Berlin demonstrated too – and how!
By Victor Grossman, Berlin
Posted on Portside
It’s a bit late, but there may still be interest in the anti-war demonstration on Saturday in Berlin, Germany and a few special angles. But first off, like those around the globe, it was colossal. The planning committee, facing unending problems, difficulties and occasional disagreements, hoped against hope to have 100,000 participants,about the number as at the demonstration last May when Bush visited Berlin. But the committee, and just about everyone else, was overwhelmed when between 350,000 (a police estimate) and 500,000 (the organizers figure) poured in from all parts of Germany.The giant crowds gathered both in central East Berlin and central West Berlin and joined together at the big victory column in the middle of Berlin’s big park, the Tiergarten. The program featured the head of Germany’s (and the world’s?) biggest labor union (with the acronym ver.di), an outspoken Protestant pastor, plus leading musicians, actors and actresses. Good as it was, it was eclipsed by the sheer magnitude of the march and by its variety, with religious denominations, unions, political parties from Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) to far left Maoist and revolutionary Turkish parties. But most participants seemed to be ordinary, largely unorganized citizens who just wanted to say “No” to war. The imagination displayed in the signs and banners was amazing – and represented all possible views and a highly imaginative sense of humor.
What were the special factors, aside from the fact that this was Berlin, once the starting point of the biggest and worst war in history? First of all, the nearly total absence of police – except those guarding the street where the U.S. Embassy is located. But no-one tried to break though hte fortress-like defenses, the thousands of good-natured but resolute demonstrators just kept moving along, with only an occasional whistle or catcall aimed at the embassy a block away. The lack of police provocation – already noted at a few other recent demonstrations – may be a result of the coalition city government – made up of Social Democrats (SPD) and Democratic Socialists (PDS). But it also reflected official German opposition to US government plans for war on Iraq. Yet it was here that some views expressed on banners and posters were divided. A minority praised SPD chancellor Schroeder and Green Foreign Minister Fischer for standing up to the Bush bunch. Many more, however, warned the government to stick to this position, but also to prove its intentions by withdrawing tanks from Kuwait, barring fly-over rights for US warplanes and not taking on guard jobs at US bases in Germany, thus permitting US soldiers to be sent off to destroy Baghdad and Basra. Some trust Schroeder and Fischer, many don’t, but I think these differences lost their immediacy on Saturday in the face of the general demand for peace, regardless of views on other subjects.
Right-wing crtics of this giant new peace movement constantly complain that it is “anti-American”, hence ungrateful to the USA and all it had done to “save Germany from both the Nazis and the Communists.” Aside from the very false aspects of this – they somehow seem to forget that the USSR played a far greater role in beating the Nazis than the western countries) and also overlook the (East) German Democratic Republic – the charge was just not true. Banners and slogans I saw and the speeches I read (I could not get close enough to the central stage to hear them) were never anti-American, only anit-Bush and anti-Rumsfeld. (And many people answered the latter’s remarks with stickers saying “Old Europe”). And, to answer another false charge, I never saw a single slogan praising Saddam Hussein. Some opposed him – but said an invasion and war were not the way to get rid of him.
Another aspect is worth mentioning. Schroeder has become exceedingly unpopular in recent months, with the economy faltering dangerously and the jobless rate soaring (especially in the old GDR areas). The right-wing Christian Democrats (CDU) have tried to use this unpopularity to disparage his current anti-war position, saying it “isolates” Germany (though from whom, after the weekend demonstrations, it would be hard to determine!). Their pro-Bush views have been repeated loudly in much of the printed media. But many TV channels reported the demonstration, its preparations, and the general pro-peace movement here and in the world more fairly than I have ever seen before.
This was demonstrated by their repeated showing of the moving statement by Dustin Hoffman in a major Berlin concert hall. His quiet, firm words: “I am not anti-American, but I am against the views of the present administration” were met by a second of silence, then thunderous applause. Germans are split on many issues, but a very large majority want peace.