Traditional politicians play a tough, cynical game of wealth and power. The emergence of the Green movement in the 1970s supposedly signaled a new kind of politics: gentle, altruistic idealism. A Greenpeace slogan sums up their philosophy.
Only after the last tree has been cut down,
Only after the last river has been poisoned,
Only after the last fish has been caught,
Only then will you find that money cannot be eaten.
Green politics began in the small Australian state of Tasmania in the early 1970s, but the movement has been most successful in Europe — and nowhere more than in Germany. The Green movement preached its four pillars– ecological wisdom, social justice, grassroots democracy, and non-violence — with all the fervour of a religion.
The message resonated with the public. The German Greens held their first national conference in 1980 and won 27 seats in the 1983 election for the Bundestag, the national parliament, with 5.7 percent of the national vote. T heir support steadily increased, their influence magnified by Germany’s complex system of proportional representation. After the 1998 election, the Social Democrats and the Greens governed in coalition with three Green cabinet members, including Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer.
Even after this apogee of Green political power in federal politics, today an estimated 20 percent of Germans support the Greens and they have representatives in all Länder (state) parliaments. Long-haired, beard-sporting, dope-smoking tree-huggers became members of the German political establishment in what seemed like the triumph of morality over cynicism, conscience over power.
Lurking in the not-so-long-ago Green past, however, is a dark secret: paedophilia. “For a period of time in the mid-1980s,” the Greens “practically served as the parliamentary arm of the paedophile movement,” says Der Spiegel, Germany’s leading news magazine:
“It’s embarrassing for the Greens. No other party depends as heavily on the claim of being on the right side of morality. The Greens also played a leading role from the start — as prosecutors — in the debate over abuse within the Catholic Church, emphatically demanding answers to allegations of sexual abuse of children… How is the party going to explain that it once tolerated people whose agenda had nothing to do with progress and emancipation, but solely with the exploitation of their position of power and trust in relation to minors?”
And it’s not hyperventilating puritans who are stretching the Greens on the rack. The party’s past has become so controversial as to necessitate the commissioning of a political scientist, Göttingen University’s Franz Walter, to conduct a €200,000 ($267,000) investigation.
Doubtless some Greens had past sympathies for pedophilia. One of the party’s founders, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, described his own experiences in a well-known 1975 autobiography, Der Große Basar (The Great Bazaar). Earlier this year he received a prize for his contribution to democracy, but the president of Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court, Andreas Voßkuhle, refused to preside at the ceremony, given Cohn-Bendit’s past comments.
Debate ensued about whether a few paedophile extremists or Die Grünen as a whole supported paedophilia. The party’s leadership, naturally, takes the former position. “Protecting children from sexual abuse was and remains a central concern,” says co-chairman Cem Özdemir. “It is unacceptable that some are now trying to reinterpret the positions of individual groups in the past as a supposedly lax position of the Greens toward the sexual abuse of children.”
However, after Walter’s review of the archives (and some enthusiastic dirt-digging by the Greens’ political opponents before the September 22 election), the latter seems true.
In the anti-authoritarian atmosphere of 1968, radicals wanted to throw off all conventions. “This was the spirit of all those who saw themselves as working for civil rights and wanted to liberate society completely from the ‘fug’ of Adenauer’s republic and from the ‘anti-sex bigotry’ of Catholicism,” writes Walter. At the Greens 1980 founding conference, one noisy, highly visible group, the “Urban Indians”, supported the “legalization of all affectionate sexual relations between adults and children.” The Greens even had a national working group, “Gays, Pederasts and Transsexuals” (BAG SchwuP), which lobbied Federal politicians to abolish Section 176 of the criminal code banning sexual relations with children. Everything was out in the open.
“In terms of national politics, the Greens were the only hope for paedophiles,” says Kurt Hartmann, a former member of BAG SchwuP in the 1980s. “They were the only party that put their necks on the line for sexual minorities in the long term.”
The high water mark of paedophile influence probably came in 1985 when a Greens convention in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia backed the legalisation of paedophilia. The ensuing controversy cost them dearly in the local election. Baden-Württemberg’s Green Party committee approved a position paper in 1985 calling for the “abolition of all ‘protective ages’ for mutually consented sexual relations.” Every such “protective age arbitrarily excludes young people” and did not correspond to children’s “rights of self determination and personal happiness”, it said. However, they advocated evaluating political developments before introducing a bill to decriminalize child sex.
From the 1990s the influence of paedophiles waned, especially as feminists became more influential. Past sympathisers, though, remain prominent in the party.
Green co-leader Jürgen Trittin, for instance, backed the legalisation of paedophile relations in 1981 during a communal election in the Land of Lower Saxony. He says both that he has forgotten about it and that he is sorry. (Trittin stepped down this week after poor Green electoral performance.) He explained:
“In the founding phase of the Greens, gay and lesbian groups were campaigning to reverse discrimination of a kind you can hardly imagine today. The impetus for liberalisation and decriminalisation overshot its target. And it overshot, because there was the fiction that — beyond violence and the abuse of a relationship of trust — there could be sexual relations between adults and children.”
The Green Party whip in the Bundestag, Volker Beck, a leading supporter of same-sex “marriage” in Germany, likewise had to confront his past this year. The media discovered a Beck contribution to a 1988 book Der pädosexuelle Komplex: Handbuch für Betroffene und ihre Gegner (The Pedosexual Complex: Handbook for Concerned and Their Opponents). Therein Beck discussed an “actual improvement of the legal situation of pedophiles” and rejects the “mythical image of children” having a “general incapacity for sexual self-determination”.
Although such sentiments are embarrassing today, it was normal in the “left-alternative milieu” of the 70s and 80s with its zeal against “bourgeois sexual hostility.” Homosexual groups inclined to tolerate pedophiles as another persecuted minority.
Yet the Greens seem to have learned nothing from their flirtation with pedophilia. Katrin Göring-Eckardt, the new co-leader, declared that she is “very glad” that this dark, “absolutely incomprehensible”, chapter in her party’s history has been closed. The adjective “incomprehensible”, though, is a cowardly evasion of hard questions. Greens do not use “incomprehensible” to explain global warming theories and “I’m glad that’s over” has not closed the books on the Catholic Church’s sex scandals.
The Greens need to examine a blind spot in their philosophy which allowed so many prominent members to endorse a practice which is universally recognized (at least in retrospect) as unequivocally evil. Dismissing approval of paedophilia as a bizarre aberration of a basically good philosophy is akin to dismissing the Holocaust as a bizarre aberration of Nazism.
Perhaps the Greens should query their current libertarian stand on sexual freedom. “Nobody must be disadvantaged or excluded as a result of his or her sexual identity,” says their official policy document. The Greens furthermore “want a society where people have the opportunity to fashion their own lives, without being told what to do.” Daniel Cohn-Bendit could not have said it better in the 1960s and 70s. The Greens need to take a good look in the mirror. The party of conscience needs to examine its own.
Andrew E. Harrod is a freelance researcher and writer who holds a PhD from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and a JD from George Washington University Law School. He is admitted to the Virginia State Bar.