Germans Yawn at '70s Photo of a Violent Fischer <http://www.iht.com/articles/6354.htm> Peter Finn Washington Post Service Friday, January 5, 2001 BERLIN The newsmagazine Stern published five photographs Thursday of Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer assaulting a police officer during his days as a militant in the 1970s in Frankfurt. The photos from a squatters' riot in 1973 show Mr. Fischer, wearing a motorcycle helmet, punching and apparently about to kick the policeman after he was knocked to the ground - felled, it appears, by a violent blow from Mr. Fischer. The photos emerged just before Mr. Fischer, 52, was scheduled to provide testimony at the trial of an old comrade from his stone-throwing days who is charged with kidnapping and involvement in the murder of three people when the international terrorist Carlos the Jackal took 70 people hostage at a meeting of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries in Vienna in 1975. While there was an almost obligatory call for Mr. Fischer's resignation from a member of the opposition, the photos for the most part elicited barely a mumble and even some surprising sympathy from leading conservative voices in the country. "Maybe we're all so damn liberal now that we enjoy it," Mr. Fischer's longtime associate, Hubert Kleinert, said of the street fighter who rose to become foreign minister. The subdued reaction codified Mr. Fischer's fascinating journey - from anti-war radical and dropout near the threshold of the terrorism that scarred Germany in the 1970s to the man who now leads the Greens party and championed Germany's return to warfare for the first time in 50 years when it participated in the bombing of Yugoslavia during the Kosovo war. "The envious try to use photographic evidence to prove that the high and mighty Mr. Fischer once had more than platonic leanings towards militancy," the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper said. "They are not serving up anything new." And the mass-circulation Bild said that "Fischer was never a terrorist; rather, like many in 1968, a militant demonstrator. Today, his diplomatic achievements alone count - not photos from a past, which was violent and filled with hatred on both sides." Mr. Fischer will testify in the trial of Han-Joachim Klein, 52, who went underground for 23 years after the Vienna attack. The foreign minister is expected to discuss the forces that led him to terrorism. Mr. Klein was shot in the stomach during the kidnapping but managed to flee to Algiers with the Carlos gang and their hostages, who were released after a ransom was paid. Mr. Klein, who renounced violence in a 1976 letter to Der Spiegel magazine, denies shooting anyone. He was extradited to Germany in 1999 from France, where he lived for more than 20 years under a false name. At the start of his trial, Mr. Klein said that "Joschka Fischer was my role model," and Mr. Klein's lawyer asked the foreign minister to appear. On Thursday in Berlin, Mr. Fischer, in an apology, said that using violence had been a "big mistake." "We were convinced that we wanted to and had to disturb the constitutional order," he said. Mr. Fischer said he later went through a "painful internal process" of distancing himself from that scene, adding that his career with the Greens party showed his commitment to German democracy and its postwar constitution. Born the son of a butcher in southwest Germany, Mr. Fischer dropped out of school and wound his way through a series of odd jobs before joining the student protest movement in Frankfurt in the late 1960s. His easy charisma and fiery oratory soon made him a leader of the protesters. And as a member of the anarchist Putzgruppen (cleaning groups), he was a street tough in confrontations with the police. "This is my biography," Mr. Fischer said in a rare interview in the current issue of Stern about this period in his life. "This is me, Joschka Fischer. Without my biography I would be someone else today, and I would not like that at all." But the milieu in which Mr. Fischer moved also spawned the Red Army Faction, a ruthless terrorist group. "Fischer and his buddies were a millimeter from terrorism," said Michael Schwelien, author of a critical biography of the foreign minister. "That was a period of time when the Red Army Faction was discussing things in pubs, in semi-public, in backrooms where Fischer was. And a lot of people were undecided about terrorism. For some it was just another aspect of the struggle against the state." "Yes, I was militant," said Mr. Fischer in Stern. "But I always rejected the armed struggle and fought it hard politically. We took over houses, and when the police came to kick us out, we fought back. We threw stones. We were beat up, but we fought back. I have never denied this." The conservative Christian Democrat Union party said Mr. Fischer's admission meant he was not fit for high office. "Whoever behaved like that is no representative of a violence-free civil society," said Wolfgang Bosbach, the party's deputy parliamentary leader, in an interview Thursday with the Berliner Morgenpost newspaper. "One cannot be foreign minister of Germany with such an attitude." Mr. Fischer, however, denied that he ever took up a weapon. And specifically he denied that he had thrown firebombs that left two policemen seriously injured during riots after the suicide of the terrorist leader Ulrike Meinhoff in 1976, as one biographer claimed in a book called "We are the Mad Ones." Also, he denied having known that his car would be used by Mr. Klein to allegedly transport the murder weapon used to kill Heinz Herbert Karry, the economics minister of the state of Hesse, in 1981. "If I had known that he was going to use it to drive around with weapons, I wouldn't have given him the car," said Mr. Fischer. And Schwelien, a critic of the minister's ideological transformations, agreed that Mr. Fischer would never have sanctioned murder. "That story of his involvement was always far-fetched," said Mr. Schwelien. By 1976, Mr. Fischer said he was disillusioned with the radical movement and its terrorist offspring, and he publicly renounced violence at an "anti-repression congress" that year. Also, he told Stern, he was deeply affected by the involvement of German terrorists in a 1976 plane hijacking. Mr. Fischer is now the most popular politician in Germany, the suited and slimmed down (he was once very over weight) face of the Berlin leadership. "He is simply the most fascinating figure in postwar Germany," Mr. Schwelien said. And, in a final twist, Mr. Fischer's life is coming to the movies, courtesy of a Hollywood production, reportedly starring Al Pacino in the title role.
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