Gregor Gysi (German pronunciation: [ˈɡiːzi]; born 16 January 1948) is a German attorney and key politician of the political party The Left (Die Linke), a party which emerged in part from the old East German Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED).
He belonged in the SED's reformist camp at the time of the pro-democracy transition inspired by former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. He has strongly denied allegations that he used to help the Stasi - the East German secret police. He was the last leader of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany, and led the effort that transformed it into the post-Communist Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS), forerunner of The Left.
Gysi was born in East Berlin, Soviet Zone of Germany. His father, Klaus Gysi, was a high-ranking official in East Germany, and had been Minister of Culture from 1966-73. His mother, Irene, was the sister of political activist Gottfried Lessing, who was married to British writer and Nobel Laureate Doris Lessing, during his exile in Southern Rhodesia. The surname "Gysi" is of Swiss-German origin. He is of partial Jewish ancestry; his paternal grandmother was Jewish, as was one of his maternal great-grandfathers. One of his maternal great-grandmothers was Russian. His sister, Gabriele, is an actress, who escaped from East Germany in 1985. Today, she is chief dramaturge at the Volksbühne in Berlin.
Gysi's political career started in the then-ruling Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) of East Germany, to which he was admitted in 1967. In 1971 he became a licensed attorney, and during the 1970s and 1980s defended several prominent dissidents, including Rudolf Bahro, Robert Havemann, Ulrike Poppe, and Bärbel Bohley.
In addition to his legal work, Gysi emerged as one of East Germany's leading Gorbachev-inspired political reformists within the SED, especially towards the end of the 1980s. In 1989, he and a group of lawyers presented a counter-draft to the government's Travel Bill, which authorised mass public demonstrations. This led to a mass rally on East-Berlin's Alexanderplatz on 4 November in which he spoke and called for various reforms, including free elections. In December 1989, he became a member of a special SED party session investigating official corruption and abuse of power.
Fall of Communism
In December 1989, Egon Krenz, the last Communist leader of East Germany, resigned all of his posts. Gysi was elected as the party's chairman. He did not, however, become the leader of East Germany; the SED had abandoned its monopoly of power on 1 December. In his first speech, Gysi admitted that the SED had brought the country to ruin, repudiating everything it had done since 1949. He declared that the party needed to adopt a new form of socialism.
To that end, he immediately set about transforming the SED into a democratic socialist party. Before the year was out, the last hardliners in the SED leadership had either resigned or been pushed out. On 16 December, the SED was renamed the Socialist Unity Party – Party of Democratic Socialism (SED-PDS), it later became simply the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS). Gysi remained as party chairman, and in March 1990 was elected to the Volkskammer in the first free election of that body, serving there until it was dissolved upon German reunification on 3 October 1990.
In the first post-reunification all-German elections, he was elected to the Bundestag from Berlin's Hellersdorf–Marzahn constituency, and served there until 2000. He remained chairman of the PDS through 1998, and then from 1998 to 2000 served as chairman of the party's parliamentary group.
In 1992 allegations were brought against him of having been an "unofficial collaborator" (Inoffizieller Mitarbeiter, IM) or informant of East Germany's Ministry for State Security (the Stasi). He denied these allegations, and the matter was largely dropped due to his parliamentary immunity. In 1995 the Hamburg regional court ruled in Gysi's favour in a complaint against Bärbel Bohley, Gysi's former client, who had accused him of Stasi collaboration. However, the allegations were raised again in 1996, and this time the Bundestag voted to revoke his immunity and proceed with an investigation.
In 1998 the Bundestag's immunity committee concluded that Gysi had been a collaborator with the Stasi from 1978 to 1989 under the name IM Notar, and fined him 8,000 Deutsche Marks. However, both the Free Democratic Party and his own PDS disputed the verdict, and Gysi appealed against the finding. Despite the affair, he retained his seat in the Bundestag in the 1998 elections.
In 2000 he resigned as chairman of the PDS's parliamentary group, but continued as an active member of the party. Following the victory in Berlin's 2001 municipal elections of a coalition of the PDS and the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), he was elected Senator for Economics, Labour, and Women's Issues and Deputy Mayor. He emphasised practical issues and advocated the reinstitution of some of what he sees as the better aspects of East Germany's system, such as extended child-care hours and a longer school day. After a scandal involving his use of airline "bonus miles" he had acquired on trips as a Bundestag member, he resigned on 31 July 2002 from the Berlin city government. The resignation was a blow to his public "can-do" image, but he has recovered from that to some extent in the wake of increasing public opposition to a number of new policies of the federal government, like the Hartz reforms lowering unemployment benefits to the levels of mere subsistence welfare, which he strongly opposes.
In late 2004 he survived brain surgery and a heart attack. Formerly a heavy smoker, Gysi quit smoking after the crisis on his doctors' advice.
Gysi remained the PDS undisputed front man in many people's minds and continued to appear in public. In May 2005, when Federal Chancellor Gerhard Schröder announced plans to call an early election in September, many prominent PDS leaders including chair Lothar Bisky called on Gysi to front their campaign. He was a lead candidate of the PDS, and returned to the Bundestag as the member for Berlin Treptow – Köpenick. The PDS fought the election in an alliance with the new western-based Labour and Social Justice – The Electoral Alternative (WASG), under the new name The Left Party.PDS, with Gysi at times sharing a platform with WASG leader Oskar Lafontaine, former finance minister and formerly party leader of the SPD. In June 2007, the PDS and WASG formally merged to form a united party called The Left.
In 2014, Gysi wrote his analysis on the contemporary Ukraine crisis in the Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs, where he describes similarities between the United States and Russia in their transgressions of international law. Gysi calls for "a new Ostpolitik" to prevent war and promote "democracy and freedom in Russia". In 2015, Gysi was one of the leading supporters of Greece during the Greek government-debt crisis. He described the current German government as "blackmailers".
In November 2014, after being invited by Inge Höger and Annette Groth, members of the Parliamentary left to talk with them in the German parliament, the Bundestag, journalists Max Blumenthal and David Sheen learned that Gysi, although himself critical of Israel regarding the Gaza Strip and the West Bank after 1967, tried to cancel the meetings on the grounds that Blumenthal and Sheen held extremist views on Israeli settlements, from which he wished to dissociate the German Left. An incident, later dubbed "Toiletgate", occurred later. Blumenthal and Sheen waited for Gysi to "confront him about Israel's crimes in Gaza and the smears that Gysi and his acolytes had disseminated against them".
Gysi fled, followed by the two and other parliamentary members down a parliament corridor and into a bathroom. After this event, Blumenthal and Sheen were banned from ever setting foot in the Bundestag again.