In 1998, 30 years after the student uprisings that politicised a generation, Germany's "1968ers" entered government. Expectations were high but the red-green coalition's achievements have been limited. Their liberalising effect on Germany in the decades before 1998 will be the 1968ers main legacyby Hans Kundnani / August 28, 2005 / Leave a comment
Published in August 2005 issue of Prospect Magazine
When Gerhard Schröder replaced Helmut Kohl as German chancellor in the autumn of 1998, it was often described as a momentous generational shift. Exactly 30 years after they had marched in the streets, the so-called “68ers”—the generation born at the end of the war and politicised by the student rebellion of the late 1960s—had come to power. They had completed the “long march through the institutions” that the pop star of the movement, Rudi Dutschke, once called for.
Moreover, the new government included the Greens for the first time. The junior coalition partner grew out of the 1980s peace movement, and represented, even more than Schröder’s Social Democrats (SPD), the spirit of ’68. Its leader, Joschka Fischer, a former Frankfurt street fighter who became foreign minister and deputy chancellor in the new government, embodied that journey from protest to power.
But the red-green government has been badly wounded by its failure to tackle Germany’s high unemployment and economic reform logjam, and is almost certainly heading for defeat in September (assuming Germany’s constitutional court allows an election). The last seven years now look increasingly like the swansong of the 1968ers rather than their crowning achievement. In retrospect, it seems clear that the 68ers had most influence in the decades before 1998. They will always be associated with the liberalisation of German society, the confrontation with the Nazi past, the rise of green politics and the spread of post-national, post-industrial values. The years in government, by comparison, seem anticlimactic.
By no means all members of the red-green government were former 68ers. Men like Franz Müntefering, SPD party chairman, Hans Eichel, finance minister, and Wolfgang Clement, economics minister, are moderate Social Democrats barely touched by 68er radicalism. But many key figures in the government were participa…