War, peace and the Greens of Germany

BERLIN — The color green is not usually associated with anger. A fair number of leaders of the Green political party in Germany lost their cool color and turned purple with rage last month. And they are still simmering.

The party of the Greens is not the same as the related party in other countries. True, the party developed in West Germany during the 1970s and 1980s as a militant fighting outfit opposing nuclear energy plants and devoted to environmental protection, feminism, anti-fascism, social improvements and pacifism.

In those days, it was the leading party on the left, and its members’ unusually informal clothing, and the taking of babies to meetings with male and female members busily knitting during conferences, were ridiculed in the press. But the Greens brought some fresh winds into the stuffy legislatures of the day.

Then there was a split between the so-called Fundies — the fundamentalists, who insisted on left-wing goals and slogans like socialism, and the Realos — the realists, the pragmatic wing of the party. The latter won out and many leftists quit. They were partially replaced by members of the “Alliance 90” from East Germany, intellectuals who had been active in bringing about the downfall of the East German (GDR) government and who were hardly leftist in their views.

It became easier for the Greens to move upwards in the political scene, winning seats in provincial legislatures and then in the Bundestag. In 1998, when the Social Democratic Party (SPD) needed a junior partner to gain a majority in the Bundestag, the Greens became part of the government coalition under Prime Minister Gerhard Schroeder, and were granted three Cabinet posts, including the important foreign minister job held by Joschka Fischer.

Sadly, their years in office, lasting until 2005, robbed them of any last claims to political virginity. They made one compromise after another, joining in economic “reforms” devastating to millions of the jobless and even supporting the bombing of Serbia in the name of “humanitarianism.”

Like Schroeder, they did oppose the war in Iraq (though not the huge U.S. bases in Germany which served the invasion), but most Green deputies in the Bundestag have continually supported German involvement in the military struggle in Afghanistan.

No, we are not speaking here of direct participation in the NATO struggle led by the United States, but in the alleged reconstruction efforts by German soldiers, restricted thus far to the more pacified areas in the north, but viewed by Afghans as a military presence just as much as the more openly belligerent Operation Enduring Freedom.

The German forces, too, have been under attack and are able to accomplish virtually nothing in the way of reconstruction. Even their training of Afghani police is marred when many of the newly trained cops quickly desert to the Taliban or other resistance groups.

Finally, the German government decided to send Tornado fighter planes to Afghanistan, only for reconnaissance purposes, they insisted, but used inevitably to spot Taliban fighters for NATO attacks. Many civilians have been bombed and killed in these operations.

All members of the new Left Party in the Bundestag opposed sending German warriors abroad in any military mission, pointing out that the German constitution permitted armed forces only for the defense of Germany. But according to then Defense Minister Struck (a Social Democrat), the defense of Germany is “located in the Hindu Kush Mountains.” All of the other major parties supported the move, though a number of conscience-stricken Greens and Social Democrats defied party pressure and also joined the Left Party to vote no on sending the planes.

Now the military mission in Afghanistan is again due for a vote. Since nearly two-thirds of the population and those independently-thinking deputies willing to join the Left Party in opposing the use of Tornado fighter planes, the Christian Democratic-Social Democratic coalition thought up a clever trick. They coupled the decision to send troops for reconstruction purposes with the sending of Tornado fighter planes, forcing deputies to confirm both, oppose both, or abstain.

While the Left Party continued its opposition to both — and organized a demonstration in Berlin to demand that Germany “Get out of Afghanistan” (adding the slogan, “No war in Iran”) , the Green leaders were in a quandary. They would like to support one-half of the decision but not the other half — the Tornados — but can no longer choose between them (or abstain). Very much against their will, the leaders were forced to hold a special congress on Sept. 15 to decide how party deputies should vote. Most leaders wanted a yes vote, but in view of grassroots opposition, they reluctantly tried to compromise, leaving the decision up to individual deputies.

Then came the big surprise. A virtually unknown party member named Robert Zion made a motion insisting that when the issue comes up in October, the Green deputies should oppose any and all motions that involve keeping Tornado fighters in Afghanistan. Either vote against the double motion or abstain. And this motion won by a solid majority.

The Green leaders, amazed by such impertinence, were outraged. Some said they might defy the decision. The other main parties immediately launched a severe attack on the Greens, who had “removed themselves from political relevance,” to quote one of the gentler statements. They were accused of supporting the ostracized positions of the Left Party, which would now no longer stand alone in the voting. They clearly feared that this decision might encourage more independent Social Democrats and even some from the conservative parties to buck the government’s commands.

There will hardly be enough votes to alter the decision; there are not that many willing to buck the government, but there should be enough no votes to prove a great embarrassment to those powerful elements in Germany yearning to expand their military outreach to all sections of the world, over and above the Horn of Africa, Bosnia or the coast of Lebanon where they are already present.

Thus, the decision was a triumph for the growing grassroots opposition within the Green Party and for the sentiments of a majority of the German people, who want the billions in taxpayers’ money to be spent for urgent needs back home, not wasted in ever bloodier military adventures abroad.