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Germany

Time For the Greens to Flourish

Two and a half years after German unification, the western German Green Party and the eastern German Alliance 90 joined forces. What began as a union of equals in May 1993, quickly developed a western German focus.

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Ten years after the merger: Just call us the Greens

Double names are one of those things. On the one hand, they're supposed to show that spouses remain independent after the wedding. On the other, they're often hard to understand, and sooner or later one of the names is often dropped for the sake of simplicity.

The case is no different in politics.

Ten years ago, the eastern German grassroots movement Alliance 90 merged with the Green Party from western Germany, but nowadays there's only talk of the Greens. That's because there's not much left of Alliance 90 in the small governing coalition party, which says it has 45,000 members, only 6,000 of which are in eastern Germany and Berlin.

During celebrations of the fusion in Leipzig on Saturday the party announced that it's "time to flourish." The evening was marked by optimism about the party's future, and the focus was on improving election results in eastern German states.

Party head Reinhard Bütikofer looked forward to the party polling double-digit results in eastern German Saxony -- in 10 years.

A decade since the fusion, the Greens have become a predominantly western German, urban party, that isn't particularly well received in the eastern German states.

Union of equals

On May 17, 1993, however, Heiko Weigel, the then-head of the Alliance in eastern German Saxony announced the successful fusion at a party convention in Leipzig. "From here on, it's just Alliance 90 / The Greens and just jointly," he proclaimed.

At the time, the eastern Greens were on top of things, the only representatives of the party in parliament. The western party had ignored German unification in 1990, instead making climate protection their main campaign issue in federal parliamentary elections and consequently loosing their mandates. The eastern Greens, however, reached the five percent hurdle necessary to sit in parliament.

There were fears that Alliance 90, with around 5,600 members, would be swallowed up by the roughly 34,000 Greens. They were different from their friends from the west: less dogmatic, willing to enter into coalitions with the conservatives. Their main issues were rebuilding eastern Germany, democracy and coming to terms with East Germany's communist past, much less so environmental protection.

Then a state minister in western German Hesse, Joschka Fischer -- today the unofficial head of the Greens and Germany's foreign minister -- commented 10 years ago, "The time when we were essentially a protest party -- as important as it was -- this time finally came to an end for the Greens/ Alliance 90 with German unification."

As a joint party Alliance 90/ The Greens was in parliament for the first time in 1994. Since 1998 they have been part of the ruling governmental coalition along with the Social Democratic Party.

But the party still doesn't do well in eastern Germany. The urban, intellectual, student setting that made the western Greens strong doesn't exist there.

The grassroots movement's topics too have become consistently less important in the interval since the turbulent days of unification. The Greens aren't represented in any of the eastern German state parliaments anymore. The last eastern German state minister was Heidrun Heidecke in Saxony-Anhalt in 1998.

Joschka Fischer, Tritin, Künast, Kerstin Müller

Greens Jürgen Trittin, Renate Künast, Joschka Fischer and Kerstin Müller (from left) jubilate during their election party in Berlin on Sunday, Sept. 22, 2002, after first results indicated that the Greens received nearly nine percent.

But the Greens' last big success -- in parliamentary elections in fall 2002 when the party won 8.6 percent of the votes, the best result in its history -- have raised hopes that they can still make progress in eastern Germany.

"We have plenty of opportunities, and we're going to use them," Green Consumer Protection Minister Renate Künast told her party colleagues in Leipzig.

Still, the best known eastern German speaker at the Greens' celebration on Saturday was Leipzig's mayor, Wolfgang Tiefensee -- a Social Democrat.

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