History of Europe

When the green protesters became a party

When the 1,000 delegates gathered for the founding party conference of the Federal Greens in Karlsruhe on January 12 and 13, 1980, people from different movements met. What unites them is the protest.

by Jennifer Lange

But can the functioning apparatus of a party be founded from members of anti-nuclear groups, the peace movement, women's initiatives and the student movement? On January 13, 1980, Thomas Ebermann from Hamburg was present at the official founding decision of the Greens at federal level and looked back.

The abortion opponents argued with the abortion advocates

In 1982 the Green Alternative List moved into the Hamburg Parliament. Thomas Ebermann was their spokesman at the time.

"I was tense at the time because I wasn't entirely sure whether people like me would be allowed to take part," Ebermann recalls 40 years after the party was founded. Because in Karlsruhe the conservatives were arguing with the left. The opponents of abortion with the proponents. 35 hour week:yes or no? And:Which current should have the say in the new party?

As a communist, Ebermann himself belonged to the Colorful List in Hamburg. "This colorful list was more of an amalgamation of everything in Hamburg that was leftist, alternative, critical of capitalism. Anti-nuclear movement, squatters, critics of prison, women's activists, critics of transport policy." There were green groups competing with each other in all northern German federal states.

"Against the milieu of all existing parties"

"We didn't all love each other, we argued with each other," said Ebermann in retrospect. "Nevertheless, we had the feeling that we were forming a counter-milieu that was not represented by any of the existing parties." And so it actually comes to an agreement in Karlsruhe. The left-wing forces prevail against the conservative forces on all decisive points.

The Greens are becoming the new force in the party system

With the founding of the Greens, a new force was able to establish itself for the first time since the 1950s in the previously closed party system of the Federal Republic. In their federal program, the Greens describe themselves as "ecological, social, grassroots democracy and non-violent".

Greens enter the Bundestag for the first time in 1983

Entry into the Bundestag fails in 1980 with just 1.5 percent of the votes. But after the early federal elections in 1983, the first Greens moved into parliament with 5.6 percent - and they attracted attention with their provocative political style and colorful knit sweaters.

"They wanted to be a spanner in the works"

Back then, the Greens wanted to be sand in the works, according to Ebermann. A disruptive factor. And they also apply strict principles to their own role in the party:"We obey the majority of a general meeting. Skilled workers' wages. No one can become rich or prosperous through work." The rotation of offices was also an essential element in the political work of the Greens in the early 1980s:"We don't want outstanding personalities who will represent us forever and become irreplaceable in their own way," says Ebermann about the maxims.

From anti-party party to bourgeoisification

Over the years, however, the Greens have changed a lot, says Michael Lühmann, a political scientist from Göttingen about the party:"It started as an anti-party party and got into the Bundestag relatively quickly." The conflict-ridden 1980s followed. And during the turning point of 1989/90, when German unity was in the offing, there was a "molding process" within the party:the radical left wing had broken away. What was left was "basically a bourgeois party geared towards governing and participation. A bourgeoisified party," said Lühmann.

Split between peace activists and war supporters

During this time, the radical leftist Thomas Ebermann also left. Like many others, the party is becoming too close to the government. Real politicians like Joschka Fischer are now in charge. The Greens get high offices in state governments and the federal government. And agree to Bundeswehr operations in war zones.

"Let's go back to our peace policy roots, alliance green instead of olive green," demanded Green Party members at the special party conference on the Kosovo war in 1999. Joschka Fischer was hit in the head with a paint bag. "This question will not be solved with chants, with bags of paint. I would never have dreamed that we Greens would have to hold a party conference under police protection," Fischer then reacted in a speech.

After 40 years:Greens more successful than ever

Today, Thomas Ebermann looks at the party that he helped found in 1980 from a distance. "Today the Greens are a thoroughly conformist party," he says. A party that, 40 years after it was founded, is more successful than ever, with poll numbers in some cases well over 20 percent.