German Court Rules Spying on Left Party Lawmaker Is Illegal

Germany’s top court said government surveillance of a lawmaker in the anti-capitalist Left Party violates the constitution, offering a victory to a political faction tracing its roots to the East German communists.

The Federal Constitutional Court said observation of the politician, Bodo Ramelow, doesn’t adhere to “strict” requirements for placing a lawmaker under surveillance and impedes his mandate as a public servant. Ramelow, 57, the Left Party opposition leader in the eastern state of Thuringia, has been challenging surveillance in court for the past decade.

“The plaintiff is not individually suspected of pursuing ambitions against the free, democratic foundations” of the state, the Karlsruhe-based court said in a statement on its website today. “His surveillance is exclusively tied to his membership and offices within the Left Party.”

Members of the Left Party, the direct successor to the ruling East German communist party, which also has drawn former Social Democrat activists, have struggled to emerge from the shadow of the Cold War 24 years after the opening of the Berlin Wall. Both Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic bloc and the opposition SPD refuse to cooperate at the federal level with the party, which won 8.6 percent in Sept. 22 elections. The SPD has formed coalitions with the Left at the regional level.

The court didn’t rule out government surveillance of lawmakers completely, though such activity can only be endorsed if a legislator actively uses his or her office to fight “aggressively” against state institutions. The data collection on Ramelow, going back to the 1980s when he was a union activist in West Germany, doesn’t meet this standard, it said.

Ruling Communists

Ramelow joined the Party of Democratic Socialism, the successor to East Germany’s communist Socialist Unity Party, in 1999, when he became a lawmaker in Thuringia. He also served in Germany’s lower house, or Bundestag, from 2005 to 2009, after the Left Party entered the national parliament.

“I’ve been spied on and harassed for 30 years, more than half my life,” Ramelow said on his website.

The Left has criticized the surveillance of its members and party leaders by Germany’s domestic security agency, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution. That body has held groups within the Left Party under suspicion, including the Communist Platform and the Socialist Left.

The Communist Platform, which has 1,250 members, “holds onto Marxist-Leninist positions and strives for the overthrow of capitalism as a social system, with a goal of a socialist society,” the federal office said in this year’s annual report.

While the party has attempted to bridge divisions between anti-capitalist activists and more pragmatic lawmakers, it’s struggled to shake suspicion of older members who had ties to the East German security service, or Stasi.

That conflict was illustrated in 2009, when the Social Democrats in the eastern state of Brandenburg formed a government with the Left Party. Less than a month after the coalition was formed, seven of the 26 Left delegates were revealed to have had ties with the Stasi, many as informants.

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