When West Germany's new parliament convened two weeks ago, the 27 deputies from the Greens Party, a counterculture group espousing antinuclear and ecological causes, showed that they intended to abide by campaign promises to make democracy "a little more indiscreet."
As their more conventional peers cruised to the Bundestag in a cavalcade of Mercedes limousines, the Greens marched to work in a primal procession, some of them pounding conga drums or dragging pine trees tainted by acid rain through Bonn's staid streets.
But lately, the "indiscreet" theatrics of the Greens have lapsed from light-hearted mockery into jealous bickering, as a harsh conflict over the uses of power and political influence has erupted between the party's leaders and volatile grass-roots members.
Petra Kelly, one of the party's founders and widely regarded as its brightest personality, recently said she was so "exasperated" by her colleagues that she threatened to resign from parliament, barely one month after national elections.
"The parliamentary Greens faction is ruining me," she told a Munich newspaper. "Last week I was so fed up I almost gave up all this rubbish and resigned my seat."
Kelly voiced doubts about the utility of the Greens' role in the Bundestag and said more attention should be paid to mobilizing street protests to stop the planned deployment of nuclear missiles in Western Europe .
Suffering from exhaustion, she later checked into a health clinic to convalesce after complaining she did not even have access to a typist to answer the 200 to 300 letters she receives each day.
Her outburst against fellow Greens was precipitated by renewed grumbling among the rank-and-file that she had become obsessed by her own publicity. Her demand for a secretary was viewed as a sign of bourgeois arrogance by party rivals, who sneeringly refer to her as "Lady Di of the Greens."
Last year she was forced to step down as chairman of the Greens after some members introduced a rule that imposes a limit of two years on all party posts.
The spontaneous, almost anarchic nature of some elements in the Greens defies coordination of policies and has created mammoth problems for the Greens' array of leaders, some of whom also share Kelly's frustrations and have proposed to resign.
The absolutists "cut the motivation out of people's souls," says the Greens' political manager, Lukas Beckmann.
Marieluise Beck-Oberdorf, one of the Greens' three parliamentary leaders, was attacked recently for her gesture of offering a fir branch to Chancellor Helmut Kohl after he was elected by the Bundestag.
The desire to maintain close channels between the party leadership and the grass-roots members induced the Greens to set up a federal committee to enhance such a dialogue. The party also agreed to rotate members of parliament to prevent any chance of becoming coopted by the tactics and styles of the established parties.
The federal committee, however, has assumed Orwellian shades. Some leaders now call it the "Politburo" and its members "commissars" for the overweening diligence used to uphold party dogma.
"What they want are gray mice," a Greens leader says wearily. "Those like Petra Kelly who gain certain stature or achieve a high profile make themselves suspect."
Increasingly, the Greens' political elite is called upon to justify virtually all political activity to the "Politburo"--thus stifling party work with the kind of bureaucratic suffocation they vowed to avoid.
Criticism also has been mounting over the rotation principle, which the major parties claim is unconstitutional. Even if it is legal, alternating members of parliament could cost as much as $1 million a year.
After seeing the hazards of rotation, Beckmann now says he wants to have the system revoked "because in its present form it is neither politically nor humanly workable."
Besides their internal political woes, the Greens have been buffeted by charges that their party includes Communists and accepts funding from Soviet Bloc countries. The party also received a shock when one of its parliamentarians, 75-year-old Werner Vogel, confessed to being a former Nazi storm trooper and gave up his seat in disgrace.
The Greens contend that they can shake off such problems and invigorate German politics with their breezy lack of pretension. But to do so, their leaders face the challenge of satisfying chaotic constituencies.