Postscript : Lover’s Secret Past Seen as Key to Peace Activist’s Violent End : A new biography of Greens founder Petra Kelly rules out the ‘double suicide’ theory.
Petra Kelly died in bed beside an open book--"Letters from Goethe to Charlotte von Stein"--at the hand of her lover and co-founder of the German Greens Party, Gert Bastian. She was asleep when Bastian shot her in the head at point-blank range before killing himself on the stairway outside the bedroom.
Such a violent death for one of the world’s best known peace activists, murdered by a 69-year-old retired NATO general known for his gentleness, was so astonishing that some devotees still refuse to believe it two years later.
Well, accept it, friend and fellow activist Sara Parkin writes in “The Life and Death of Petra Kelly” (Pandora, London), which is appearing in bookstores just as the Greens have made a comeback in Germany’s Parliament with Kelly’s notable absence.
It was not only the powder burns on Bastian’s hand that led police to discount the possibility of a third person as the killer, Parkin says. Kelly’s bedroom walls were covered with an unbroken pattern of bloodstains, evidence that no third person could have been in the room.
Police at first termed the Oct. 1, 1992, deaths a “double suicide,” as if the two had had some sort of pact. There was never any evidence to support such a theory, however, and virtually everyone who knew Kelly ruled out that she would have chosen to die.
“Furthermore,” Parkin writes of her activist, media-conscious friend, “even by the most remote of possibilities that Petra should have wanted to end her life, we knew she would not dream of doing so without sending us all (and the press) a fax.”
Why, then, did Bastian kill the woman he loved, from whom he was inseparable to the point that people said their names as one: PetrandGert?
Parkin, a former leader of the British Green Party, tries like several German authors before her to answer this question. She has her theories after a year of examining Kelly’s life and death, but they remain just that. Bastian also left no telling faxes, letters or suicide note.
The world knew Kelly as a feisty and tireless campaigner for peace and environmental issues. She was the feminist face of Germany’s anti-nuclear movement in the 1980s and of the “anti-party” Greens Party, which spearheaded Europe’s most powerful environmental movement.
Less well known was that, when Kelly died at 44, she and Bastian were so estranged from the Greens that their bodies lay three weeks in their Bonn home before anyone noticed the two were missing. Many of Kelly’s colleagues had grown tired of her stardom--her waifish looks and perfect, biting English made her a media darling. She was disorganized and difficult to work with--a driven activist.
But most important, perhaps, was that Kelly held to the notion of a Greens anti-party that made no tactical alliances with Germany’s traditional political parties. After losing all their parliamentary seats in the 1990 elections, most Greens wanted to become a mature political party that could share in power.
Those pragmatists control the party now and led it to success in the Oct. 16 federal election, where the Greens won 7% of the vote and were returned to the Bundestag as the third largest party.
The Greens today do not have a figure as attractively strong as Kelly appeared to be. Parkin had been drawn to Kelly’s charisma, but in researching her book, she discovered a bird-like woman who, at the end of her life, had become such an Angst- ridden wreck that she could scarcely venture out of her nest without the support of Bastian.
“I knew Petra was a fairly anxious person,” Parkin said in a telephone interview from her home in France. “But I didn’t realize she was clinically anxious, that she had an anxiety neurosis. And I didn’t realize the extent to which it handicapped her. Gert Bastian in many ways masked that. He did everything. . . . I also don’t think people realized he was dependent on her.”
Bastian resigned his NATO post in 1980 to protest a decision to put first-strike nuclear weapons in Germany and joined the Greens movement, where he met Kelly. In 1983, the two were part of the Greens’ first delegation to enter the Bundestag.
Soon the married Bastian had given up his parliamentary seat and any life of his own to become Kelly’s aide de camp--her manager and bag carrier living almost full time in her home.
Bastian complained to friends of his chaotic life with Kelly, but both had said repeatedly that they could not live without each other. And friends believed them.
The dependence alone did not seem to be reason enough to kill Kelly. So what was it?
Parkin says that no one really got to know the quiet Bastian who lived in Kelly’s shadow and, Parkin now believes, suffered tremendously from experiences he kept secret. Bastian had been a soldier on the Russian Front in World War II but always denied he knew anything about the Third Reich’s atrocities.
“The Russian Front was where the Final Solution began,” Parkin pointed out. “Millions died. . . . the special units were put in to round up the Jews and gypsies. Now, an ambitious, rapidly promoted, decorated officer can’t say he didn’t know. And he did say that. He said, ‘I was lucky.’ And I just don’t believe it.”
Parkin believes that the principled Kelly represented salvation for Bastian, a kind of redemption for his sins. And she strongly suspects that Bastian feared losing Kelly over another secret.
Bastian also denied that he ever had had any contact with the former East German security police. Investigators looking into his and Kelly’s deaths determined there was nothing in his Stasi file.
The writer believes that Bastian’s denials don’t ring true. While she has no reason to believe that he was a major spy, she writes: “It is improbable the Stasi would have been allowed to overlook a NATO general openly expressing doubts about Western European security policy.”
At the time of Kelly’s death, the Greens were pushing for access to their Stasi files. On the morning that he murdered Kelly, in fact, Bastian had returned a telephone call from a Greens colleague who informed him that party members’ files would soon be opened.
“The police definition of what was significant might be quite different than Petra’s definition. A minor event in the 1970s that he had lied about would have been in her mind a gross betrayal,” Parkin said.
The public may never know. Bastian’s wife reportedly has decided not to open his file.
More on Kelly
* Reprints of The Times obituary for Petra Kelly and Gert Bastian, “Greens’ Odd Couple Lived in Own World Saving Globe,” are available by fax or mail from Times on Demand. Call 808-8463 and enter *8630. Order item No. 6007. $1.95.
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