BONN — ENVIRONMENTALISTS all over the world have lost a symbolic figure with the death of Petra Kelly, founder of the German Greens, the first party to gain real political clout by focusing on the environment and disarmament.
Mystery surrounds the death of Kelly, 44, and her longtime companion, Gert Bastian 69, a retired German general turned Greens activist. The couple was found dead at their home in a Bonn suburb Oct. 19.
Local officials said it appeared Bastian shot Kelly, then turned the gun on himself, but they ruled out murder by a third party.
Kelly was born in Bavaria but moved to the United States with her mother and stepfather, a retired American colonel, when she was 13. She spent her teens and university years in the United States, studied international relations, and worked on the election campaigns of Hubert Humphrey and Robert Kennedy.
Kelly returned to Europe in the 1970s, when she went to work for the Common Market in Brussels and joined the Social Democratic Party. But she became disillusioned with the Social Democrats and in 1979, angered by the NATO decision to deploy the new Pershing nuclear missile in Germany, she and a group of leftists and environmentalists founded the German Greens party.
With Kelly as their spokeswoman, the Greens grew quickly, and in 1983, Kelly, Bastian, and 22 other members were elected to Germany's parliament, the Bundestag. They relied on grass-roots support, staging mass demonstrations against NATO's nuclear presence in Germany and raising public consciousness on environmental issues. They became the first environmental and pacifist party in the world to gain parliamentary seats, inspiring Greens movements in other countries.
In recent years, the German Greens have fallen on hard times. Although they helped transform Germany into an environmental leader in Europe, long-standing internal rivalries, unfulfilled campaign promises, and a perceived lack of structure in the party turned off voters. In the last national elections in 1990, the Greens failed to garner enough west German votes to return to the Bundestag, though a handful of east German Greens made it.
No longer able to control the ideological rift between radical fundamentalists in the party and those who wanted to take a more "realistic" approach, the Greens split at their congress in 1991.
Since then, the "fundamentalists" have become a fringe group in the country. The "realos," however, still draw the support of the majority of Greens followers. They are working to regain voter confidence and a parliamentary presence in the 1994 elections.
Kelly supported the realos, who seek to work with Germany's established political parties.
But Kelly and Bastian had become isolated from the party leadership, according to Greens members, and neither was nominated by the party in the 1990 elections.