"One protester landed a bag of red paint on Fischers head"
THE SPECIAL conference of the German Green Party, called to discuss the war in the Balkans, erupted in a near riot last week. It brought sharp clashes between Green leaders, who are part of the ruling coalition in Germany, and party members who called for an immediate end to NATO's bombing. Green leader Joschka Fischer, German foreign minister, managed narrowly to face down the revolt, winning a compromise resolution by 444 votes to 318.
But the bitter confrontations at the conference point to a deepening crisis in Europe's most successful Green Party, which could now split. Over 800 demonstrators, carrying banners reading, "Bombs don't save anyone", blocked the conference entrance in the city of Bielefeld. Party leaders called on hundreds of riot police to clear the sit-in. They waded in, arresting 57 protesters. Delegates were shocked and angry that a party which has its origins in the mass anti-nuclear protests of the late 1970s should turn riot police against its own supporters.
The protests continued inside the conference. Columns of protesters waved anti-war placards and chanted, "Hypocrites," and, "Warmongers," at the party leaders who sat behind a phalanx of security guards. One protester landed a bag of red paint on Fischer's head.
The scenes were reminiscent of the Chicago conference of the Democratic Party in the US in 1968 where party leaders crushed the anti-war delegates while the police ran amok outside. Fischer struggled to make his voice heard. He said, "If we accept these anti-war motions we will soon no longer recognise Europe. I plead with you to help me, give me your support and don't cut me off at the knees, so I can emerge from this congress strengthened." He argued there was no alternative but for the Greens to stay in the government and that something had to be done to stop Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic. He won applause from a large section of the audience.
But so too did Green MP Annelle Buntenbach who said, "It's not true that we don't have any alternatives. Now after seven weeks of bombing I want to evaluate the situation. War is never an alternative." Fischer resorted to the kind of ultimatum Labour type leaders have issued whenever their backs are to the wall. "If you call for a one sided unconditional end to the NATO campaign, I will not carry the policy out," he said.
The Greens' strategy has been to join the coalition with the SPD, equivalent to the Labour Party in Britain, in the hope of moving the government to the left. In fact, membership of the government has dragged the Greens to the right. Andrea Fischer, Green health minister, said, "This is a big step for the Green Party to accept responsibility in government."
The compromise resolution fell short of calling for an immediate stop to the war. But it also sets the Greens at odds with NATO and with the SPD, which is also bitterly divided over the war. The motion called for a temporary ceasefire to test Milosevic's response. That still leaves the coalition government extremely shaky.
Opposition to the war is growing and hardening in Germany. Those opposed to the war would previously have looked to the Green Party because of its pacifist reputation. Now they are forced to look to other forces on the left. Delegates from Berlin told the Green conference, "In eastern Germany the Greens are already dead." A majority of people in the former East Germany oppose the war. Green leaders have staved off the immediate collapse of the government, but they have not succeeded in disarming the anti-war movement.
ITALY: Italy's centre-left coalition faces a parliamentary crisis as opposition to the war grows. Many of the bombing raids on Serbia and Kosovo are launched from NATO airbases in Italy, making the war an issue of intense national debate. This week prime minster D'Alema faced a crucial parliamentary debate on the war. If he loses the vote his government could fall.
CYPRUS: Over 10,000 people demonstrated in Cyprus on Saturday of last week against the bombing. They chanted, "NATO killers," and marched through a British military base on the island which is divided between the Turkish controlled North and Greek South.