Moving on Thin Ice
THE GREEN PARTY
WHEN ONE OF THEIR most respected legislators, former general Gert Bastian, withdrew from West Germany's Green Party last Thursday, the young party came one step closer to failure as a viable political institution. More disturbing than Bastian's departure in itself, however, are the issues that prompted his resignation: increasingly heated internal power struggles and a gradual reformation of party priorities.
But one of the problems is that of self-definition. The Greens are a coalition of ecologists, peace activities, communists, and a few feminists. Since coming to Parliament, however, the Greens have disagreed on many issues. The main division is between the pragmatists who are interested in forming coalitions with the Social Democrats, and the fundamentalists for whom principles take precedence over any attempt at compromise. Even the strain of everyday, working together seems to threaten this alliance Speaking of the that, the budget specialist of the Greens. Hubert Kleinert, complains that we're moving on thin ice."
Though Bastian may actually have had other reasons for resigning, his critique of the party struck several valid notes. The Greens of the Bundestag have not yet had the benefit of being in-vigorated by success; consequently, it is not altogether surprising that they have turned much of their energy in-ward.
For example, the recent, coordinated efforts of the Greens and the West German peace movement to oppose the Freshing IIs and the cruise missiles failed to prevent their deployment this fall. The Greens, however, are quick to took on the bright side of things. "It's not a failure. It is clear that the government acted against the majority of the people, now there is a spirit of resignation," said Dr. Sabine Bard, a Green and member of the Bundestag, on a recent visit to Cambridge. "But at the next national election, people will remember who stood for what," another member noted.
While in Cambridge, Bard also gave the following summary of her party's goals for a demilitarized central Europe.
We voted against the stationing of the missiles because we want more independence from the West, while we hope East Germany becomes more independent from Russia. For Europe, it would be an important step to have a nuclear free zone from Finland, through the Germanies, and down to Italy. This would make it possible to have one Germany, but it would be a neutral nation, strictly without arms--we'd start [by eliminating] atomic weapons, but we're not quite sure how far we can go [in abolishing] conventional weapons. We prefer the idea of a social defense which would have citizens refuse cooperation with the invading force. After all, Germany is unattractive without its economic potential.
THOUGH SUCH AMBITIONS may be admirable for the virtue they implicitly impute to mankind, they are also a trifle naive. Granted that the Greens themselves realize that their ultimate goals are nothing else than Utopian, one can hardly avoid questioning the maturity, at least the sincerity, of aspiring policymakers who propose relying on a program of civil disobedience in the face of a conquering totalitarian regime.
What might otherwise be dismissed as merely a sign of excessive idealism is, in fact, symptomatic of a fundamental asymmetry in the Greens' view of the world. The Greens have long shown a propensity to focus on the problems of the Western system, while they have been inclined, at the same time, to ignore the injustices of Eastern regimes and the relative advantages of the West.
The Greens don't seem to realize, for example, that civil disobedience is something essentially peculiar to the West. Though it is a good sign that West Germans can take many political liberties for granted, they ought not forget these rights are far from being universally respected. The Greens should not admire their right to oppose the state so much that they neglect to exercise it; nevertheless, it would not be altogether inappropriate for the party to develop greater sensitivity in making assumptions about the application of that right, both in West Germany and in the East.
The Greens have been characterized as anti-American. This seems increasingly to be true, if only because their anti-nuclear efforts must necessarily be directed primarily against the United States Again, however, this should not be a reason for turning a blind eye to ward Soviet intransigence. While the Soviets have taken it upon themselves to interrupt arms negotiations and Soviet development in Eastern Europe continues undaunted by concerns over needless escalation it is the Americans who have borne the brunt of the Greens antinuclear agitation. Specifically, their attempt to set up a working coalition with the Social Democrats in Hesse has been hindered by demands such as the call for the demilitarization of the state The Greens not only seek a with-drawal of the American military, but outright secession from NATO.
The Greens don't actually describe themselves as anti-American. "There's a big difference between the American people and the American government. We feel closer to the American people than we do to our own government," said Bard. Nevertheless, it must not be forgotten that almost all German leftists hold contempt for an America they see as incapable of producing leadership with any greater sophistication than Ronald Reagan and his "cowboy mentality."
MORE RECENTLY, the Greens seem to be giving some thought to giving their movement a bit more balance. In Cambridge, Bard said. "The peace movement [in West Germany] is defeated at this point, but we have to go on and get in contact with the unofficial peace movement in the East. We have very good contacts in East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Poland. We must work with them and not the governments to get Europe out of these two blocks, to get out of this East-West confrontation."
In their parliamentary career to date, the Greens have not been tremendously successful. "We've made many proposals, but we've had only two legislative successes. We stopped the importation of tortoise products, and we banned an insecticide. We've developed many ideas so that they become concrete and so another party can pick them up--the Parliament won't accept the initiatives from our mouths. We're not working for the waste-paper basket. This is very important, at least to us, psychologically," said Amim von Gleich, a member of the Greens executive board, in Cambridge.
Both the Social and the Christian Democrats have laid claim to some of the Greens initiatives. But the Greens have achieved much more than such vicarious successes. They have made it impossible for the government to ignore popular opinions on nuclear disarmament and the environment. Further more, they have almost certainly helped develop popular interest in the political process, both on their behalf and in opposition to the party.
One distinctive feature of the Greens move into the Bundestag was their original resolve to rotate their Parliamentary seats among themselves every two years. "The theory was that politicking should not be a profession. We didn't want to estrange our delegates from their regular lives," said vonGleich. But recently even this policy has become a source of contention. "In practice, however, we're finding the mood is increasingly one of competition," von Gleich added.
Bastian has been in the forefront of those opposed to rotation. Only recently he demanded that those training to replace him and his fellow delegates be sent back to party headquarters where they would probably be more useful. By resigning his position within the party but not his seat in Parliament. Bastian avoids the possibility of being asked to step down prematurely. But his departure also decreases the membership of the Green delegation (to the Bundestag) to only 27 legislators, precariously close to the minimum for an active delegation; if only two more delegates leave the party, it will lose many of its parliamentary privileges--including the federal subsidy--its vote on the various committees, and the power to introduce legislation.
IF THE GREENS are forced into such a passive role, it would mark a substantial setback for West German politics.
While their strategic conceptions may lack a certain realism, the Greens have managed to introduce many important concerns into the political arena. In their present form, provided they don't grow too powerful or become specifically anti-Parliamentarian, they are a sign of healthy democracy in West Germany.