BERLIN (Reuters) - A highly-charged debate on whether communist East Germany can be described as an "unjust state" is threatening talks on forming a government in an eastern region of Germany, highlighting lingering divisions 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The radical Left party is in preliminary talks about a three-way coalition with the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens in the small eastern state of Thuringia after an inconclusive election last month.
But negotiations have been dogged by a conflict over how East Germany should be remembered. All three parties have agreed on a joint paper which mentions the lack of free elections in the former communist state and the fact that all laws had to conform with the system.
The Greens however, are threatening to pull out of the talks unless East Germany is explicitly described as an "Unrechtsstaat" - or unjust state. Some members of the Left party, which counts former members of East Germany's Socialist Unity Party (SED), oppose that.
While many Germans call the Communist regime unjust due crimes it committed, such as killing people trying to leave without permission, incarcerating dissenters and spying on its citizens, some object to the label for the state as a whole.
Leading Left party member Gregor Gysi, a lawyer from the East, has railed against the term, while acknowledging that injustices occurred in the East.
"If I describe East Germany as an unjust state then I am saying that the three western powers had the right to found the Federal Republic but that the Soviet Union did not ... have the right to found East Germany," said Gysi in a magazine interview this week.
In view of the 20 million people the Soviet Union lost in World War Two, this is out of the question, he added.
Conservatives, who are keen for the local Thuringia branch of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) to form a coalition with the SPD, have attacked Gysi's comments.
"Gysi is slapping all the victims of the SED's crimes in the face," said Bavarian conservative Andreas Scheuer. "We won't allow the Left party to write around history and cleanse the SED rulers of their orders to shoot and to spy."
He called on the SPD to end the talks with the Left party.
If the three-way coalition goes ahead, Bodo Ramelow would become Germany's first state premier from the Left, a deeply pacifist party that wants higher taxes on the rich and an expansion of the German welfare state.
Reporting by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Noah Barkin