Jürgen Trittin looks like a serious guy. These days the 59-year-old Green leader and top candidate in the September 22 election wears well-cut suits and cuts a smooth profile on talk shows, speaking with authority on taxes, social justice and the euro crisis. A political player. A pro.
Then on Sunday the news came out: Jürgen Trittin had been an official signatory of a Green Party platform for the local elections in Göttingen in 1981. In the section on "Gay and lesbians", the manifesto calls for the "decriminalisation of sexual activities between children and adults which did not result from the application and threat of violence." In short, a green light for all sorts of paedophile behaviour. Ironically, this revelation was published in the Green medium of choice, the taz, and the discovery itself was made by a Dr. Franz Walter, the sociologist the Greens hired to investigate the party's sordid connection to paedophile groups in the 1980s.
The "paedophilia debate" has been raging for months – triggered by the posting of a 1980s French TV clip on Youtube of Franco-German 1968-generation veteran Green Daniel Cohn-Bendit casually chatting about the sexuality of kids at a kindergarten he worked in during the 1970s.
But the top man Trittin seemed spared from the fallout. He kept quiet, probably hoping nobody would see that signature – or, more likely, he just forgot about the whole thing. At the time, he probably just signed off on the "Gay and lesbian" policy chapter of the manifesto part and parcel, without giving it any further thought.
Now it's come back to haunt him – and could spell Trittin's political downfall, and a disaster for the Green Party. The Greens weren't alone in their "liberal" attitudes towards sex with minors back in the 1980s. In 1980, the youth arm of the Free Democrats (FDP) voted at a national conference to decriminalise incest, sex with ward (minors under the protection of a guardian), sex with underage male homosexuals and sex with children. Surely plenty of those young Free Democrats are in positions or power and influence today.
But it's the Greens who are suffering the fallout of earlier, more "radical" times. It's sad to watch. The once sneaker-and-woolly-jumper-wearing "mueslis" have probably changed Germany for the better more than any other party. From stricter laws on air pollution to gay rights, closures of nuclear power plants to the broad acceptance of recycling, and yes, mainstream recognition of the victims of sexual abuse – the Greens have gone from success to success – once led by charismatic figures like Joschka Fischer. Their ideas have been stolen by their political enemies. Angela Merkel's government has gone anti-nuclear and gay marriage is no longer an alien concept in her conservative CDU.
But what of the Greens now? Grown up, in their nice suits, they're almost indistinguishable from their political opponents. They've "marched through the instituions" and arrived in the "middle of society", as the Germans say. While their website offers slick slideshows about the zero-growth economy the human race will have to adopt in order to survive on this planet, the Greens' core theme of ecology has been left at the wayside. And their once radical image has transformed into that of the Prenzlauer Berg Bionade-drinking bourgeoisie family, high-earning and well-meaning, but out of touch with normal German reality. The unsavoury paedophilia debate could devastate support in this key demographic – and endanger the very existence of the party.