Hans-Christian Ströbele

Farewell to a Green Firebrand

Grünen-Bundesparteitag
The Greens still don't want to see him go. Source: Rainer Jensen/DPA

Hans-Christian Ströbele, the frail 78-year-old Green Party parliamentarian known for his trademark eyebrows and ruffled hair, attended his last parliamentary session in Berlin on Friday. Many in Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union must be glad to see him go, not personally but politically.

Early in his parliamentary career, Mr. Ströbele hounded former chancellor Helmut Kohl, who passed away two weeks ago, over secret contributions to the CDU. The scandal forced Wolfgang Schäuble, now finance minister, to resign as party and parliamentary group head. He also embarrassed Ms. Merkel over eavesdropping of German officials, including herself, by the US National Security Agency (NSA). The list goes on.

For the past three years, Mr. Ströbele was one of the most outspoken members of the Bundestag’s NSA inquiry. He had met Edward Snowden and lobbied hard for the exiled US whistleblower to receive asylum in Germany, where he could testify. Ms. Merkel blocked the attempt.

The Green politician entered the Bundestag in 1985 as a list candidate for the party. But his career actually took off when it seemed nearly over. In 2002, party moderates wanted to push him out over the stances he took, which they saw as too far left. Denied a place on the national list of party candidates, he announced he would campaign for a direct mandate and won in the lefty Berlin district of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg – a first for the Greens. He held the spot ever since.

A lawyer by training, Mr. Ströbele could have cut a good figure as a revolutionary. He was a prominent activist in the 1960 protest movements. Initially a member of the Social Democratic Party, he was ousted for having defended members of the radical left-wing group the Red Army Faction, or RAF. He also defended the terrorists Ulrike Meinhof and Andreas Baader. He was later accused of having relayed messages to an incarcerated terrorist, a charge he dismissed but one that forced him into jail for a couple of weeks until it was dismissed. Mr. Ströbele has always maintained that he never shared RAF ideology but simply did his job as a defense lawyer.

“Mr. Ströbele could have cut a good figure as a revolutionary.”

Hans-Christian Ströbele, Green Party parliamentarian

A founder of Berlin’s left-wing newspaper TAZ, he admits he prefers to read westerns by authors like Karl May to ideological writers like Karl Marx. He fought for the legalization of cannabis but has never smoked a joint, nor does he drink alcohol. It is not easy to put a label on him.

Mr. Ströbele, who suffered cancer, hasn’t revealed his plans for life after the Bundestag. But don’t expect the former political activist to kick back completely; he’s still too active for that.

 

John Blau is a senior editor with Handelsblatt Global. To contact the author: blau@handelsblatt.com

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