Dr. h.c. (Haifa) Joseph Martin "Joschka" Fischer Bundesminister a.D. (born April 12 1948) was German foreign minister and Vice Chancellor in the government of Gerhard Schröder from 1998 to 2005. He was a leading figure in the German Green Party and according to opinion polls, he was the most popular politician in Germany for most of the government's duration. Following the September 2005 election, in which the Schröder government was defeated, he left office on November 22, 2005.
Fischer was born in Gerabronn in Baden-Württemberg, the third child of a butcher, whose family had lived in Hungary for several generations, but had to leave the country in 1946 after Hungary was occupied by the Soviet Union. His nickname Joschka is derived from the Hungarian Jóska, diminutive of Joseph (Hungarian József). Fischer dropped out of high school in 1965, and started an apprenticeship as a photographer which he quit in 1966. Because Fischer lacks a school-leaving certificate, he never attended a university or a college.
In 1967 he became active in the German student movement and left-wing movement (post-) 1968 (the so-called Spontis), first in Stuttgart and after 1968 in Frankfurt am Main. Later Fischer had several unskilled worker jobs, among others in a left-wing bookstore in Frankfurt. During this period he began attending leftist university events as a guest, such as the lectures, de rigueur for revolutionary students, of Theodor W. Adorno, Jürgen Habermas and Oskar Negt. He studied the works of Marx, Mao and Hegel and became a member of the militant group Revolutionärer Kampf (Revolutionary Struggle). Fischer was a leader in several street battles fought by the anarchist Putzgruppe (literally "cleaning squad", with the first syllable being interpreted as an acronym for Proletarische Union für Terror und Zerstörung, "Proletarian Union for Terror and Destruction") which physically attacked a number of police officers. Photos of one such battle in March 1973, which were later to haunt him, show him clubbing policeman Rainer Marx, to whom he later publicly apologized.
His close friendship with Daniel Cohn-Bendit dates from this time. In 1971 he began working for the car manufacturer Opel and tried to organise his fellow workers for a coming communist revolution. (This was not organising on behalf of an ordinary labour union: the vast majority of Opel's workers had already been organised by IG Metall, the German metalworkers' union, decades earlier.) Six months later he was fired because of these political activities. He then made a living with unskilled work while continuing his activism. He worked as a taxi driver from 1976 to 1981 and later in a bookstore in Frankfurt.
In the Deutscher Herbst (German Autumn) of 1977, Germany was confronted with a series of left-wing terrorist attacks by the Red Army Faction (RAF). According to Fischer's own account, witnessing these events, particularly the kidnapping and murder of Hanns-Martin Schleyer, made him renounce violence as a means of political change. Instead, he became involved in the new social movements and later in the newly-founded German Green Party, mainly in the state of Hessen.
In May 1981 the Hessian Secretary of Commerce Heinz-Herbert Karry was murdered with a firearm that in 1973 had been transported, among other weapons stolen from an American army base, in Fischer's car. Fischer maintained he had given the car to the later terrorist Hans-Joachim Klein only for the purpose of having him install a new engine. Only later had he learned that the car had been used to transport stolen weapons.
As Foreign Minister, Fischer apologised for the violence of his Putzgruppe days, without disassociating himself from the radical movement. Some critics continue to charge Fischer with being the leading figure in a 1976 discussion, when participants decided to use Molotov cocktails in an upcoming demonstration in support of RAF member Ulrike Meinhof who had committed suicide. Fischer was arrested on May 14 of that year as a suspect in Molotov cocktail attacks on police, but was released after two days. Fischer has stated that he never used Molotov cocktails against the police. The firebombing of policeman Jürgen Weber's police car left Weber with burns over 60% of his body.
From 1983 to 1985, Fischer was a member of the Bundestag for the Green party. In 1985, he became Minister for the Environment in Hessen in the first Social Democrat-Green coalition (1985-1987). Fischer caused a stir when he appeared at his oath of office ceremony wearing trainers. These trainers are now on display in a museum in Bonn. A notable situation which characterizes his attitude at the time occurred on Oct. 18, 1984, when he addressed Richard Stücklen, then vice president of the parliament, with the words: "With respect, Mr. President, you are an asshole" (German: "Mit Verlaub, Herr Präsident, Sie sind ein Arschloch.").
In the end of the eighties of the past century Fischer used to express his thoughts very frankly in the periodical of the Hessian Green party "Stichwort Grün". In the edition of October 1989, one month before the Berlin Wall fell, he published an article with the big heading: "Der Wiedervereinigung die Schnauze verbieten!" (shut up re-unification!)
Fischer was again Environment Minister in Hessen from 1991 to 1994, and, later on, became co-chairman of the Greens parliamentary party in the Bundestag. During his years in opposition, Fischer was respected for his oratory, as well as for the charisma he exuded on the political stage. For a large part of the 1990s, with the SPD languishing in the opinion polls, Fischer was referred to by his admiters as the "real" Leader of the Opposition. He leveraged this status into political success, as he moved the Green Party to the centre ground of German politics, paving the way for participation in the nation's federal government.
In September 1998 the Social Democrats, led by Gerhard Schröder, decisively defeated the Christian Democrat government of Helmut Kohl. With the SPD's 41% and the Greens' 7%, a coalition government could be formed. Schröder, the election victor, stated his preference for such a coalition, as did an overwhelming majority of the SPD. After several weeks of negotiations between Social Democrats and Greens, the new government took power on 27 October 1998. Fischer became Minister of Foreign Affairs.
In 1999 Fischer supported German participation in the Kosovo War. This was an extremely controversial stance within the largely pacifist Green Party, because it meant that, for the first time since World War II, German soldiers would actively participate in combat. He justified this war with allegations that Serbia was planning to commit genocide against the Kosovo Albanians.
Fischer was also in favour of stationing German troops in Afghanistan, but he advised Schröder not to join the war in Iraq. Fischer also famously confronted US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld about the lack of evidence on Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction. He is known as a good friend of Kofi Annan. By 2005 he was the second longest-serving foreign minister in German postwar history (after Hans-Dietrich Genscher).
In 2005 Fischer was accused by critics of carelessly relaxing controls on visa regulations for Ukraine, thus allowing many illegal immigrants to enter Germany with fake identities. A parliamentary committee was established to examine the case, and unlike in other such committee hearings, Fischer's statement (and that of other top officials) was shown live on public TV. Fischer's appearance before the committee took twelve hours. (See German Visa Affair 2005).
After the defeat of the coalition government in the 2005 election, Fischer announced that he would retire to the backbench. "After 20 years of power, now I want my freedom back", he was quoted as saying. On 13 October 2005, it was announced that Frank-Walter Steinmeier (SPD) would succeed Fischer as Foreign Minister.
Fischer has consistently been the most popular German politician, leading the opinion polls for several years, even among supporters of other parties. This popularity may be attributed to the rise of the green party as well as to his office as foreign minister of Germany, which continues to be one of the most prestigious political offices in Germany as can be seen in opinion polls of his successors.
Until 1996, Fischer had been an outspoken connoisseur of good wines and food (regularly betting cases of expensive wine with opposition politicians on the outcome of elections), and had been overweight. Within a relatively short time he managed to lose an enormous amount of weight. He claimed that this was due to his giving up alcoholic drinks completely and changing his diet. He had also been doing fitness training and even running marathons. He cashed in on his weight loss by writing the book My long race towards myself on his experience, which became an immediate bestseller. Recently he has been putting on weight again.
The following sources reflect the views of U.S. adversaries of Fischer and his policies, especially Germany's decision not to participate in the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
Joschka Fischer writes a monthly commentary series, "The Rebel Realist", for Project Syndicate, a non-profit association of newspapers around the world.
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