The left in the european election campaign: the simulation of success

The Left is having a hard time in the European election campaign. It is missing listeners in the NRW election campaign. But on Facebook, everything still looks good.

That’s them: Left Party managing director Jorg Schindler points to the posters of the two top candidates Photo: dpa

ESSEN/KoLN/ On Tuesday morning, it is spring-cold and empty at the Willy-Brandt-Platz in Essen. "Die Linke on tour" advertises a stand, "44 cities, 29 days, 5,984 km, 6 big stages". The Left Party in the European election campaign. Today is NRW Day: Essen, Cologne, and finally the big stage in Dusseldorf.

The site is strategically located: at the entrance to the pedestrian zone, opposite the main train station. But at 10:30 a.m., there’s nothing going on in the self-proclaimed "shopping city of Essen." Martin Schirdewan, top candidate of the Left Party for the European elections, speaks in front of an empty square. Maybe ten party members including his accompanying staff and two or three passers-by listen.

After all, you have to be able to speak confidently in a large square when you’re hardly noticed. Schirdewan can do that. At the end of his speech, he greets his co-leading candidate ozlem Demirel: "I’m sure ozlem will find more good arguments if you’re still wavering," he says. But there’s no one wavering, there’s just no one there.

The Left and its voters are strangers to European elections, where its results have consistently fallen short of those in federal elections. In 2009, it received 7.5 percent, in 2014 7.4, for which the party was not entirely blameless – both times, with Lothar Bisky and Gabi Zimmer, it sent veteran party veterans on a final round as top candidates to Brussels.

Hop-on hop-off election campaign

This time she’s trying it with two young talents: Schirdewan, 43, rotated into the European Parliament in 2017, ozlem Demirel, 35, was the top candidate for the Left Party in the last NRW election campaign. Schirdewan is eloquent, knowledgeable, nuanced. Demirel appeals to the migrant community and the party left. But trust and familiarity can only be earned in the long term; that can hardly be achieved in a short-term election campaign.

It’s a hop-on-hop-off election campaign: at 11 a.m., Schirdewan and his entourage board the ICE train to Cologne, then they all travel to Ehrenfeld. At the station exit, two posters hang one below the other, recalling the fight of the Judean People’s Front against the People’s Front of Judea: Above, Giannis Varoufakis campaigns for his DiEM25 list: "When politicians* turn a green planet into a blue one, we must act." Below, the Left advertises "Climate before profits. Promote clean energy."

Varoufakis could have been something like the poster boy of the German left in the election campaign, but in the end vanity was stronger. Now the two parties are running separately.

Schirdewan walks through Ehrenfeld for two hours, listening to tenant activists explain the gentrification in the district. Then it’s back to the main train station, to the next rally. In front of a cafe, Schirdewan and Demirel meet again. "I expect the turnout to increase," Demirel says. There are plenty of events, especially in schools, he adds.

Junckr as "bodyguard of tax evaders"

But at the rally, things look only slightly better than in Essen. Perhaps 30 party activists have come. On the sidelines, one of them complains that few at the grassroots level want to get involved in the European election campaign. They were not particularly interested in the elections, and the top candidates were weak. In his circle of acquaintances, many would vote for one of the smaller parties this time. He expects a result for the Left Party of around six percent.

Party leader Bernd Riexinger performs as a kind of opening act at the Dusseldorf rally

An hour later in Dusseldorf, one of the six large stages of the Left Party in the European election campaign: party leader Bernd Riexinger has arrived, Sahra Wagenknecht is performing. But despite Wagenknecht, there are no more than 100 to 150 listeners in Dusseldorf. Left-wing leader Riexinger, who is considered to be rhetorically weak, performs as a kind of opening act. Then the two top candidates follow, finally, as the highlight, Wagenknecht.

She has the same topics as Schirdewan and Demirel: corporations like Amazon that hardly pay any taxes, the rising costs for the poor and the rich getting richer. But it’s rhetorically a notch sharper. Jean-Claude Juncker becomes Wagenknecht’s "bodyguard of the tax evaders," and because of the debate about Kevin Kuhnert’s expropriation ideas, Wagenknecht says there is "gasping for breath in Berlin."

The following day, the NRW Left posted photos of the rally on its Facebook page. Most of them show the speakers, none a panorama of the badly packed square. Italy’s far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini prefers the opposite technique: the photos of his rally in Pavia, which Salvini posted yesterday, show him from behind in front of a huge crowd. Need we know more on the question of who will make gains in the European elections?

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