Germany’s Red-Green Romeo

Paul Hockenos

Minu and Joschka: What makes him so sexy?

Germany’s media world tit­tered with delight when the country’s pop­u­lar for­eign min­is­ter and Green Par­ty leader, Josch­ka Fis­ch­er, brought his new roman­tic inter­est, 28-year-old Ger­man-born Per­sian beau­ty Minu Barati, to the annu­al Press Ball. Though Fis­ch­er rarely cracks a smile, he must have grinned at the right-wing Bild newspaper’s gush­ing ban­ner head­line the next day: What Makes Josch­ka So Sexy?” 

For near­ly six years, since short­ly after the Social Demo­c­rat and Green red-green” coali­tion came to pow­er, Fis­ch­er has topped Germany’s pop­u­lar­i­ty polls. The source of Fischer’s unusu­al­ly high approval rat­ings is any­thing but self-evi­dent; his unortho­dox biog­ra­phy and rad­i­cal polit­i­cal past wouldn’t seem to endear him to the aver­age Ger­man burgher. 

Fischer’s par­ents were eth­nic Ger­mans expelled from Hun­gary in 1946, the bot­tom of the bar­rel in an occu­pied and des­ti­tute post­war Ger­many. He nev­er earned a uni­ver­si­ty degree and made his ear­ly liv­ing as a book thief. 

His excess­es as a street-fight­ing Frank­furt anar­chist dur­ing the 70s came to pub­lic light in 2000, and con­ser­v­a­tives called upon him to resign. One stark pho­to dug up by jour­nal­ists caught Fis­ch­er at a 1973 demon­stra­tion dol­ing out a gra­tu­itous beat­ing to a soli­tary police offi­cer with the help of a few com­rades. But, remark­ably, the scan­dals passed over with­out dent­ing Fischer’s cred­i­bil­i­ty, even among con­ser­v­a­tive voters.

In the late 70s, Fis­ch­er gave up on rev­o­lu­tion­ary social­ism and for­swore vio­lence as a polit­i­cal tool. Dis­il­lu­sioned, for years he drove a taxi nights in Frank­furt, pon­der­ing the enig­ma of a flawed but unre­formable democ­ra­cy. Dur­ing the day, he worked in the Karl Marx Book­shop, a co-op that includ­ed many of his future polit­i­cal allies in the Greens, like Dany Cohn-Ben­dit, the hero of the Paris May 1968 upris­ing, and Tom Koenigs, today Germany’s top human rights coor­di­na­tor. Per­haps this is his secret: Fis­ch­er and sev­er­al fel­low cab­i­net min­is­ters, includ­ing Chan­cel­lor Ger­hard Schröder, belong to a post­war gen­er­a­tion that many Ger­mans iden­ti­fy with. 

When the Green Par­ty formed in 1980 as an elec­toral plat­form for an amal­gam of groups from the peace, anti-nuke, eco­log­i­cal and women’s move­ments, Fis­ch­er was intense­ly skep­ti­cal. Par­lia­men­tary democ­ra­cy and fem­i­nism weren’t his thing any more than knit­ted wool sweaters or mues­li. Dur­ing the wild Frank­furt years the left’s women often found Fis­ch­er unbear­ably macho and author­i­tar­i­an. But when the new par­ty began putting its peo­ple into region­al leg­is­la­tures across West Ger­many, Fis­ch­er joined its ranks and began a bruis­ing climb to its top. 

Fis­ch­er and his all-male Frank­furt Gang” estab­lished them­selves as the party’s hard-nosed prag­ma­tists, or rea­los,” the wing ded­i­cat­ed to an elec­toral strat­e­gy in con­trast to the ide­al­is­tic Green fun­da­men­tal­ists, or fundis.” An inner par­ty war between the two fac­tions raged through­out the 80s until the rea­los final­ly pre­vailed. Since then, under Fischer’s firm stew­ard­ship, the for­mer anti-par­ty par­ty” has become part of the main­stream. Now the republic’s third largest par­ty, the Greens are a safe, lib­er­al option.

The tam­ing of the once anti-estab­lish­ment Greens may be anoth­er source of Fischer’s appeal across the polit­i­cal spec­trum. But along the way, the com­pro­mis­es pushed through by the prag­ma­tists were too much for many of the Greens’ orig­i­nal sup­port­ers, some of whom today count among Fischer’s most tren­chant adversaries.

As for­eign min­is­ter, Fis­ch­er has endorsed an inter­ven­tion­ist for­eign pol­i­cy that can hard­ly be described as Green. But he’s an inter­na­tion­al­ly respect­ed states­man, and many Ger­mans applaud the country’s engage­ment world­wide in the name of human­i­tar­i­an goals. Even before the full extent of the South Asian tsunami’s dev­as­ta­tion was known, Fis­ch­er rec­og­nized it as a cri­sis of enor­mous pro­por­tions and began to act; Ger­many offered the tsuna­mi-hit coun­tries more aid than any other.

Fis­ch­er and Schröder are push­ing for a Ger­man seat on the U.N. Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil. Ger­mans are sen­si­tive about their image and they like the fact that Fis­ch­er has stature and is respect­ed abroad,” says Ute Zapf, a Social Demo­c­ra­t­ic parliamentarian. 

It has long been rumored that Fis­ch­er is tired of the for­eign min­istry job and cov­ets the posts of Euro­pean Union for­eign min­is­ter or U.N. sec­re­tary-gen­er­al. But Fischer’s pub­lic appeal and cam­paign­ing prowess are crit­i­cal for red-green reelec­tion chances in 2006. Fis­ch­er has promised Chan­cel­lor Schröder that he plans to stay on board, at least for awhile. 

Until then, he may have to con­tent him­self with a spiced-up pri­vate life. Miss Barati and her six-year-old daugh­ter have moved into Fischer’s Berlin Mitte apart­ment near the gold-capped synagogue.

Paul Hockenos has writ­ten for In These Times from East­ern Europe since 1989. He is the author, most recent­ly, of Josch­ka Fis­ch­er and the Mak­ing of the Berlin Repub­lic: An Alter­na­tive His­to­ry of Post­war Ger­many (Oxford Uni­ver­si­ty Press).
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