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Internationalism is the DNA of the Left — An Inteview with Andrej Hunko

Note from LeftEast editors: This interview was first published in Mašina, we publish it here in English as part of a collaboration within ELMO – The Eastern European Left Media Outlet.

Andrej Konstantin Hunko is a German politician and member of the left-wing political party The Left (Die Linke). He has been a member of the Bundestag since 2009 and a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe since 2010.

During his first years in the German Bundestag and the Council of Europe, he criticised the then dominant austerity policy as a way of dealing with economic crises. Hunko drafted and presented the report “Austerity – a danger for democracy and social rights” to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and the accompanying resolution was adopted by a large majority.

Hunko has observed many foreign elections, and after criticising the 2017 constitutional referendum in Turkey, the approval of which concentrated more power in the hands of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, he was accused by the Turkish president and his foreign minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, of being a supporter of the revolutionary guerrilla movement, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which Turkey, the US and NATO classify as a terrorist organisation.

We sat down for a short interview with Andrej Hunko during his brief visit to Belgrade. Hunko came to Serbia in support of Kurdish political activist Ecevit Piroğlu, the former director of the Human Rights Association branch in the Turkish city of Izmir and a member of the central committee of the Socialist Democracy Party, who is accused by the Turkish authorities of being a member of an armed terrorist organisation. Many critics of the Erdoğan regime, including Hunko, see Piroğlu’s case as another example of an increasingly authoritarian regime’s harsh crackdown on opponents.

You’ve come to Belgrade to support Ecevit Piroğlu, who was locked up in a Serbian prison two years ago and whom the Turkish governement wants extradited on terrorism charges. What factors are in favour of the Kurdish political activists?

My aim is to raise awareness of the case. According to Serbian law, Ecevit Piroğlu should be released, and according to international conventions, he cannot be extradited. He has now spent two years in prison in Seribia, all because of an Interpol red notice. He is accused of being a terrorist, like so many left-wing opposition activists in Turkey.

Under Serbian law, he cannot be detained for more than a year in an extradition case. He was released in January and arrested again within four days. He was accused of having a forged passport. In fact, the passport wasn’t forged, it wasn’t used by Piroğlu and he hadn’t committed any crime.

This is a political case. The Turkish foreign minister visited Serbia and asked for the extradition of Ecevit Piroğlu. Turkey is once again abusing international structures such as Interpol, as it has done in other cases. My party, The Left, is working with the Turkish left-wing opposition party, the Peoples’ Democratic Party, to support Piroğlu, and we will also take his case to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which deals with human rights and the rule of law.

After the 2016 coup attempt, Erdoğan began what seems to be a permanent crackdown on opposition actors, especially those from the Kurdish and leftist opposition. What can we expect from the Turkish elections in May? Is it possible that we’ll see the fall of Erdoğan’s authoritarian rule?

The elections in May are very, very important. They are both presidential and parliamentary. There is a good chance to change the government, to have a new president and a different parliament.

Since the attempted coup in 2016, the Turkish government has been using terrorism charges against members of the opposition more loosely and frequently. High-profile politicians are imprisoned and Turkey ignores the European Court of Human Rights’ ruling that people like Osman Kavala, sentenced to life imprisonment for taking part in the Gezi protests, or the former co-chair of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, Selahattin Demirtaş, should be released.

There’s still an ongoing trial against the third largest party, the People’s Democratic Party, thousands of its members are in prison and it’s possible the party could be banned before the elections.

Turkey is a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, by which it accepts the rulings of the Strasbourg Court as binding. If it refuses to act accordingly, Turkey could be expelled from the Council of Europe. People are increasingly unhappy with the way Erdoğan is running the country and there is a good chance of change. It is important to ensure that the elections in May are not manipulated.

International circumstances are not favourable to left-wing politics. Post-World War II internationalism has failed to deliver the peace and equality that would unburden the societies of the global South. Today’s political discourse is flooded with scepticism or outright hostility towards the transnational cosmopolitan worldviews that were once inseparable from left politics. How do you think left-wing parties should approach internationalism?

Internationalism, as I see it, is a kind of DNA of the left. But it is complicated. The problem we have today is that the main social protections and democratic participation of the working class are within the boundaries of the national state.

Education, health care and pensions are not provided by international structures. This makes it easier for the far right to win the sympathy of working class voters when they feel threatened by international factors. At the same time, everyone agrees that we need international cooperation to solve the big problems, such as the climate crisis, but we are also heading towards a world of new bloc conflicts.

The US is not choosing the path of cooperation with China, and there is growing polarisation over the war in Ukraine. As leftists, we should be internationalists, we should build our own international structures, but we should also promote cooperation between states, because there are urgent problems that we can only solve together.

We should oppose all attempts to play nations and ethnic groups off against each other. But in our political thinking we must also be aware that we cannot simply abolish the nation state without having something else in place in terms of social protection and democratic participation.

Andrej Konstantin Hunko is a German politician. He has been a member of the German Bundestag since 2009 and a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe since 2010. He has been deputy chairman of the Unified European Left parliamentary group since 2015 and deputy chairman of the Left parliamentary group in the Bundestag since 2020. He has been a member of the Executive Committee of the Left party since 2014.

András Juhász is a political activist from Zrenjanin, Serbia. He is a member of the editorial board of the portal.