In watching recent events in Germany, personal and historical tragedies have sometimes blurred together in my vision. The shocking wave of German neo-Nazi violence against foreigners and Jews (still rising at this writing), and the German government's immigration policy concessions to xenophobia, have appeared alongside news of the death of Social Democratic Party leader Willy Brandt and the tragic murder of Green Party founder Petra Kelly.
The picture that emerged from this blur was one of a shiny new dream dying, while old nightmares revived. Willy Brandt, who was chancellor of West Germany from 1969 to 1975, in many ways represented the best ideals and aspirations both of his generation of Germans and of the European democratic socialist tradition. Brandt was among the only postwar West German political leaders of his generation who had joined the underground opposition during the Nazi era.
Later, as postwar mayor of West Berlin, Brandt stood at the forefront of resistance to the new totalitarianism of the Communist East. Still, as chancellor, Brandt helped open the way for better relations between East and West. He believed that peaceful cooperation, not armed confrontation, was the key to unlocking the gates of the Berlin Wall.
Petra Kelly was, in many ways, one of Brandt's many rebellious political children. From the ruins of the radical 1960s, she and the other founders of the Green Party caught a new vision of Germany and Europe--East and West--as a decentralized grassroots ecological democracy free from the rule of military blocs, multinational corporations, or bureaucratic superstates. This radical vision fueled the great European disarmament movement of the early 1980s. That movement, in turn, extended a hopeful hand of friendship to its emerging dissident counterparts in the East.