at the SPD: The left wants to steal the former chancellor Photo: Imago/IPON
There won’t be much going on when the Bundestag debates Willy Brandt’s legacy on Thursday. The corresponding motion of the left-wing parliamentary group is on place 16 of the agenda. A half-hour debate, long after 8 pm. It would be quite a surprise if more than two dozen deputies were still sitting in the plenary session.
The debate is about war and peace, human lives and the big question of who owns the former chancellor in 2016: the SPD or the Left Party.
In the motion, the Left Party calls for a "Willy Brandt Corps for solidarity-based humanitarian aid" – in other words, a force that rushes to help in the event of earthquakes, droughts or epidemics all over the world. The Bundeswehr is to donate money and equipment to the aid workers, from aircraft and vehicles to field hospitals. Under the umbrella of the new institution, the logistics are then to be made available to private organizations such as the Red Cross and public organizations such as the THW.
Aid missions by the Bundeswehr, as in the Ebola crisis, would then be a thing of the past. In justification, the motion states that the army "has large resources and keeps them on call, but it specializes in waging war, not in disaster relief."
Goes down badly with the SPD
And what does Willy Brandt have to do with it? "With the name, we want to refer to his peaceful convictions," says left-wing MP Inge Hoger.
The fact that the Left Party is so openly raving about the SPD icon is not going down well with the Social Democrats – nor is the concept of the aid corps itself. According to MP Ute Finckh-Kramer, the THW’s capacities for "reliable technical and logistical support for humanitarian aid" have already been expanded in recent years.
She says: "The motion mixes Oskar Lafontaine’s five-year-old project to reinvent the THW with the current discussion about the dramatically increased need for humanitarian aid worldwide. Willy Brandt did not deserve such an abuse of his name."
In fact, the idea is not new. True, the Left Party is bringing the corps into the Bundestag for the first time because a UN summit on humanitarian aid is taking place at the end of May. But the demand has been in the party program for some time.
Where is the international claim?
The initiative came at the 2011 party conference from Lafontaine, who has repeatedly provoked the Social Democrats since leaving the SPD. "The current Social Democratic leadership is oblivious to history. But we must not fall into this error," he said at the time.
The Left Party should refer to Brandt, he said, because he had stood up for a peaceful Germany. Gregor Gysi went one better: Because the SPD agrees to German war missions, Willy Brandt no longer belongs to them. "As of today, he belongs to us!" he said.
Even then, the SPD was raging. But the name was also controversial in the Left Party: Not all delegates wanted to take Brandt as their role model. After all, Brandt stands not only for his policy of detente, but also for measures such as the Radical Decree, which led to hundreds of occupational bans. There are also reservations among current left-wing delegates. Faction member Halina Wawzyniak said she voted against the motion in an internal meeting, both because of the name and for reasons of content. According to her, there were a total of three no votes.
Far more dissenting votes are expected from the other parliamentary groups on Thursday evening: in addition to the SPD and the Union, the Greens are also against the Willy Brandt Corps. "What bothers me is that this would be a completely national event, which would actually have to be supplemented by a Kreisky Corps, a De Gaulle Corps, and a Churchill Corps. Yet the trend in humanitarian aid is going in the other direction: most organizations are internationalizing," says MP Tom Koenigs.
(An earlier version of the article stated, "There are also such reservations among current left-wing deputies, but no one in the parliamentary group offered resistance to the current motion.") The statement was based on information from faction circles).