BERLIN - When they won seats in Parliament for the first time, in 1983, the German Greens strode into the chambers of the Bundestag wearing blue jeans and irreverent grins. The Greens were full of energy but short on practical political vision. They seemed destined to remain, even from the halls of Parliament, consummate outsiders.
That has changed.
The Greens joined the government of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in October 1998. Schroeder's foreign minister is a Green; so is the minister for environment. And long before then, the party helped inspire the formation of a Green Party in the United States.
But the most important example of the party's fundamental change came when the Greens, long associated with an anti-war platform, endorsed NATO's bombing of Kosovo last year, an action that led to the first German bombing missions since World War II.
Green Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer had to defend the pro-bombing stance at a party congress. The night before his appearance, anti-war activists "decorated" the meeting hall with sacks of animal manure. Fischer, a former anti-Vietnam War activist, strode to the podium as protesters in the audience chanted "Warmonger!" Five minutes into his speech, a young man struck Fischer on the side of his face with a bag of paint. Shaken but undaunted, Fischer continued to explain why he thought the bombings were justified.
"It was amazing," says Juergen Seifert, a political scientist at the University of Hanover. "Fischer could have shown a little more sympathy for the anti-war Greens, but his speech was completely one-sided in favor of the war in Kosovo."
At the end of a long day, the majority of the 700 party delegates voted to conditionally support the bombings. They asked for further diplomatic efforts but fell short of condemning the war.
In return for that support, the Greens have felt justified in pursuing some of their other goals within the government. Environmental Minister Juergen Trittin, one of three Greens in the Cabinet, helped push through legislation calling for the elimination of nuclear power in Germany by 2032. Without the Greens, reforms of antiquated citizenship laws would not have passed. The Greens also played a key role in the government recognizing "life partnerships" between same-sex couples.
But the party has lost support in state elections: Against the wishes of Schroeder's Social Democrats, the Greens favor abolishing military conscription and favor tax reform that would benefit the young.
Last month, Green parliamentary leader Rezzo Schlauch warned party chairman Fritz Kuhn "that it is unwise in politics to change policies like shirts." Schlauch has criticized members of the party leadership who have suggested that proceeds from a Green-sponsored environmental tax be used for tax cuts. As partners in the government, the party was ostensibly committed to channeling the money into the state pension system.
Fischer is the only Green who has been wholly loyal to the government and enjoys the highest popularity rating of any German politician. But he has helplessly watched his party split into rival factions: a traditional wing - the "fundis"; and a modernizing wing - the "realos."
Cem Ozdemir, a "realo" member of Parliament, is eager to win support of young voters who he believes associate the Greens with asceticism. "We need to convince young people that the Greens are not out to ban everything," he says. "Young people want cars and that's OK. We should simply encourage them to use cars that are more gas-efficient."
Ozdemir, the son of Turkish immigrants, has given German politics a much-needed jolt of "difference." In the debate over reforming citizenship laws to allow children of foreign-born residents to become citizens, Ozdemir served as an advocate for the inclusion of all German-born residents. "This is a defining issue for us," he says. "It is important to integrate foreigners, not assimilate them."
He has also seized upon a spate of anti-foreigner violence as a reason to speak more forcefully in favor of greater openness in society. As center-right parties talk about the need for a German "guiding culture," he has spoken out in favor of multiculturalism.
A pro-immigration platform was not always a given among the Greens, who tended to focus inward. "The Greens didn't necessarily have to develop in this direction," says Seifert, the University of Hanover political scientist. "Looking at their origins, the Greens could have become pro-environmental nationalists."
Ozdemir is a modernizer in the literal sense of the word. He is also interested in far-reaching tax reform, which the Social Democrats fear will cost them support among older voters. He also favors more business-friendly policies.
But the key moment, he says, was the party conference vote supporting the NATO bombing: "It showed we were a reliable coalition partner."
That vote still infuriates Hans-Christian Stroebele, a member of the traditional wing. He is convinced that his party would have remained true to its ideals if it had voted to oppose the bombing.
"The majority of Greens were against the bombings," he says. "I think the [government] coalition would have survived regardless of how we voted, but regardless, there are some things more important than keeping a coalition alive."
Stroebele, 61, resists the "fundi" label. True Greens, he says, can function only as "creatures of the opposition." But he considers the passage of the new citizenship law to be the greatest achievement in the 20-year history of the party.
"We need to emphasize social justice," Stroebele says. "Making concessions to big business is not what we're about."
With the next national elections scheduled for 2002, the Greens have until then to give voters a cohesive sense of what the party is and where it is headed.