Europe's fragile union

Germany: coalition at the crossroads

Nato's bombing has put the centre-left parties which govern most of Europe under severe strain. The political crisis was expressed in its sharpest form at the special conference of the German Green Party last month. Delegates came to blows as the party's leaders, who are the junior partners in a coalition government with the Social Democratic Party of Gerhard Schroder, struggled to head off calls for an immediate halt to the bombing. Riot police smashed up an 800 strong anti-war demonstration outside the conference hall. Inside, hundreds of demonstrators denounced Green leader Joschka Fischer as a 'hypocrite' and 'warmonger'. Fischer was struck on the head by a bag of red paint thrown by one protestor.

Fischer, who is also the German foreign minister, eventually won a narrow endorsement for a convoluted compromise which backed the Green ministers' handling of the Balkan crisis, but which also called for a temporary ceasefire to encourage Serbia to negotiate. The vote was 444 to 318. Fischer said that to adopt a clear anti-war position would mean the end of the Red-Green coalition with Schroder and would condemn the Greens to the margins of German politics. The result, he claimed, would be a more right wing government which would continue German participation in the bombing. This convinced a majority of conference delegates to support Fischer, but it also exposed the central contradiction of the Greens' strategy.

The Greens have followed a twin track strategy of presenting themselves both as a radical, anti-establishment force and as an electoral party which seeks office through coalition. They emerged as a movement and then as a party in the late 1970s. Core Green activists had, like Joschka Fischer, been radicalised by the student movement of the 1960s. Many had joined leftist groups, but by the late 1970s and early 1980s they were becoming disillusioned with 'traditional forms' of radical organisation. The Greens mushroomed in the mass anti-nuclear protests which swept Germany in the early 1980s. The peace movement brought the Greens hundreds of thousands of supporters. Their failure to stop the deployment of Cruise and Pershing nuclear missiles pushed the Greens increasingly to emphasise electoral politics. They passed the 5 percent threshold needed to win seats in the national parliament in the 1983 general election. That same year they won seats in the state parliament in Hesse and went on to form a coalition with the SPD. The greater the drive to win elections, the sharper the divisions became within the Greens between the so called 'Realos', who wanted to abandon radical policies to make the party more respectable, and the 'Fundis', who wanted to stay as a protest movement.

Joining Schroder's coalition in October of last year was the Greens' high water mark. But membership of the government has led to appalling compromises. Aban doning opposition to Nato and to the deployment of German troops abroad is the latest U-turn. Since taking office Green leaders have also watered down support for giving immigrants dual citizenship, and have been unable to win the government to phasing out nuclear power. Support for Nato's bombing campaign cuts deepest in a party which was united in pacifism even when bitterly divided over its strategy. Jurgen Trittin, a government minister and leader of the party's left, said the decision 'marks the end of the party's pacifism'. Activists in Berlin and eastern Germany, where most people oppose the war, say the party is dying on the vine and haemorrhaging support to the former Communist PDS. Five Green councillors in Hamburg resigned from the party within days of the conference.

Opinion polls showed rising opposition across Germany to the war. Disappointment with the Greens' role in the coalition government in the state of Hesse led their vote to plummet in elections there earlier this year. Party leaders now worry that the Greens will do badly in the Euro elections this month. The debacle of a party which for most of its existence was for the dissolution of Nato now backing the alliance's greatest act of military aggression has more than just electoral consequences. It comes at a time when large numbers of young people in particular are becoming radicalised. Under those circumstances the Greens' retreat can push many of those who would in the past have been their natural supporters to look to far more radical alternatives.

By Kevin Ovenden

Greece and Turkey: armed and dangerous

Behind the Nato intervention is the fear of a much greater conflict-between Greece and Turkey. Imperial intervention on behalf of small nations and oppressed peoples usually has two motives. One is greed; the other is fear. But these motives do not always coincide. Nato risks inflaming the conflict between two Nato powers in the region, Greece and Turkey. It is a conflict which the US dreads, but which its own policies have intensified. Greece and Turkey were seen as important Nato bastions during the Cold War. Military aid was cut off briefly in the 1970s when Greece was under military dictatorship and Turkey invaded Cyprus. Then in 1978 the US Congress voted a policy in designed to achieve a 'balance of military strength'. This is known as the '7:10 ratio'; for every $7 of military aid to Greece, Turkey receives $10. Both Reagan and Bush resented this constraint, seeing Turkey as far more important to US interests. Nevertheless they were forced to stick with it and it has subsequently been followed by Clinton.

But it is the scale of the arms flow since the end of the Cold War which is staggering. In 1990 the Nato powers agreed the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty, obliging members to destroy or distribute a large amount of weaponry. The result of the CFE treaty was a flood of arms into both Greece and Turkey. In the early 1990s the two countries became the world's largest arms importers and even now they are in the top ten. The UN Register of Conventional Arms describes the two governments as being engaged in an arms race, and like every arms race it is out of control. In 1995 the US sold Turkey a state of the art tactical missile system: 120 missiles armed with the now horribly familiar cluster bombs. In 1996 the US gave both sides munitions designed to destroy airfields and improved radar systems. This coincided with a huge escalation of tension over two long standing disputes: Cyprus and the Aegean Islands.

Northern Cyprus is occupied by some 30,000 Turkish troops, the legacy of the 1974 Greek coup and Turkish invasion when 5,000 people were killed. In the Aegean, Greece has sovereignty over islands which are less than five miles from the Turkish coast and which have been disputed territory since the end of the First World War. In January 1996 the tension boiled over after a Turkish boat ran aground and both sides moved warships into the area before the US intervened. The stand off was followed by continuous intrusion of Turkish fighters in Greek airspace on average five times a day over the next 12 months, which in turn was followed by provocative moves on the Greek side along the ceasefire line in Cyprus. The US was sufficiently alarmed to call the two sides together to agree not to provoke each other by overflying during military exercises.

In July 1997, the US brokered a 'non-aggression pact' at a conference in Madrid. Yet by November both sides had already broken the overflying agreement and the Greek government was negotiating with Russia to provide a missile system for Cyprus. Turkey's response to this has been to threaten to bomb if any missiles are deployed. In turn Russia informed Turkey that any attempt to hinder the agreed deal would be considered an 'an act of war'. So far the deal has not gone ahead. Meanwhile the Greek government announced in February this year that it was opening negotiations on the purchase of between 60 and 80 Eurofighter aircraft in advance of the delivery of a batch of Mirage jets, scheduled for 2001. Greece has now said Turkey cannot fly over its airspace in Nato bombing raids.

Some of the current conflict between Greece and Turkey is sabre rattling. But it comes at a time when extreme nationalists and fascists have secured 20 percent support in the Turkish elections and when almost the entire Greek population are opposed to the Nato war on Yugoslavia. The Turkish raid on the Greek embassy in Kenya, when they captured the Kurdish guerrilla leader Abdullah Ocalan, illustrates just how fragile relations between these two 'allies' have become. Whatever the outcome of Nato's Yugoslavian adventure, the tensions between Greece and Turkey are likely to grow. While the US has favoured Turkey, and Turkey now has a military/economic alliance with Israel, it would be completely wrong to think that the situation is under US control. On the contrary, politics in Turkey are increasingly polarised between opposing Islamic and nationalist/fascist forces, and the government has become much less malleable to US interests. The potential for conflict is becoming more explosive and US and Nato policies have ensured that the adversaries are capable of doing each other enormous damage.

By Dave Beecham

Anti-war protests spread and grow


Anti-war protests took place throughout Greece on May Day. Demonstrators converged on the US embassy in Athens, and in Thessalonika protesters blockaded the port, preventing the transport of military equipment. Workers have also been involved in strike action against the war. Rail workers have refused to run some trains bound for Skopje in Macedonia carrying armoured vehicles. In Piraeus on 12 May a three hour strike closed down all the hospitals in the city. On the same day many teachers and pupils in Athens held a four hour strike against the war and a 1,000 strong demonstration marched from the Metropolis to the Greek parliament. Opinion polls consistently show that 95 percent of people are against the war. The opposition includes the trade union of Albanian immigrant workers in Athens, who marched on May Day with a banner against the war.


In Italy demonstrations have been held in most cities since the bombing started. Many MPs in the Italian government have voiced opposition, with 169 MPs voting against Nato bombing last month. Calls for a general strike against the war have been gaining support. The rank and file trade unions, which define themselves as politically autonomous, have been calling for stoppages. The calls for a general strike have also been backed by Rifondazione Comunista, which left the government coalition last autumn. Pressure is also mounting on the official trade unions to call a general strike. On 13 May RDB, an autonomous trade union, called for workers to come out against the bombing. Many workers responded and the Italian daily newspaper Il Manifesto reported that over 200,000 workers were involved in demonstrations and many more stayed away from work. In Florence 4,000 marched to the US consulate. Police attacked the crowd with teargas and batons. On 21 May demonstrations across Italy were staged, starting on bridges. One of the key demands of the anti-war movement has been that warplanes must be stopped from flying from Italian air bases. There have been regular demonstrations at most air bases involved in flying bombing raids. The Aviano base was encircled by a demonstration of 6,000 at the end of April and will be the focus for a national demonstration on 6 June.

By Beccy Reese

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