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German Greens Off to War Again
by Jim Green, Democratic Socialist Party of Australia
The German Greens, junior partner in a coalition government with the Social Democratic Party (SPD), voted to support the deployment of 3900 German troops for the United States-led “war on terrorism” in the German parliament on November 16, 2001 and again at a national Greens conference on November 24–25.
Earlier in 2001, the SPD had to rely on support from conservative parties—the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Free Democratic Party (FDP)—to win parliamentary support to send about 450 German soldiers to Macedonia. Nineteen SPD members and five Greens voted against the deployment.
This time, SPD Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder raised the stakes, announcing on November 13, 2001 that the vote on German military involvement in the “war on terrorism” would be tied to a vote of confidence in the government.
The CDU and the FDP decided to vote against the motion, even though they support a German military contribution to the “war on terrorism.” CDU leader Angela Merkel said, “Whoever links a legislative issue to a vote of confidence is irresponsible and is at the end of his rope.”
Schroeder expected the Greens, and the pacifist wing of the SPD, to fall into line. If the confidence motion was voted down because of opposition from some Greens, the SPD could replace the Greens with the FDP in a new coalition government. Schroeder keeps the Greens docile with periodic hints that he might replace them with the FDP. A new election was another possibility.
Whatever the outcome of the parliamentary vote, Schroeder and the SPD were likely to be strengthened. For the Greens, however, an early election would spell the end for all 47 of their MPs if the party did not attract 5% of the vote, the minimum required for parliamentary representation. Recent opinion polls show Green support hovering around 5%, down from 6.7% at the 1998 federal election.
Only eight Green or SPD MPs had to vote against the parliamentary motion for it to be lost. And eight Green MPs issued a statement over the November 10–11 weekend—just before Schroeder’s announcement that the vote on military deployment would double as a vote of confidence in the government—saying that the war was not serving its intended purpose and was hurting the Afghan people.
“They seem to be saying that by keeping themselves part of the government they can make ‘humanitarian’ cluster bombs or ‘cancer-free’ depleted uranium casings. This is nonsense.”
Other Green MPs had also expressed opposition. A November 8 report in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) newspaper predicted that as many as 20 Green MPs and 5 SPD MPs might vote against military deployment.
German foreign minister and Greens leader Joschka Fischer threatened to resign if Green MPs did not support German military deployment (a move which renewed a debate as to whether Fischer might find a new political home in the SPD).
Fischer said in Germany’s parliament, the Bundestag, on November 8 that “the core question is whether we want to leave the United States, our ally, standing alone.” He said, “I am totally convinced that if we do nothing, more [terrorist] attacks will follow.”
Fischer used to invoke Nazism to justify anti-imperialist positions; in 1994, for example, he said, “To send German soldiers to the Balkans, where the forces of Hitler went crazy in World War II, would not appease the conflict but worsen it.” Now, Fischer invokes Nazism to sell imperialist wars. A letter from Fischer’s foreign ministry and Schroeder’s chancellery to all MPs said, “The alternative to participating would be a German unilateralism that runs counter to the decisive lesson from our past: multilateral ties, not renationalization. A “new German unilateralism”—whatever its justification—would cause misunderstanding and mistrust among our partners and neighbors.”
The Greens came up with a quaint solution to their dilemma—the eight Green MPs on public record as opponents of German military deployment agreed to “split” their vote and thereby secure a majority for the government in the confidence motion. “We’re trying to make it clear by splitting our votes that we are for one thing but against the other,” said Hans-Christian Stroebele, 1 of the 8 Green MPs.
The final tally in the November 16 vote was 336 votes in support of the confidence motion, 2 more than the 334 required for it to pass, with 4 Greens and 1 SPD parliamentarian opposing it.
The decision was shrouded in all the usual euphemisms trotted out whenever the German Greens sign on to imperialist wars—”civil conflict resolution,” “crisis prevention”, “humanitarian aid,” “development aid,” “global peace policy,” “a dialogue between civilizations,” and so on. Fischer invented a curious new euphemism especially for the occasion—”world domestic policy.”
An open letter from the Green Party USA to the German Greens on November 7 said, “Most Greens worldwide recognize that this is a war for oil and political domination and will do nothing to protect US citizens or any people from terrorism. Joschka Fischer and the ... Greens who are propping up the German government have put power before principle. Their claim that they must participate in the war effort in order to make it more humane is obscene. They seem to be saying that by keeping themselves part of the government they can make ‘humanitarian’ cluster bombs or ‘cancer-free’ depleted uranium casings. This is nonsense.”
The Greens’ anguish may have evoked some sympathy in the past; now it just invites scorn and ridicule.
The Green Party of England and Wales wrote to Fischer on September 27 urging the Greens to withdraw their “unequivocal” support for US military action and not to support “crusader” Bush: “If the Greens in the USA are calling for peace, how can the Greens in Germany support President Bush’s crusade for vengeance?”
On November 24–25, Green leaders had to sell their pro-war policy to 750 delegates at a national Greens conference in the northern port city of Rostock. Delegates were met by anti-war demonstrators with placards portraying Fischer in combat gear with rifle in hand.
Eleven of the 16 state branches of the Greens had declared opposition to German military participation prior to the national conference. Pro-war Green leaders used Schroeder’s trick at the Rostock conference—linking support for the war to the viability of the SPD/Greens coalition government. This linkage seems to have influenced delegates, with a motion in favor of German military deployment supported by an estimated two-thirds to three-quarters of the delegates in a show of hands.
The Greens’ parliamentary business manager, Reinhard Bütikofer, predicted on German public broadcaster ZDF that the Greens would, “in the end, after difficult discussions,” support a German military contribution to the “war on terrorism.” Green co-leader Claudia Roth described the vote at the November 24–25 conference as “most difficult decision in the history of our party…” The Greens’ anguish may have evoked some sympathy in the past; now it just invites scorn and ridicule.
Fischer and other Greens have consistently supported military strikes on Iraq…
The Greens’ anti-war policies were central to the party’s growth and strengthening from the 1970s to the 1990s. As recently as 1998, the Green election program said that the party opposes foreign policy “which would have Germany playing the traditional role of a Great Power in international politics” and that the Greens are “not prepared to support military enforcement of peace or combat operations.” The aim of the Greens is described in the election manifesto as the “de-militarization of politics—all the way to the abolishment of the army and the dissolution of NATO.”
Things changed quickly once the SPD/Greens government was formed. In 1999, the Greens supported German involvement in the US/NATO military operations in the Balkans. Without a hint of irony, Green MP Ludger Volmer said, “Our engagement in Kosovo didn’t mean the betrayal of Green principles through government policies, but the translation of Green peace politics in times of war.”
In 1999, the Green defense spokesperson Angelika Beer released an extraordinary document painting a green gloss on plans to restructure the German military. Beer advocated “liberating” the army to achieve a “higher performance and more cost-efficient armed forces” characterized by “great mobility, technical and operational superiority, leadership-adapted discipline and flexible deployment capacity in the context of multinational and international operations.” Beer concluded her paper warning of the danger “that we could miss our chance of making a German contribution to the change in international relations.”
Of course, there’s also the argument that the Greens ought to fight, inside and outside the Bundestag…
Fischer and other Greens have consistently supported military strikes on Iraq since 1998, most recently in February when Fischer expressed the German government’s “understanding” of US/UK military strikes. “We do not criticize the action our allies had to take under an immensely difficult situation,” Fischer told a news conference after meeting US secretary of state Colin Powell.
The Greens also support the militarization of the European Union, and the party no longer advocates the dissolution of NATO. In recent months, Fischer has adopted the role of “peace-maker” between Israel and Palestine, supporting the Mitchell Plan—the US-driven sham which calls for an end to violence and a return to political negotiations but ignores Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and its occupation of Palestinian land.
And now we have the “war on terrorism.” Following the national Greens conference at Rostock, Winfried Hermann, a Green MP opposed to the war, said, “The active members will start to break off. And that hurts.” Reuters reported on November 26 that a number of regional party leaders had recently quit the Greens out of disgust for its support of the war in Afghanistan.
But, even within the narrow parameters of parliamentary politics, a case could be made for opposing military deployment. As the Green Party USA argued in their November 7 letter, “... the Coalition government could decide, under pressure [from the Greens and the peace movement], to take the antiwar route and withdraw its support for the US war. That would preserve the government coalition as well as heal some of the rifts in the German Green Party—if today’s proponents of war truly cared about such concerns.
Moreover, opposition to the “war on terrorism” might win the Greens as many or more votes as it costs the party. It would shore up the existing Green voter base—70% of Green voters oppose German military deployment. The Greens would also provide a pole of attraction for tens of millions of Germans opposed to German military deployment.
The PDS—which includes social democrats, socialists and Stalinists—is the only party with parliamentary representation that unequivocally opposes the “war on terrorism” and any German contribution to it.
Of course, there’s also the argument that the Greens ought to fight, inside and outside the Bundestag, imperialist military ventures regardless of the electoral implications.
Party of Democratic Socialism
A growing number of former Green members and supporters are gravitating to the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS), the successor to the ruling East German Socialist Unity Party. The PDS—which includes social democrats, socialists and Stalinists—is the only party with parliamentary representation that unequivocally opposes the “war on terrorism” and any German contribution to it.
An article in the October 22 FAZ noted that the PDS has grown steadily stronger “because it has not restricted its work solely to a parliamentary role. Instead, it is capable of mobilizing resistance, protest and mistrust against the system as a whole.”
At the October 21 Berlin state election, the PDS won 22.6% of the vote, only slightly less than the CDU (23.7%) and not far short of the SPD vote (29.7%). The PDS vote has trebled in Berlin since 1990. The party still relies heavily on eastern Germany for its support, but recently it has won greater support in western Germany. More importantly, the PDS is attracting a new, young layer of members and voters. Nearly one-third of the first-time voters in the Berlin election voted for the PDS.
The Greens lost votes in the Berlin election—the seventeenth consecutive state election at which the party has lost support since 1998.
Following the October 21 Berlin election, the SPD formed a coalition government in Berlin with the Greens and the FDP. Schroeder argued against an SPD/PDS coalition, citing the PDS’s opposition to the “war on terrorism” as evidence that it had “not yet arrived” in the political mainstream.
One of Schroeder’s concerns is that the PDS might, over time, become the most popular party in Berlin and that this could strengthen the party’s position nationally as well. At a federal level, the PDS won 5.1% of the vote in the 1998 election and has 36 MPs. The party is expected to increase its vote at next year’s federal election.
Reprinted with permission from the author and Green Left Weekly. A longer version of this article is available at http:www.greenleft.org.au or from firstname.lastname@example.org