Elisabeth Gauthier – Frenchwoman, Austrian, European, and Citizen of the World

On 9 February Elisabeth Gauthier passed away after a brief but difficult illness. She was a founding member and the director of Espaces Marx, a member of the French Communist Party’s National Committee, and a founder and member of the Managing Board of transform! europe. Below the farewell speech given by Walter Baier during the funeral service on 17 February in Corbeil-Essonnes.

It is very difficult for me to express these formal words of farewell because I have known Elisabeth – or Liesl, as we called her in Austria – for more than 40 years. Together – she, the young anti-fascist teacher active in the Association of Democratic Teachers, and I, responsible for the Union of Communist Students – we lived through our first experiences of political life.
Her political connection to the country of her birth and our personal ties remained unchanged after Elisabeth moved to France and was then elected to the PCF’s National Committee.
Certain political and ethical issues have accompanied us throughout our lives. For reasons that are as much political as personal, a central issue in Elisabeth Gauthier’s life was the irruption of the confrontation with the Nazi past in Austria in the context of the Cold War and anti-communism. With the Waldheim Affair it became a European question. Elisabeth was deeply offended by the apathy of Austria’s official representatives, and she was at the same time surprised by and overjoyed at the demonstrations in which hundreds and thousands of Austrians protested in 2000 against the ‘black-blue’ government coalition that united the Conservative Party with Jörg Haider’s FPÖ. She tirelessly bore witness to ‘another Austria’ in her adoptive country; she organised meetings of secondary-school and university students, spoke at colloquiums, and gave talks.
Elisabeth was French, Austrian, European, and a citizen of the world: We saw each other again at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, where she personified the spirit of solidarity within plurality as few others could. She subsequently made decisive contributions to the success of the European Social Forums in Florence, Paris, and Athens, thanks to the clarity of her point of view and her ability to respect divergent opinions and create a synthesis from them.
It was at Porto Alegre, at a time in which I was editor of a left-wing weekly, that she involved me in the creation of the transform! network.
As director of Espaces Marx, Elisabeth Gauthier contributed, in no less decisive a way, to the creation of the Party of the European Left. However, her most notable European-level contribution was her decisive role in the formation of transform!. She was a member of the Managing Board of our network up to the end of her life.
In particular as an author, she took up the issue of the alarming rise of right-wing populism in Europe, to which she dedicated a book edited together with Joachim Bischoff and Bernhard Müller. Her conclusion was hardly reassuring: In right-wing tendencies she recognized the failures of the political left in its response to the major social contradictions in developed capitalist societies.
She welcomed Syriza’s victory with great enthusiasm and carried on her solidarity with the Greek left despite all difficulties and questions.
Up to her last moments she concentrated her efforts on the renewal of left strategy, which was the focus of the long article that she finished in German and French, despite the deterioration of her health, and which is a political testament she has left us.
I had the privilege of being in contact with Elisabeth up to the last days of her life. By telephone, we had serious political and personal discussions, but at times also light-hearted and happy ones. Although she struggled against her illness to the last, her farewell was a long and well-thought-out one.
Through her disappearance we have all been impoverished and feel more alone. It is not only her work but also her memory that we will treasure.
Liebe Elisabeth, als Kollegin, als Genossin und als Freundin wirst Du uns immer in Erinnerung bleiben.
For obituaries and letters of codolence please click here.