Petra Kelly and Gert Bastian interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

The European Peace Movement: Conversation with Petra K. Kelly, Member of the Green Party and Member of the Bundestag, and General Gert Bastian, Retired General and Member of the Bundestag: 10/23/84 by Harry Kreisler

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Achievements, Goals, and Challenges

What do you think has been the greatest achievement of the peace movement in this period since the deployment decision was made and to the present time?

I think, first of all, it has been consciousness-raising about security as a total concept. That it has to be connected, that security policy is nothing separate, that it is something you can have an influence on. It also had meant nothing to the people who have become aware that they must become very active themselves to change anything. That the power to vote is one thing. It's important, it's very important. But 500,000 people who come out several times is also an impact.

And then also, knowing what these weapons can do. Knowing what nuclear weapons mean and what chemical weapons mean has become to me the point where I say I never dreamed that six years ago there would be such a change. That 70 percent of the German population was against the deployment, despite the government not recognizing that! But that was a very big impact.

The peace movement educated so many people in so many creative ways. The concept of nonviolence, of active civil disobedience, became part of German politics. I never thought it possible six years ago. It has become something that even farmers do, as in Heiselbach, where farmers have given their land for putting crosses to symbolize the cruise missiles. It was something never thought possible six years ago. So that's a learning process.

And then on the other side, I think people had to realize that rallies alone could not change the situation. Also, if 500,000 people go on the roads, the government is ignoring this in a very bad way. Therefore the people are deciding to change the situation in all elections that are made now, in the next time. Elections that are made in several states in the country and the Federal Republic in total. This is the best way to build up other majorities in all these parliaments and come to a better situation in the future.

And then the end result would be the change of governments. In governments that would, what? Disarm? Or would lower the threshold of danger for weapons?

Well, it depends on the combinations. Because if you get the Green tolerating the SPD, which we have done in Essen, and you get them in a stronger position, the price will be higher. If you have a coalition, which I am not for, it could be that the Green end up in the minor position and the SPD will still do its pro-NATO policy. My ideal is that in 1987, the Green tolerate the SPD [vis-à-vis] the missiles out of Germany, and part of the money [be put] into social defense and to defensive defense, changing the Bundeswer structure to becoming truly defensive. And that would be the price for tolerating the SPD. And the SPD has, at the moment, no other partner than the Green. I do believe that at the present time, there is no other hope than that conciliation, so that means the Greens have to stay rather put in their goals and not make many compromises. Then we have a real hope that by having that kind of cooperation, we could change something very realistic in 1987. But I'm afraid that the entire NATO governments and the NATO headquarters in Brussels will be rather upset with the idea that the Green have such national influence. They are frightened to death by the idea that there is a strain of neutralism, a very healthy strain in Germany. And they are afraid that this strain of neutralism might get decisive governmental influence.

How do you retain your Green, peace movement identity in the future? Isn't that a problem for you, I gather, in terms of your organization? You're committed ideologically to the rotation of offices, but then you obviously lose the experience that those people who are in office have. This is a problem you are confronting. I want your insight into the difficulties of continuing the political process once the thing that you can focus on, namely the Cruise missiles and the Pershings have passed, not in the sense that they are not still there, but they don't have the public's attention that they did have.

The principle of rotation, of course, is a very strong Green principle, and I think it's good. A two-year rotation, and in fact it has been two years only now for the parliamentary group. If you look at Germany, the other regions did not rotate. It's a rather hypocritical system we have at the moment. Most regions did not rotate. They stayed four years, Baden Wittenburg and the others. Presently the Green are about to change their system and stay for one legislative period. But the first group in Parliament is supposed to rotate, and I happen to be a very strong critic of the two-year rotation and I was rather criticized for it. But I still maintain my position. I think that two years is ridiculous because the parliament is made for a four-year term. I think one term is enough. But you are getting now to the position that some people would like to stay full two terms -- eight years. I think that the Green had better decide very soon about this, because we do have a rotation system that I think is, in principle, really very good. But the practice of doing it, the way we do it, has to be altered. Because it means that people who are in certain committees like the disarmament committee or the defense committee cannot even follow the budget. They have to come in the middle of the budget, walk out, and then the next person comes in. And we do not have enough members.

If I can give you just one quick example, in one place we have gotten 3,000 offices into the city councils. We have only 6,000 members, and through the rotation, every single member is going to hold a political office. That means 6,000 members are holding, with the rotation, 6,000 offices. It means we have no party left; they're all in office. So, we'd better do something. And it shows that the rotation is good, because other parties have people sitting for twenty years, and they have lost contact to all their grass roots. We are doing it in such an extreme way that we are losing contact with our parliament. So I think it should be a one-term relationship and then not to run again.

One final question. If there's one misconception about the peace movement, what you have accomplished and what you hope to accomplish in the future, what do you think it is? I give you the opportunity to correct it. Is there such a misconception?

One is an estimation which is very usual in the other countries and in my country also, is that the peace movement is a nationalistic movement, and is a movement of fear. This makes me angry. But this movement is not a movement of fear. It is a movement of a clear position that we have no reason to live in fear in front of the communist bloc. It is not necessary to feel inferior against Warsaw Pact. Not in a political sense and not in an economic sense and not in a military sense. Therefore we can have more self reliance and can be more sure that we are in a situation to be able to make the first step to a reduction of the confrontation between East and West. This is what we must do and what is possible to do, and for this step we are fighting.

I think the second misconception, too, just to add, is that people imply that we are doing this in the West because we're so free and that there's nothing happening in the East. I find that misconception also very tragic, because if any American journalist would take the time to look at what is happening in the Eastern Bloc at the grassroots level, he would discover that people in Czechoslovakia and in East German factories and schools did not agree with the deployment, that they were very unhappy, that there is, in fact, much unhappiness in the leadership. Mr. Honnecker isn't so happy. As you know, the Romanians and Bulgarians aren't so happy. In fact, the bloc of monolithic Eastern European communism is falling apart. There is certainly no reliable ally, any more, in that sense, and the Soviet Union apparently knows that rather well. There are more and more cracks of light appearing, the more you look at Charter 77, Solidarity, and all those movements.

Those people have shown us that they take a much higher risk to do what we're doing, and that makes us also feel very strong. We know that, with every moment that we have a little success, they are getting a little bit more air, even though their risk is much higher. That has been a total misconception. People not realizing that there is a change occurring in those people, and that the state-financed peace movement isn't in any way concerning anybody. People know that that's the government. And they want also the Soviet Union to take unilateral steps. As we all say, we've always said that both sides are called upon to take the first step. We don't care who, but somebody better start. We've said that over and over, appealing to our government, but it also means that we mean the Soviet Union can also, tonight, stop atomic testing. They don't have to wait for anybody. They can do that tonight as well.

Ms. Kelly thank you very much, General Bastian, thank you very much for this very informative discussion about the peace movement and the problems concerning European security. And thank you very much for joining us for this conversation.

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To the Conversations page.
See also the Globetrotter Research Gallery: The Peace Movement and the Nuclear Arms Race
and information on the 1984 Nuclear Weapons Forum