Joschka Fischer,
German Foreign Minister
Green Party
Investigated for Perjury

A criminal investigation for perjury was opened this week against German foreign minister Joschka Fischer. On 16 January, he testified in the trial of accused terrorist Joachim Klein, his former roommate, over the 1979 bombing of an OPEC meeting in Vienna. The two men knew each other from Frankfurt's radical left scene in the 1970's, from which Klein drifted into terrorism, while Fischer worked his way up through the Green party, which he helped found and whose first foreign minister he became in 1998.

Around the time of Fischer's testimony, the German weekly Stern published photographs from the 1970s showing Fischer and Klein beating up a police officer, alongside an interview in which Fischer admits to having been radical but denies any connection to terrorist groups. The interview sparked debates in the media and in parliament over both Fischer's personal past and the historical significance of the '68 movement as a whole. The conservative opposition used the opportunity to ask biting questions but stopped short of asking for his resignation mainly because of his continued high approval ratings. Only now, with a criminal investigation pending, some opposition politicians are starting to demand his resignation.

Frankfurt, Luisenplatz, April 7, 1973:
Joseph Fischer (in black helmut)
attacking a policeman.
(Photo: Lutz Kleinhans)

In recent weeks, Fischer has had to adjust statements about his past several times after new evidence became public. First, he had ever meeting Margit Schiller, a former Red Army Faction (RAF) terrorist, who he now admits spent some time visiting the building that housed Fischer's Commune at one point. This weekend, it was revealed that Fischer had attended a PLO solidarity conference in Algiers in 1969. Before, he had maintained that he hadn't visited any Arab country since 1966. Facing perjury charges, he is now taking advice from lawyers, which he had deemed unnecessary during the Klein trial.

For now, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is backing his foreign minister, and, having just lost two over the BSE ("mad cow") scandal, can hardly afford to lose another minister soon. Fischer's high personal approval ratings and the scandal-ridden state of the ruling coalition are likely to keep him in power. But questions about his past are likely to come up for some time, and if the perjury charges appear substantial, then even popularity and a weak opposition are unlikely to help Fischer survive the episode politically.

"Fischer's Tendency to Dominate the Conversation Comes Back to Haunt Him" (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung English edition, 18 February 2001) describes Fischer's personality and how it has hurt him in the recent controversies over his past.

"Joschka Fischer und die Jäger zu Pferde" (Sueddeutsche Zeitung, 19 February 2001 -- German) alleges that the perjury investigations against Fischer are politically motivated. The prosecution in the state of Hesse, where the investigation is taking place, is bound to orders by the state government. The state is holding municipal elections this year and the conservative state governor, Roland Koch, would like to deflect attention from his own recent campaign finance scandal. The criminal investigation against Fischer, who is himself from Hesse, seems a good measure to achieve this goal.

While he denies grounds for legal prosecution, the commentator holds that the opposition has every right to use the opportunity to benefit from the discussions about Fischer's past. Nevertheless, in his opinion, the "sins" of his youth should be forgiven and have no impact on his standing as foreign minister.


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