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Petra Kelly, 1947-1992

28 October 1992

By Frank Noakes

“There is not a little bit of cancer or a little bit of malnutrition or a little bit of death or a little bit of social injustice or a little bit of torture. It does not help us in any way if we begin accepting lower and safer levels of, for example, radioactivity or lower and safer levels of ... lead or dioxin. We must speak out clearly, loudly and courageously, if we know that there are no safe levels.” -- Petra Kelly.

Petra Kelly, shot dead in mysterious circumstances early in October, became a household name in the 1980s. Kelly was arguably the most able proponent of green ideas when environmental issues stormed the political stage in the early '80s.

Young, charismatic and full of energy, Kelly was elected to the German Bundestag (parliament) in 1983 as a member of the Greens, a party she had helped to found in 1979. A good public speaker and dedicated to peace and environmental issues, she was in hot demand the world over, travelling frequently to popularise green politics.

Principal speaker for the British Greens Jean Lambert told Green Left Weekly that Kelly was an inspiration to other greens. “We always found her a tremendous friend of the Green Party here. Whenever we wanted her to be at press conferences for us or on a general election campaign, she would come.

“I think she has made a tremendous contribution to the development of green politics. Petra was probably one of the movement's best ambassadors. She really inspired others to believe that they could play a role and that the situation wasn't hopeless”, Lambert said.

Suffering from ill health from childhood, Kelly drove herself on, working long hours to the point of collapse. Black-ringed eyes told of her commitment; many were reported as being frightened by her energy and integrity.

Recent events in Germany, though, had hit her particularly hard. In the first reunified German elections, in December 1990, the Greens' federal parliamentary representation was wiped out. The revival of racial hatred and attacks on asylum seekers alarmed her, and she was known to be bitterly disappointed with the political trajectory of former dissidents from the old East Germany. She was thought to be depressed about the war in the former Yugoslavia.

Despite this, she was actively lobbying prominent members of the Greens with a view to becoming a Green member of the European Parliament.

That her body, along with that of her companion, Gert Bastian, had lain undiscovered for three weeks is an indication of her retreat from public life in recent times. Overwhelmingly defeated in an attempt to arty's executive in April 1991, Kelly was estranged from the Greens at the time of her death.

Fellow founding Green Party member Jurgen Maier told Green Left that Kelly had not campaigned for the executive position. “She was a surprise candidate at the conference, she misjudged how you become elected”, Maier said. “It's not simply because you're a celebrity, that you appear and you're elected, when other people are campaigning.” But this rejection did not reflect her popularity within the party, he said.

“Her popularity was not so much a popularity that depended on her being a member of parliament or any other elected position; it was more of a popularity coming out of her personality.”

Maier, a member of the Greens' International Affairs Committee, said Kelly had helped the Green Party a lot, but that she had always been separate from the party, always very much on her own.

“She never forgot the causes she was struggling for, while the party became more and more just a political apparatus looking for power. She stuck to the issues that she was campaigning for right from the first moment. I think that was another reason why she became alienated from the party”, Maier said.

In her last interview, Kelly said, “The Green Party always seemed like an intellectual alternative to me. And now they have become very mean and petty in their internal debate processes.”

Petra Kelly's early death has robbed the green movement of one of its most articulate and principled communicators.

This article was posted on the Green Left Weekly Home Page.
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