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Joschka Fischer: A Profile

SUNDAY 6th April 2003
In the generally staid arena of the German Bundestag, Joschka Fischer cuts a maverick dash. Charismatic and controversial, this self-taught taxi driver with a federal vision is Germany's most popular politician.

Conversion

The Green Party's first ever foreign minister and deputy chancellor, Fischer is at the forefront of his country's opposition to the war in Iraq. He is the same man who faced down pacifists in his own party to send German airmen to Kosovo, but Fischer is an old hand at conversion, both political and personal.

In the revolutionary cauldron of 1970s Frankfurt, he was a militant activist in the causes of Vietnam opposition and environment protection. He tottered at the edge of the terrorist scene and, more recently, has had to defend links with suspected kidnapper and murderer Hans-Joachim Klein and, by association, Carlos the Jackal.

Beating

Fischer was even filmed beating up a policeman during a 1973 street demonstration. When these pictures eventually came to light, only a very public apology and Fischer's own popularity salvaged his political future.

But by 1983, he had rejected extremism, become a member of parliament for the Green Party and, two years later, a minister in the coalition government.

Discipline

Although the party foundered in 1990, Fischer was praised for bringing to the party realistic policies and some much-needed discipline. And after he had led the Greens to their best-ever result in the 1998 elections, he was rewarded with the post of foreign minister.

In the highest echelons of German politics, however, this one-time revolutionary still managed to stand apart, rejecting nuclear strategy, and making sound arguments for a unified European parliament.

When he pressed for his country's military intervention in Kosovo, calling it "a last resort", he upset die-hard pacifists among his own party members. Fischer even got a pot of paint all over him, but the troops ultimately went in.

Metamorphosis

A physical transformation has accompanied Fischer's political metamorphosis. His chin has long been shaved clean of the revolutionary beard, and his uniform of jeans and trainers replaced by a designer wardrobe. In the last five years, the once portly politician has also been on a diet, with Nigel Lawson-esque results.

Joschka Fischer is obviously an expert in the powers of reform. As the Iraqi conflict wreaks more division in the cabinet rooms of Europe, this silver-tongued dignitary must hope that his powers of diplomacy prove equally effective.