Interview with Die Linke Executive Board Member Claudia Haydt: Lessons for Korea (Part 2)

Claudia Haydt and members of the Justice Party and ISC’s World Progressive Parties Research Meeting

Claudia Haydt and members of the Justice Party and ISC’s World Progressive Parties Research Meeting

Korea has a proportional representative system, but unlike Germany, the number of seats allotted is very limited. Right now, there's an attempt to increase the number of sets in the National Assembly from 300 to 360 seats in connection with expanding the number of seats alloted. There's a lot of opposition from the public because of mistrust and negative views of politicians. What would be an effective way to bring people over to this kind of system that Germany has that allows proportional representation based on the party vote?
Electoral systems have their pros and cons. If you have a proportional system, the parties have a strong role because the parties decide who will be the leading candidates and the order of the lists. If you directly elect a person then you have greater say. However, if you want an honest campaign, normally it is good to not just vote for a prominent or well-known person but for a certain program and parties have to promote a program rather than politicians for when they are in government. Even if you are in opposition, you can still change a lot. You have to give people the option: Do you really trust the people that you vote for or is it more important to have a certain political topic on the agenda?

One of the reasons why this is such a hot issue in Korea is because of this phenomena of “dead votes” where people don't vote for third parties and vote for the two main parties because voting for a third smaller party is not going to make much of a difference. For us, as a progressive party that is not party of the two major party, Germany’s systems allows for greater democratic representation where people vote a certain percentage for certain political party or platform to be represented at the National Assembly.
Absolutely, if you have 10% of society very much in favor of an issue. For example, a portion of voters might want to have a more ecological policy. However, the major parties ignore this question. In your system, they can continue to ignore this issue. Or if you have 20% of people that want to have a higher minimum wage. In Germany, it was on Die Linke’s agenda to have a minimum wage because Germany doesn’t have one at all. So, we campaigned for this. And even though we weren’t in government, people had to take us serious and finally had to implement a minimum wage. So, in order to campaign for certain issues, it is much easier if you a proportional representative voting system because it is difficult to ignore these social questions.

Right now, North and South Korea are divided. They used to be one state and were divided in 1945. Inter-Korean relations are improving and consolidating maybe towards reunification. Germany was also reunified after the fall of the Berlin wall. Are any lessons that you could share with us?
Well, you might learn a lot from our mistakes. Because the process of reunification was full of mistakes. More or less, we sold out all the things that East German people had worked for. The companies in the East were sold to companies in the West for just one deutsche mark (half a euro today). It was really criminal acts in some cases. Unfortunately nobody was made responsible for these criminal acts. So many things which had been owned publicly until 1990 were taken over by private enterprises and more or less destroyed in the process. This is something I hope won’t happen with North Korea. There might be lots of natural resources in public ownership that shouldn't be sold out to private companies. The potential for tourism should not be developed solely by private enterprises but also for the benefit of people from both sides. So please don't make the same mistakes and please protect what people own.

Maybe some of this has to do with the way that the reunification happened with one side collapsed?
I think that people in East Germany were quite naive about the way that capitalism works. They thought their wishes would be taken into consideration. Maybe you don’t know, but there had been a process between the collapse/opening of the border and the unification of Germany that was more or less a year. During this year, there was a type of transformation government in the East. Lots of deals and provisions were made for the future of a unified Germany. And some of these deals were actually quite good for people. There were for example better women's rights in the East and the West enshrined some of those laws. It also protected some of those laws that protected everyday people's rights like driver's licenses valid in the east and west.

However, they didn't think of protecting those public services which had been of course public in the east but mostly (at least partly) private in the west. So they didn't think to protect all those things that could be turned into profit. This was the problem.

Let me add something which is also important. I was just talking about the problems. But there are some things that maybe can be an inspiration. I wouldn’t call the reunification as the result of a collapse because it was rather orderly. The reunification was made without any violence, without any major interruptions to daily life. Daily life changed but continued. There was no hardship. The schools continued. Public health services continued. Everything that was necessary for people’s lives continued in the East and West.

So, this was something that worked. But it was necessary for people to talk with one another. There was communication at different levels between east and west in the level of ordinary people and politicians. This was the result of the New East Policy, which actually started talks between the governments of East and West Germany and between the governments of West Germany and the Soviet Union. There have been talks at this political level for many years before reunification so it was necessary to build up this trust. Also, it was important for reunification that people communicate with one another. You might know that people from the East couldn't go to the West. People between 18 and 60 from the East couldn’t normally travel to the west. But people from the West could travel to the east. There was nearly no restriction on this. And also older people from the East could travel to the West, there had been some exceptions for churches and communication between churches and communities between East and West. There was a lot of travel and communication. People could telephone and write one another. So this communication allowed people to stay in contact and know what each was thinking. And this was the basis for reunification afterwards. There still had been a lot of problems but without this communication I think it would not have been possible at all.