I came across a sign the other day, inelegantly scrawled on cardboard and stuck to a telephone pole. It read Fuck Bush. This was the day the United States announced there would be no second United Nations Security Council resolution. The curt message expressed more than Germany’s overwhelming rejection of the American President’s bullying of his allies and Washington’s rationale for war with Iraq. It conveyed Germany’s painful frustration at being completely powerless to dissuade its transatlantic ally or, more modestly, even its new Central European neighbors, from choosing the path of war.
In Spain and Britain hundreds of thousands, even millions, take to the streets protesting their leaderships’ prowar stances. In contrast, the newly reawakened German peace movement seems sunk in resignation, an uninspired shadow of the protests that gripped West Germany in the early 1980s. One glaring problem, not faced by British and Spanish activists, is that the peace lobby here has nobody concrete to protest against, except the disembodied figure of George W. Bush, who they know isn’t listening.
In Germany not a single politician from one of the five major parties, major intellectual, entertainment figure or sports star openly backed military action against Iraq without a UN resolution. (The opposition Christian Democrats blame the left-center leadership for blocking a US-led resolution and groused afterward that Germany’s rightful place is on the side of the war-makers, not on the sidelines.) The city of Berlin even turned a blind eye when Greenpeace activists scaled the Brandenburg Gate and hung a banner from its hallowed columns.
Last May, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder ruled out German participation in an Iraq war with or without a UN resolution, and, in a rare display of tenacity on a matter of principle, has refused since to back down. The insignificance of Germany’s “Nein!” was rubbed in its face when the United States repeatedly criticized Paris, as if Berlin didn’t exist. Germans would have relished nothing more than being branded “Sauerkraut-eating surrender monkeys.”
One vibrant exception in the German peace movement is Amis Against the War, a group of American dissenters living in Berlin, who staged a forty-eight-hour “Filibuster for Peace” at the Brandenburg Gate. Braving raw, cold nights, they managed to get quite a bit of German press–and a fair share of smirks too. The unilateralist, war-mongering USA of the Bushes and the Reagans is one many Germans gladly latch on to when thinking about Americans. A bumbling, stumbling George Bush fits the stereotype so much better than did Clinton. The fact that the United States has a left at all is either unknown to Germans or benignly dismissed.
Another unexpected bright spot is the country’s young generation, which for the first time in decades is displaying an interest in the political world. The day bombs began to fall on Iraq–a school day, God forbid–50,000 high school pupils showed up on Berlin’s Alexanderplatz in full demo-regalia to reinforce the 20,000 adult protesters already there. One sign read: We Aren’t Allowed to Compare Bush to Hitler. Too Bad! The leftist daily Die Tageszeitung wrote: “Are these the same kids that sociologists routinely lambast as MTV-damaged illiterates?” Presumably the troupes of 12- and 13-year-old girls with Make Love, Not War painted on their faces had parental permission. The school authorities, however, minced no words that truancy was punishable and next time they weren’t turning the other cheek. But at least the kids were polite. One young man carried a sign saying Buck Fush.