Courtesy Reuters

Red Dawn


When the two Germanys merged in 1990, one of the uncontested casualties was East Germany's communist regime. Chancellor Helmut Kohl stood triumphant as voters on both sides overwhelmingly ratified his push for unification. Aside from a few unreconstructed Marxists, no one shed a tear for the Berlin Wall. A bright future in politics for the ex-communists seemed as unlikely as, say, German military involvement in conflicts beyond the country's borders.

Little more than a decade later, Kohl himself is now on the political margins, disgraced by a campaign-finance scandal, and his Christian Democratic Union (CDU) lies in the doldrums. His successor, Gerhard Schroder of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), has been given the authority to send 4,000 German troops to Afghanistan in support of the U.S. campaign there. But most remarkably, the chief electoral vehicle of the ex-communists, the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS), has become a powerful political actor -- even in the city that its predecessors once divided by force. The PDS has evolved in many ways into a run-of-the-mill European leftist party, preoccupied with such matters as managing budget discipline, building child-care centers, and attracting investment. Now a catch-all regional party, it has become a third force in the country's east, shaping a political landscape there that is wholly distinct from that in the west. Given that the German Democratic Republic (GDR) was one of the most oppressive regimes in the Soviet bloc, spied on millions of its citizens, and drove its economy into stagnation and ruinous debt, the rise of the PDS is no mean feat.

The ambitions of the PDS were tested most dramatically last October in the state election for Berlin. In a critical development during the campaign, the PDS took issue with Schroder's hawkish stance on the U.S. war in Afghanistan and expressed worries about the war's humanitarian implications. Berlin's status as Germany's capital, the reports that al Qaeda may have had cells in the country, and widespread fear that

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