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Former Foreign Minister Fischer Bids Farewell to Politics

Louisa SchaeferJune 27, 2006

Joschka Fischer of Germany's Green Party said goodbye to his parliamentary group on Tuesday as he prepares to take up a post at Princeton University in the US. For some Germans, his departure marks the end of an era.

Joschka Fischer wrote a book -- "The Return of History" -- about world politics after 9/11Image: AP

Anne-Marie Slaughter, Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at the elite Princeton University in the U.S. state of New Jersey, said the school is looking forward to Joschka Fischer coming to teach this fall.

"Our undergraduate and graduate students will reap the benefits of studying under one of the key architects of European diplomacy in the post-9/11 21st century and gain important insights into the processes and practice of European policymaking and statecraft," she said.

Indeed, when Fischer departed from his parliamentary party on Tuesday, his admirers said they were bidding farewell to a man who made Germany more self-confident and free.

Rebel with a cause

In 1982, Fischer was sworn into office as the State of Hesse's Environment Minister wearing blue jeans and tennis shoes. For many mainstream Germans, it was nothing short of scandalous. For Fischer, it was completely par for the course.

Bildergalerie Joschka Fischer Bild 4: Grüne blockieren 1983 US-Militärgelände in Frankfurt/Main
Fischer (bottom, middle) with Greens at a 1983 protest at a U.S. military base near FrankfurtImage: dpa

A high school dropout, he became involved in Germany's '68 generation of revolutionaries. The charismatic Fischer was a member of the militant group "Revolutionary Struggle" and an avid house-squatter during the 1960s. He began training as a photographer in 1965, but quickly focused his gaze on Maoism and Marxism. His protests against the Vietnam War landed him in jail for several days.

In 1982, he entered the newly founded, pacifist Green Party, whose goals included social change and environmental protection. The eloquent Fischer rose fast in the ranks and became the first Green Party member to become a government minister.

Bildergalerie Joschka Fischer Bild 5: Farbbeutel trifft Fischer
Fischer's agreement with German military action in Kosovo drew him a paint splash attackImage: dpa

Joschka Fischer was named German foreign minister in 1998 and was vice-chancellor under Social Democrat Gerhard Schröder until 2005.

Wolfgang Tönnesmann, Director of Studies at the Atlantic Academy -- an organization in Kaiserslautern that aims to strengthen German-American relations -- said Fischer changed the face of politics and Germans' perception of the Green Party as merely a sunflower-toting, anti-nuclear group.

"As the most popular German politician for a long time, his credibility helped the Greens enormously. And he never shied away from helping his colleagues in the Green party to explain their domestic agenda to the German voters," Tönnesmann said.

The reward for the Greens was a 6.7 percent result in the 1998 national election and the chance to join the federal government for the first time in coalition with the Social Democrats.

From rebel to realist

Jahresrückblick 2005 April Joschka Fischer Visa Ausschuss
The Foreign Minister at a parliamentary inquiry into a visa scandal that sapped Fischer's popularity in 2005Image: AP

Over the course of his career, Fischer transformed himself from a rebel to a realist in his approach to politics.

Though his Green party was founded on pacifism, he agreed to send German troops abroad, the first German military action since World War II, to help stop atrocities in Kosovo in 1999.

"Just a few years before, with the Srebrenica massacre in 1995, Fischer had come to the conclusion that the use of military power could be necessary to prevent the worst," Tönnesmann said. "But the larger task was certainly to convince his fellow Greens and the segment of the German public reluctant to accept military power for humanitarian purposes."

Fischer did not agree with the US-led invasion in Iraq, however. He famously dismissed Washington's justification for the war by telling US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld point-blank: "Excuse me, I am not convinced."

A look ahead

Fischer, 58, said he wanted to trade "power for freedom" in his choice to quit politics for now. He will be teaching courses in "International Crisis Diplomacy" at Princeton and will have a post at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City.

Tönnesmann wondered why a German university did not offer Fischer a job: "He is qualified with his long political career and his credentials as an intellectual. Being both at the same time is a rare achievement. German students are already looking across the Atlantic to study. This is one more reason for them to do so," he said.

Fischer's successor in the Greens' parliamentary group will be Omid Nouripour, a 31-year-old member of the party leadership.