By Mary Merkenich
BOCHUM, Germany — The Gulf War is a topic that is never far from people's consciousness here. In my school I am daily confronted with students' posters exclaiming: "We are afraid of the consequences of war", "Stop the war now", "Students and teachers want peace" and "No blood for oil". In the corridor, the students have placed candles, which they carefully keep burning as symbols of peace.
The war has regenerated the peace movement, and this regeneration is largely led by high school students. Overwhelmingly, the new peace movement is young, very young.
In Bochum, a city of about 400,000, the antiwar actions began the weekend prior to January 15. Before the planned demonstration, I asked people how big they expected it to be. Most assumed about 500 people would turn up; 10,000 people demonstrated that Saturday.
This scenario repeated itself in town after town, city after city, in Germany. It took everyone by surprise, and for too long even the left stood stunned by its spontaneity, dimension and suddenness.
As soon as the US and its assistants began the bombing, the protest actions became a daily event. Where there were no demonstrations, there were all-night vigils, street blockades, human chains around symbolic buildings, meetings, occupations of central buildings (like the Cologne central railway station), peace masses and letter writing and petition campaigns. Schools closed down, and teachers led by their students joined the demonstrations.
The pace of things has now slowed down, although the opposition and actions have not ceased. There were two big demonstrations in Bonn and Berlin on January 26. Bonn was declared the centre for a national demonstration and attracted 250,000 people, while 100,000 people demonstrated in Berlin.
Representatives of the union movement, student movement, Christians, peace activists and actors and musicians addressed the rallies. The participants included the radical Autonomen (involved in house occupations and street battles with police and neo-Nazis), Christians, Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS), Green Party and Social Democratic Party (SPD) supporters, women's liberationists and of course your average Miss Schmidt.
Slogans included: "Negotiate instead of shooting", "German weapons, German money murders in all the world", "Discussions instead of bombs" and "An immediate armistice".
Speakers often referred to the hypocrisy of the Bonn government for
not taking action against the German companies which sold weapons and war chemicals to Iraq.
Opposition to the war is also exhibited daily by the hanging of banners and posters out of apartments, churches and schools. I recently travelled to Bonn, and as I drove through, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of banners displayed from people's homes. In Bonn, every fourth or fifth apartment block displayed a banner. Most proclaimed "No blood for oil".
In Cologne, Bochum, Bremen and Lüneburg, I have seen the same thing. I can only assume that these five cities are not exceptions. The opposition is often the most passionate in university towns like Gättingen, where radicals like the Autonomen clash with police. However, overwhelmingly, the protests have been peaceful.
In Lüneburg in the centre of town and in Bochum at the university, students have erected rows of white crosses to represent the dead.
Many people feel the trade union umbrella body, the DGB, has not done enough to oppose the war. Consequently, a group of women have occupied the DGB offices. Up till now the DGB has called only for a five-minute stop work to show its protest. The PDS leader, Gregor Gysi, and another PDS parliamentarian, Andrea Lederer, visited the women, giving their support and promising financial assistance if they were forcibly removed or taken to court.
In parliament, Gysi gave a speech condemning the war and the Bonn government's support for it. During his speech he was continually heckled and interrupted by ruling CDU politicians. All the PDS parliamentarians wore white armbands to show their opposition. The SPD kept quiet during Gysi's speech. They are split, with some leading politicians actively opposing the war, and others supporting it.
Women's groups have advanced two different actions. One group called for a women's strike on January 30, and other groups have called for an international referendum. The response has been moderate.
The Greens initiated the first calls to soldiers to desert; consequently, individual members and the party itself are facing court fines. Last year 14,000 soldiers and reservists refused to go to war. In January, about 9250 reservists have said no to war, and 50 full-time soldiers, who were supposed to go to Turkey, refused.
The CDU's response to the opposition was slow at first, but eventually it condemned the protests as anti-American and pro-Hussein. In addition, small demonstrations have been staged by Zionists describing the US as their friend and calling for
the defence of Israel. These demonstrations also invariably try to play on the guilt feelings of Germans about "their" Nazi past.