Obituary: Petra Kelly

Petra Karin Kelly, politician, born Gunzburg Bavaria 29 November 1947, founded Die Grunen (Green Party) Federal Republic of Germany 1972, Speaker 1980- 82, books include Fighting for Hope 1984, Hiroshima 1985, died Bonn October 1992.

THE UNTIMELY death of Petra Kelly, following hard on that of Willy Brandt, has deprived Germany of another symbolic figure of its recent past. The two represent the twin faces of the German Left. Whilst Brandt was the patriarch of social democracy Kelly was the doyenne of the Green movement which swept through the Federal Republic in the 1980s.

Kelly's background was as turbulent as her political career. She was born in Gunzburg, Bavaria, of German-Polish parentage in 1947. In her teens she left Germany for the United States following the divorce and remarriage of her mother to an Irish-American army officer, John Kelly. Her formative years were marked by the American civil-rights and peace movements of which she was a passionate adherent.

After studying at the American University in Washington, she worked briefly in the office of Senator Robert Kennedy. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that her political style, in particular her talents as a media publicist, reflected her background in the US. In some ways this marked her out as something of an outsider in the more sober political environment of the Federal Republic.

Returning to Europe, she worked in the early 1970s in the Economic and Social Committees of the European Community, where she attracted the attention of EC notables. Bureaucratic discipline did not suit her passionate nature, however. It was in the more flamboyant world of the New Politics movements of environmentalism and peace that she made her career.

In common with many in this milieu, she was an exile from the Social Democratic Party of Brandt and Helmut Schmidt. Recoiling from the pragmatism of the Schmidt government, and accusing the Chancellor of turning West Germany into 'an outlying nuclear colony of the US and Nato', she threw her considerable energies into the burgeoning movements for ecology and peace. Petra Kelly's career reached its apex in her leadership role in the Green Party which emerged from these movements in 1979. The new party had a seismic effect, entering parliament in 1983. As chairwoman and one of the party's principal parliamentarians, Kelly was at its vanguard. In sharp contrast to the earnest intellectualism of many of her party colleagues, her ebullience and charm were an unfailing magnet for media attention. For many Germans, and for most foreign observers, she personified the Greens.

Her relationship with the party was never an easy one. Kelly herself had coined the term 'anti-party party', signifying the rejection of orthodox party politics. In particular the Greens rejected the cult of leadership which many believed she was cultivating. Moreover, Kelly refused to comply with the party's ultra-democratic rules which obliged their members of parliament to stand down midway through their term.

In this she acted in unison with Gert Bastian, her long-standing partner in political and personal life with whom she died. Bastian stood out from the Green milieu even more than herself. In an abrupt volte-face, the ex-bookbinder's apprentice had renounced a distinguished military career in which he had risen to major-general, becoming a trenchant critic of his country's security policy.

Whilst Bastian later receded from the forefront of Green politics, Kelly retained her seat in parliament until the 'unification election' of 1990, when the Greens in the West lost their parliamentary status. In many ways this electoral disaster vindicated Kelly's criticism of the party for its political dilettantism and internal disorder. Despite her passionate idealism, she had a firm grasp on political reality. In the repeated and ultimately debilitating schisms between the 'realists' and 'fundamentalists' in the party's ranks she was firmly aligned with the former. Her death occurs at a time when the Green Party is trying to relocate itself nearer the mainstream of German politics.

It also coincides with a deep crisis on the German Left. Wedded to many aspects of the 'old' Federal Republic, the Left has failed to meet the challenges of unification, and finds itself in a political cul-de-sac. Through force of personality, Petra Kelly was capable of reaching out to those who would not normally share her political views. The Left can ill afford the loss of such a figure. To many, two years after unification, all the German parties appear jaded and sterile. The tragedy of her death reflects their malaise.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£36000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, - 1 Year contract

£50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, Stock...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Human Resource Officer and Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join one of...

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk