The German Green party is in the midst of a major identity crisis — struggling between the ideals that have been the motor of its very existence and the pragmatism required of a junior coalition partner of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s (barely) left of center government. A new generation of Greens, arguably more interested in holding on to power and expanding electoral support among a generation of new voters that shows more interest in professional advancement, wealth and security than their counterparts one or two decades ago, has emerged. They have just released a position paper that calls for a pragmatic shift to the center of the political landscape, away from the radical calls of the early Greens back in the 1980s for a nonviolent, just, safer and environmentally responsible society.
This is only the pinnacle of a steady movement of major German (and other European) party systems to flock from the left and right to a comfortable, quasi-conservative, yet young and dynamic, middle ground, away from ideology, away from core values, principles and deeply felt beliefs about how society ought to function. Such an approach offers little room for radical statements and it calls for conformity and pragmatic politicking. Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer is a master of this trade, and his approach, particularly in the context of the recent NATO air campaign against Yugoslavia, seems to have struck a chord among a new generation of Green Party members. The leftwing of the Green Party is about to release its counterposition paper, and the internal wrangling over the fate of the Greens could greatly change the political landscape (and political culture) of Germany.
If any party in Germany ever represented the force of ideas over the force of tradition and establishment, it was the Greens. Due to their very presence and steady growth, the Greens forced the established parties to “retaliate” with similar ideas and programs to avoid losing the young cohort of German voters. Green agendas slowly but surely were thus absorbed by the established parties and their programs. The Greens as a movement opposed nuclear power, military force, the arms race, environmental pollution, poverty, oppression and power and elite politics. The Greens as a party lost much of that ideational power, but they were still able to reconcile old ideals with the limitations of actual access to and possession of political power. Even as a governing coalition partner the Greens preserved some of their ideals, making them an often difficult coalition partner for the governing Social Democrats under Schroeder.
Then came Kosovo. It would have been more than surprising if the Greens would not have taken a huge beating after their support for NATO’s decision to respond with an 11-week long air campaign to Serbia’s refusal to loosen its grip on Kosovo. This was not NATO’s call, this was not NATO’s responsibility, yet it was all about NATO’s self image and survival as a powerful and multidimensional military alliance with enormous might but no enemy. Would that have happened in the 1980s, the Greens would have dominated daily politics with demonstrations against the war effort, and with pleas for human compassion to assist Kosovo’s Albanians through the force of diplomacy and economic assistance, not by bombarding their villages and allowing Serb forces to run amok while bombs kept falling from the skies. They would have made sure that the millions of victims caught up in similar and much worse conflicts around the world would “benefit” from this sudden attention to intergroup conflict. They would have asked for principled responses by the international community (and the United Nations) to protect civilians in times of conflict. The Greens would have been the voice of reason and conscience.
They might not have succeeded in stopping the war effort, but they would have shown a concerted front. Of course, they would have been accused of appeasement and bombarded with other unflattering attributes reserved for the uncomfortable, the loud, the noncomformist in our societies. But they would have made a difference by appealing to the conscience of every German who, deep down inside, knew that there was something wrong with NATO’s actions in Kosovo and with politicians’ concerted support of Germany’s war effort. It seems that this voice has been silenced. Silenced by the temptations of power and the loss of ideals. What this new generation of Greens asks from its older sisters and brothers is to abandon the movement, abandon the cause — in effect abandon the idea of the alternative to the established politics that the Greens once stood for.
Many of those in the middle and among the conservative right, who, throughout the years, have always been more bothered than pleased with the political presence of the Greens, will soon realize that this internal change within the party, quite possibly leading to the demise of the Green party as we knew it, will be one of the greatest losses of German postwar political culture. The Greens have been the embodiment of Germany’s success to develop a truly civic culture — the current rush to the political center reverses this substantial achievement of postwar Germany.
One can only hope that the Green party will find the courage to resist the temptation of being sucked into the political mainstream and rediscover its historical role and responsibility in a Germany that, now more than ever, needs a political voice left of center. Francis Fukuyama once claimed that the global spread of liberal democracy will ring in the end of history. Similarly, one could argue that the push of all political parties toward the center will ring in the end of politics. If the Greens try to become just another “catch-all” party, ready and willing to please every potential voter across all social classes, ages and ideological preferences, Germany’s political landscape will lose its current diversity, excitement and maturity — and it will lose the important input from a party that used to fight for its ideals, not its popularity.
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