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The Student Movement and Terrorism in Germany
In addition to troubling economic and environmental problems for which
no easy solutions were available, West Germany and its politicians had
to contend with two new sources of social unrest: the student movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s, and left-wing terrorism, which originated
in the late 1960s, but which had its greatest impact in the 1970s.
Inspired by the student movement in the United States and by the international
movement opposing the war in Vietnam, as well as by rising opposition
to the traditional administration of German universities, students organized
protest movements at a number of German universities in the late 1960s.
Sit-ins, disruption of lectures, and attacks against buildings housing
major publishing companies, such as the Axel Springer Group, were staged
by a minority of student groups, primarily those with Marxist ties. Protesters
claimed that an "extra-parliamentary opposition" was needed to ensure
representation of the people in a state that was governed largely by two
major parties. The student protest movement had little support among the
population, however, and was finally absorbed by the established parties.
Terrorism was also a concern during this period. A few radical student
elements sought to realize their aims through political terrorism. Small
groups launched violent attacks against "symbols of capitalism." They
fire-bombed department stores in several cities, broke into police stations,
robbed banks, and attacked United States military installations.
One terrorist group, notorious for its brutality, became known as the
Baader-Meinhof Gang, named
after its leaders, Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof. Calling themselves
the Red Army Faction (Rote Armee Fraktion--RAF), their aim was to assassinate
the "levers of the imperialist power structure," thereby provoking the
state to abandon lawful methods of fighting terrorism. The arrest and
imprisonment in 1972 of the main RAF leaders led to an intensification
of terrorist acts by the group, which culminated in 1977 in the kidnapping
of Hanns-Martin Schleyer, the president of the Federation of German Employers'
Associations (Bundesvereinigung der Deutschen Arbeitgeberverbaende--BDA)
and in the hijacking six weeks later of a Lufthansa passenger airplane
to Mogadishu, Somalia.
The aim of both these terrorist actions was the release of Baader and
the other RAF prisoners. In a spectacular rescue action, the Lufthansa
airplane was stormed by a special unit of the West German Federal Border
Force, ending a five-day odyssey through the Middle East. Failing in their
coup, Baader and three other RAF leaders committed suicide in their prison
cells, and Schleyer was subsequently murdered by his kidnappers. The police
had been successful in discovering hideouts, strategy papers, and caches
of weapons, however, which led to the severe weakening of the organization
of the RAF.
Nevertheless, supported by various international terrorist groups, including
the GDR's Stasi, the RAF maintained a small network committed to assassinating
prominent public figures. In 1989 they were responsible for the murder
of Alfred Herrhausen, a top executive of the Deutsche Bank in Frankfurt,
and in 1991 for the murder of Detlev Karsten Rohwedder, president of the
Treuhandanstalt, the agency that managed the privatization of property
in the former GDR.
- Willy Brandt
- Helmut Schmidt
- The Student
Movement and Terrorism
- The Greens