The Passion of Joschka Fischer


When in 2000 a journalist named Bettina Roehl provided the German news weekly Stern with photographs of the country's foreign minister Joschka Fischer wearing a motorcycle helmet and assaulting a police officer during a 1973 demonstration, the German press went through one of its frequent periods of protracted self-reflection—this time focusing on the wave of left-wing terrorism that gripped the country throughout the 1970s. Roehl, who had previously written for assorted fashion magazines, had a particular interest in the Baader-Meinhof period: her late mother, Ulrike Meinhof, was the group's titular head. Besides tossing Molotov cocktails and advocating violent revolution, Fischer, it soon became known, once hung out with terrorist and Carlos the Jackal acolyte Hans-Joachim Klein, who would later participate in the deadly 1975 raid on an OPEC oil ministers conference in Vienna.

But the media storm passed, and most Germans forgave Fischer his youthful, err, indiscretions. Fischer, who has gone from looking like a roadie for The Band to a more corpulent version of Mr. Bean, settled into the Green Party establishment, even advocating military action in Kosovo, much to the horror of most party members.

And now London's Independent newspaper reports that in Fischer's recently released memoir (which covers the period from Kosovo to 9/11), the former foreign minister "has bitterly attacked the party, warning it would face collapse if it returned to its left-wing pacifist roots":

Since losing power in 2005, the Greens have become a minor opposition party. In an attempt to regain a higher profile, the party has shifted leftwards and begun a heated debate about the country's military role in Afghanistan.

But Mr Fischer warned yesterday that the party would face "complete political collapse" if it continued on such a course. "If the Greens think they can restore their profile as a leftwing protest party without paying a heavy price, they are deluding themselves. Our support comes from the centre ground," he said.

The first part of his book is a personal reckoning with the Greens and his time in power with Mr Schröder. He says he would have resigned as foreign minister had France and Russia not joined Germany in opposition to the Iraq war in 2002.

The autobiography devotes much space to Mr Fischer's battle to persuade the Greens to sign up to German support for the Nato bombardment of Serbia in 1999. The decision by the ruling coalition at the time, of Social Democrats and Greens, to support Nato broke with more than 40 years of post-Nazi era policy, which stipulated that the country should not engage in military operations beyond its borders.

For those interested in modern European radical movements—and interested in a fine portrait of Joschka Fischer—I highly recommend Paul Berman's Power and the Idealists, a portion of which can be read here (pdf).

Update: I neglected to mention that reason contributing editor Michael Young reviewed Berman's book last February.