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“Sometimes we make it difficult for people to choose us”

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WORLD: Ms. Wissler, Sahra Wagenknecht and parliamentary group leader Amira Mohamed Ali call with other party members for a “popular left” – “different views” should be tolerated within the left. How is this an attack on you?

Janine Wissler: It is normal for there to be different contributions to the debate before a party conference. In my view, the focal points of the call do not contradict the main proposal of the party executive.

WORLD: According to a study, you could reach 18 percent of voters. How much does it annoy you that the party is getting in its own way?

Wissler: First of all, this is good news. We have it in our own hands. In doing so, we must not lose sight of who it is about: those who place their hope in us, who live in poverty and, for example, do not know how to pay the gas bill. The left is not an end in itself, but wants to change society.

We have to focus on the political opponent. Rising prices and rents, no improvement in the nursing staff, postponed plans for basic child security – the traffic light leaves a lot of room for left-wing politics. We have to use that. But yes: When I then see how some of us argue in public, it makes me crazy.

Of course, the Left is a plural party. Nevertheless, the well-known faces in particular have to represent the party’s democratically decided positions to the outside world. If you can’t do that on a topic, then you shouldn’t speak on behalf of the left. The left is in such a difficult position that we cannot afford public dissent. Sometimes we make it difficult for people to choose us.

WORLD: At the party congress, a key motion is being discussed in which you draw conclusions from the Ukraine war. What changes do you see as the most radical?

Wissler: The demand for targeted and effective sanctions. The condemnation of the Russian invasion as a criminal war of aggression is completely undisputed. What we make clear: We do not measure with double standards. We condemn aggressive wars, regardless of who wages them and where. Human rights apply to everyone, for people who have fled Ukraine as well as for the Russian opposition or the prisoners in Guantánamo.

WORLD: Vladimir Putin’s imperialist striving for a great power is clearly stated in the application. Why are there comrades who still find it difficult to say this?

Wissler: We all agree in condemning the war. Our criticism of NATO is of course not obsolete – but NATO’s actions are no justification for this war. There is a difference between feeling connected to Russia and the Kremlin. The former applies to many in the party, the latter does not. Putin is not a leftist, but stands for neoliberal and right-wing national politics.

WORLD: Your party is demanding more diplomatic efforts from the government. What would you do if you were in charge?

Wissler: It may surprise you, but I thought a lot of what Olaf Scholz did before the start of the war was right: the reluctance to deliver weapons, his visit to Moscow. The task now is to enforce sanctions against oligarchs more consistently. The central question for us is what Germany can do to bring about peace negotiations.

WORLD: You are still against arms deliveries. How should Ukraine defend itself without weapons?

Wissler: Of course Ukraine has the right to defend itself. Thousands die, millions flee. However, it is a fallacy that heavy weapons would quickly end this war, especially since many of these weapon systems can only be used from October. The risk of escalation from further deliveries of weapons and heavy equipment must not be ignored. Also because Germany and NATO run the risk of becoming a war party.

Ukraine is not helped if, in the end, two nuclear powers face each other in an open conflict. This war can only be ended by a negotiated solution.

WORLD: Your state association in Hesse is shaken by the MeToo allegations. You are accused of knowing about the abusive behavior of your partner at the time and of not having taken any action. They deny this accusation. What outweighs: dismay at the allegations or anger because you do not believe the allegations against you are true?

Wissler: We take the allegations very seriously and are trying to clarify them. To this end, we have set up an external expert commission and will initiate further measures. We must not tolerate sexist behavior or sexual assault.

WORLD: But it’s also about you directly. What have you done in the past few weeks?

Wissler: Of course I was shocked by the allegation. I haven’t hidden anything. When I first heard about allegations against my ex-boyfriend at the turn of the year, I reacted immediately. So long before it was publicly reported.

WORLD: The allegations have caused you massive political damage. Why do you think that you are still the right person for the party presidency?

Wissler: In Hesse, Die Linke has been elected to the state parliament four times since 2008, twice with me as the top candidate. In a western German area. We did that because we worked together as a team that trusts each other. We did have contentious discussions internally, but together represented the position of the left externally.

In this way we were able to build trust with union members, environmental initiatives, social organizations and alliances against the right. We did good opposition work in the state parliament and showed that the left makes a difference. I would like to bring this experience to the federal level.

WORLD: Among other candidates, the members of the Bundestag Heidi Reichinnek and Sören Pellmann. Some see this as an attempt by the faction leaders to extend their power to the party leadership. They also?

Wissler: I don’t want to comment on competing candidacies. From my point of view, it is necessary to find a good team solution.

WORLD: The candidacy of the European politician Martin Schirdewan is evaluated as a team candidacy with you. But what if the election result is a Wissler-Pellmann team?

Wissler: The party congress decides who leads the party. This vote is acceptable. The goal should be a party leadership that reflects the plurality of the party and speaks with one voice.

WORLD: Since taking office, you have been more of a crisis manager than a party leader. Why do you want to keep doing this?

Wissler: When I see how many members are passionate about the party, that motivates me. I want them to be able to be proud of the left again and not throw their hands over their heads when they read the newspaper in the morning.

I thought about moving to the federal level very carefully. I’ve only been party leader since last year, and I still have a lot planned. Germany needs a left opposition.

“Kick-off Politics” is WELT’s daily news podcast. The most important topic analyzed by WELT editors and the dates of the day. Subscribe to the podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music or directly via RSS feed.