"I have never been a pacificist and will never become one, because I never exclude the reason to fight for your freedom and for your life."
Germany's most popular politician, this former left-wing militant is known for his bluntness, wittiness and star quality--a definite rarity among German politicians. Joschka Fischer became a figure of controversy in early 2001, when details about his past came out and threatened to endanger his career, particularly an incident in the 1970s in which he beat up a police officer. Nonetheless, his strong personality carried him through the crisis, and he was able to retain his prominent position as Germany's Vice-Chancellor.
Joseph Martin Fischer was born on April 12, 1948, in Gerabonn, 45 miles northeast of Stuttgart, Germany. His parents were Hungarians, who had settled in Germany after being forced to leave Budapest. A high school dropout, Fischer left school shortly before finishing the tenth grade to work as a photographer's apprentice.
In 1967, a 19 year old Fischer eloped to Scotland to marry his first wife, Edeltraud, who was a minor at the time. After their wedding, the couple moved to Frankfurt, where they devoted themselves to furthering the student movement of the late 1960s.
Although he wasn't actually a student, Fischer threw himself into intensive socio-political studies and joined the militant "Revolutionary Fight" group. During this time he also held several odd jobs, including driving a taxi to support himself and his wife. As an active revolutionary, Fischer counted among his friends and acquaintances Hans Joachim-Klein, who was tried for the murder of three people as a result of his attack on a OPEC oil meeting, as well as "Danny the Red", the radical student leader Daniel Cohn-Bendit.
It was during this period when he was involved in two crucial incidents which would later come back to haunt him. The first one occured during a street demonstration in 1973, in which Fischer beat up a policeman, pictures of which were publicised by Stern magazine in 2001. When these photos came to light, Fischer apologised, but attempted to justify his actions by saying "We defended ourselves. We threw stones. We were beaten up, but we also took a good swipe. I have never concealed anything in this regard." He then had a conversation with Rainer Marx, the policeman whom he'd attacked. The 48 year old Marx revealed that he'd already forgiven Fischer on account of all that he'd achieved as a politician.
The other incident was the firebombing of a police car in 1976. Although Fischer himself is not among the accused, he could possibly be held responsible as a radical political leader at the time. This case was re-opened in 2001 by Frankfurt prosecutors, and has the potential to inflict even worse damage on Fischer's career.
Fischer abandoned the revolutionary movement in autumn of 1977, after becoming disenchanted by the bloody terrorist campaign being co-ordinated by his peers. He later referred to that autumn as his "loss of allusions".
In 1982, Fischer joined up with the Green Party, which had been formed two years earlier. In March of 1983, Fischer became one of the first Green members to be voted into the German Bundestag. Although he only remained in the Bundestag for two years, he quickly established a reputation as a "realo", a realistic member of the Green party which was generally dominated by the "fundis" (see: fundamentalist, see also tree-hugger).
In 1985, a coalition government of the Social Democratic Party and the Green Party was formed in the state of Hesse, and Fischer was given the position of Minister of the Environment. The first Green minister in Germany, he was sworn in while wearing a pair of sneakers, which are now on display in the Museum for German History in Bonn. Unfortunately for Fischer, the coalition was toppled by a debate over a nuclear power plant and Fischer hismelf resigned after only 14 months on the job.
In the following election, the Green party increased their overall vote percentage, but were forced into opposition after the Christian Democrats and Liberals won enough seats to form a coalition. Over the next four years, Fischer became head of the Green Party and was seen as the real leader of the opposition. These years marked the transformation of the Greens into a true force in professional politics.
In 1991, the Greens found themselves part of another coalition (again with the SDP) government. Fischer was Minister of the Enivornment again, as well as Vice-Minister-President. Again, his stint in office ended with a resignation as he stepped down in October of 1994 to fully commit himself to national politics in Bonn.
It was around this time that Fischer's wife (his third) left him, and in response he began to take control of his life. Badly overweight, and potentially facing some serious health issues, Fischer began a regime of dieting and jogging and drastically transformed his physique. In a short time, he'd lost more than 30kg.
In 1998, the Conservative-Liberal government of Chancellor Helmut Kohl was voted out of office after sixteen years. The new federal government was formed by the SDP and Greens. When Fischer re-entered into the Bundestag as Foreign Minister, he seemed to be a new man. He had a new wife, and the sweats and sneakers were gone, replaced by expensive Italian suits. His outspoken, militant personality had remained the same however, and he stirred up quite a bit of controversy in the following years.
Most notably, he turned against the majority of his own party and gave his support to the attacks on Kosovo by NATO, saying that pacifism had to be abandoned in the face of genocide and ethnic cleansing. This resulted in an embarassing incident in which a member of his own party beaned him in the head with a bag of red paint in protest*. Fischer stood his ground and nonetheless won the argument, while German fighter planes were sent to Kosovo.
He also incited some rather mixed feelings when he enthused that the EU ought to establish a federal Government of Europe, and limit the powers of the individual member nations. In 2001, when the photos of his altercation with Rainer Marx were published in Stern, he was forced to publicly apologise for his past as a militant. Still, he emerged relatively unscathed. A recent poll done by a prominent German magazine revealed Fischer to be Germany's most admired politician. Even his former radical co-hort "Danny the Red" praised him for his honesty: "At long last there is a German politician who says, 'Yes, it was me.'" Cohn-Bendit then lamented that other politicians haven't come forward to admit their Communist or Nazi pasts.
Fischer hismelf admits that while he did do some things wrong, he passionately denies having used terrorist tactics to get his point across while embroiled in the revolutionary movement: "I always thought that was wrong, even suicidal. The whole time, for God's sake, we were working hard against this step to armed struggle, to terrorism."
*Noung adds: Fischer wasn't just embrassed by the paint-throwing incident, it also burst his eardrum. Also, further to the controversy, he attended a conference in Algiers in 1969 endorsing the destruction of Israel, which he later regretted.