Fischer, Joschka (b. 1948)

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Foreign minister of the Federal Republic of Germany and the leading figure in the environmentalist Green Party.

Joschka Fischer was born in the small German town of Gerabronn. His family were so-called Danube Schwabs (ethnic Germans expelled from Hungary following the end of the Second World War) and were grounded in the solidly middle-class German "burgher" tradition. The odd combination of bourgeois respectability and the trauma of expulsion shaped Fischer's political worldview, which over his lifetime has encompassed the personae of extreme left-wing firebrand and the paragon of the internationally respected statesman that he later became. Depending on their political views, observers have interpreted Fischer's ability to embrace both roles without disowning either as evidence of supreme political acumen or a lack of real political moorings.

Fischer's first foray into active politics took place in the late 1960s and early 1970s as part of the turbulent student's movement and "Extra-Parliamentary Opposition." Although not a student himself, Fischer immersed himself in the student-led hard-left milieu in the city of Frankfurt and was highly active in the anarcho-Marxist "Revolutionary Struggle" group—better known as the "Spontis." While they rejected the urban guerrilla strategies of groups such as the Red Army Faction (RAF), many Spontis did indulge in street violence. Fischer was a leading member of the Spontis' fighting force the "Proletarian Union for Terror and Destruction" (PUTZ), which was a fixture of political demonstrations in Frankfurt during this period. Ultimately some PUTZ members did drift toward the terrorist strategy espoused by the RAF and others.

Fischer's street-fighting past almost dealt a fatal blow to his career in 2001, when two separate issues became the center of public debate. The first was the trial of the former PUTZ member Hans-Joachim Klein for his part in an armed attack on an OPEC conference in Vienna in 1975. Klein had been on the run in France before being captured in 2000, and although a quarter of a century had passed in the meantime, his trial reopened the national debate about the violence of the 1970s. For Fischer this debate was made very personal because he was ordered to give evidence at the trial. At the same time, a second scandal erupted over photos of Fischer and his PUTZ colleagues beating up a police officer during a demonstration in Frankfurt in 1973. Characteristically Fischer survived what for many lesser politicians would have been a mortal blow to their careers. Nevertheless, the scandals demonstrated how much political terrain Fischer had traveled in the years since 1973.

By 2001 Fischer had become foreign minister of Germany and the second most powerful member of the ruling "Red-Green" coalition between the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the Green Party. The coalition had assumed power nationally in 1998, following years of political cooperation between the two parties at the state level in Germany from the early 1980s onward. It was during this period of state-level cooperation that Fischer had made his political mark. He served two terms as environment minister in the state of Hessen, from 1985 to 1987 and again from 1991 to 1994, and gained a reputation as a highly effective minister who was capable of securing the stringent application of existing environmental laws. At the same time, he was able to gain an ascendancy within the Green Party.

The Greens had emerged from the antinuclear and "citizens' initiative" groups of the late 1970s and entered the German Bundestag for the first time in 1983. In the early 1980s the Greens were very much the "anti-party party" described by the late Petra Kelly, but by the mid-1990s Fischer and his moderate colleagues within the party had transformed it into a center-left environmentalist party that was fit for national government. During this process previously nonnegotiable ideological shibboleths such as pacifism, anti-Americanism, and withdrawal from NATO were either removed or deemphasized within the party's ideological profile. Thus, by the end of the 1990s, the Greens had changed to such an extent that they were able to accept the need for armed intervention in Bosnia and, after coming to power, even actively consent in the 1999 NATO campaign in Kosovo and the 2001 U.S.-led campaign in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, the party (along with the SPD and a majority of the German population) was deeply hostile to U.S.-led plans to invade Iraq and opposed the 2003 Iraq campaign.

During the second term of the SPD-Green government (2002–2005) Fischer had begun to show some impatience with the Greens and even his role in the government. At the same time, critics within his party also displayed an increased readiness to question Fischer's political motivations and to demonstrate irritation with the manner in which he appeared to dominate the party. There was some speculation that he might move on to a more "dignified" role within the European Union or the United Nations—as befitting his established role as international statesman. Following the defeat of the SPD-Green government in the 2005 federal elections, Fisher left his post as foreign minister and adopted a much lower profile within the Green Party.

See alsoEnvironmentalism; Germany; Greens.


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Charles Lees