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The Student Movement and Terrorism

In addition to troubling economic and environmental problems for which no easy solutions were available, West Germany and its politicians had to contend with two new sources of social unrest: the student movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s, and left-wing terrorism, which originated in the late 1960s, but which had its greatest impact in the 1970s.

Inspired by the student movement in the United States and by the international movement opposing the war in Vietnam, as well as by rising opposition to the traditional administration of German universities, students organized protest movements at a number of German universities in the late 1960s. Sit-ins, disruption of lectures, and attacks against buildings housing major publishing companies, such as the Axel Springer Group, were staged by a minority of student groups, primarily those with Marxist ties. Protesters claimed that an "extra-parliamentary opposition" was needed to ensure representation of the people in a state that was governed largely by two major parties. The student protest movement had little support among the population, however, and was finally absorbed by the established parties.

Terrorism was also a concern during this period (see Dissidence and Terrorist Activity, ch. 9). A few radical student elements sought to realize their aims through political terrorism. Small groups launched violent attacks against "symbols of capitalism." They fire-bombed department stores in several cities, broke into police stations, robbed banks, and attacked United States military installations.

One terrorist group, notorious for its brutality, became known as the Baader-Meinhof Gang, named after its leaders, Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof. Calling themselves the Red Army Faction (Rote Armee Fraktion--RAF), their aim was to assassinate the "levers of the imperialist power structure," thereby provoking the state to abandon lawful methods of fighting terrorism. The arrest and imprisonment in 1972 of the main RAF leaders led to an intensification of terrorist acts by the group, which culminated in 1977 in the kidnapping of Hanns-Martin Schleyer, the president of the Federation of German Employers' Associations (Bundesvereinigung der Deutschen Arbeitgeberverbände--BDA) and in the hijacking six weeks later of a Lufthansa passenger airplane to Mogadishu, Somalia.

The aim of both these terrorist actions was the release of Baader and the other RAF prisoners. In a spectacular rescue action, the Lufthansa airplane was stormed by a special unit of the West German Federal Border Force, ending a five-day odyssey through the Middle East. Failing in their coup, Baader and three other RAF leaders committed suicide in their prison cells, and Schleyer was subsequently murdered by his kidnappers. The police had been successful in discovering hideouts, strategy papers, and caches of weapons, however, which led to the severe weakening of the organization of the RAF.

Nevertheless, supported by various international terrorist groups, including the GDR's Stasi, the RAF maintained a small network committed to assassinating prominent public figures. In 1989 they were responsible for the murder of Alfred Herrhausen, a top executive of the Deutsche Bank in Frankfurt, and in 1991 for the murder of Detlev Karsten Rohwedder, president of the Treuhandanstalt, the agency that managed the privatization of property in the former GDR (see Unification and Its Aftermath, ch. 5).

The Greens

In the aftermath of the oil crisis of 1973, regional political groups concerned with environmental issues began to put up candidates in communal and regional elections. In 1980 a number of ecological groups, alternative action movements, and various women's rights organizations banded together on the national level to form the political party that came to be called the Greens (Die Grünen).

Although the political views of the various groups in the new party were widely diverse, all agreed that the continuous expansion of the economy was detrimental to the environment and that disarmament was imperative if mankind were to survive. The Greens' support for radical peace movements and their demand that the FRG withdraw from NATO prevented many West Germans from taking the Greens seriously as a political force. In the Bundestag elections of 1980, they could muster only 1.5 percent of the vote, not enough to win any parliamentary seats. In the 1983 elections, however, they broke the 5 percent barrier and won twenty-seven seats in the Bundestag.

Differing ideological orientations within the Greens soon began to undermine the party's effectiveness in the political process. Two different factions emerged: the dogmatic fundamentalists (Fundis), who were unwilling to make any compromises on policy in order to win political allies; and the realists (Realos), who were ready to enter into a coalition with the SPD on the communal and Land level in order to put environmentalist ideas into practice.

Another cause of disagreement within the party organization of the Greens was the principle of rotation of seats in the Bundestag and in Land diets. This policy required deputies to give up their seats after only half a term so that other Green candidates would have an opportunity to participate in the political process. As a result, experienced representatives who understood the workings of parliament were forced to relinquish their seats and were relegated to subordinate work in the party. Such unrealistic policies persuaded numerous talented Green politicians to withdraw from active politics, or to leave the party altogether. In 1984 a party leadership consisting only of women was elected, giving the Greens an image of practicing reverse discrimination.

Although the Realos among the Greens subsequently participated in Land governments as cabinet members, the party remained on the periphery of politics during the remainder of the 1980s (see The Greens, ch. 7). Nevertheless, the Greens positively influenced the views of the traditional political parties concerning the ecology and the preservation of natural resources.

Data as of August 1995

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