The party congress of the left has only been going for a few hours when Sofia Fellinger has had enough. After several speakers have talked about the war in Ukraine, she steps up to the microphone in the hall of the Erfurt Trade Fair. “I find it unbearable having to have heard all the speeches. You cannot imagine how much suffering I and my family and Ukraine are going through.”
The 19-year-old student was born in Cologne, her mother is from the Ukraine. The grandmother lives in Zaporishtsia in south-eastern Ukraine.
Hardly any other topic is currently the subject of so bitter debate on the left as the attitude towards Russia. The party executive therefore wanted to clarify this issue in Erfurt. Fellinger asks the delegates why there was no outcry when a speaker described both sides in the Ukraine war as imperialist.
It is argued that the left is a peace party. “Peace doesn’t come if you let people die,” the delegate shouted into the hall. Fellinger advises her party friends to take a vacation in Donetsk or Zaporishtsia and pray there for peace.
Fellinger received a lot of applause for her intervention in the hall of the Erfurt trade fair. The general debate that preceded it was indeed marked by statements in which the blame for the war in Ukraine was not only sought from Russia. One delegate sees capitalism as the root cause.
Bremen leftist Sebastian Rave says the war is “also a proxy war by NATO against Russia.” The arms deliveries to Ukraine served to “weaken” Russia. And anyway, it was the “bourgeoisie” that wanted to lead this war to the end. The left needs an “independent class position”.
The morning after Sofia Fellinger’s intervention, a man was standing in the foyer of the Erfurt Trade Fair Center distributing the leftist newspaper Junge Welt. His black T-shirt reads in Russian: “Lugansk People’s Republic” – the Moscow-controlled separatist area in eastern Ukraine.
There is a not exactly small minority in the Left Party, sometimes derided internally as “Russia Today”, which has staunchly defended the Kremlin’s policies against criticism in recent years.
Before the party congress, a group led by Bundestag member Sahra Wagenknecht spoke out in favor of removing the condemnation of the Russian war of aggression and Moscow’s imperialist policy from a leading motion on foreign and security policy. Wagenknecht himself did not travel to Erfurt due to illness.
In contrast, Wagenknecht’s draft mentioned the “wars waged by the USA and its allies in violation of international law”. Former SED functionary Ellen Brombacher, who campaigned for the Wagenknecht application, said that the history of this war should not be ignored. “The mainstream is doing everything so that there is only one culprit in this war.”
But in the Erfurt exhibition hall, the Wagenknecht camp suffered a defeat, and the delegates followed the party executive’s proposal on the subject of Russia with a clear majority. The left condemns “Russia’s criminal war of aggression” and declares its solidarity with the people of Ukraine, but refuses arms deliveries.
“We need a condemnation of the Russian war against Ukraine without ifs and buts,” party leader Janine Wissler said earlier. You have to call this war what it is. Russia is about “great power striving” and “imperialist politics”.
With this clarification, the party executive wants to prevent the “polyphony” in the party and send out clear messages to the outside world. On that day in Erfurt, however, it was considered unlikely that Wagenknecht and her followers would publicly hold back in the future.