Pacifist Greens accept NATO's bombing policy

Close vote in Germany averts possible crisis in governing coalition

War In Yugoslavia

May 14, 1999|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

BIELEFELD, Germany -- Germany averted political turmoil yesterday as members of the pacifist Green party emerged from a tumultuous debate and decided to stand with their government in supporting NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia.

After years as a fringe, environmentalist and anti-war movement, the Greens became a junior partner of a Social Democrat-led government last September. And a top Green, a Frankfurt taxi-driver-turned-politician named Joschka Fischer, became Germany's foreign minister.

Yesterday, Fischer persuaded his Green compatriots to stay in the coalition and follow the government's Kosovo policy -- but it was not easy.

Near the start of a heated nine-hour debate, a protester hurled a balloon filled with a red liquid directly at Fischer's right ear. The pressure of the burst damaged Fischer's eardrum and he later required medical treatment, said his aide Achim Schmillen.

"I'm sorry it happened," said one of Fischer's opponents. "But I must admit it, I got some pleasure from it."

The raucous atmosphere was pure Green Party, longtime observers said. The conference was in Bielefeld, a city in northern Germany. More than 3,000 people attended and police said more than 60 were arrested.

The meeting was called to decide whether the party should uphold its traditional pacifism and demand a unilateral cessation of bombing -- or remain a moral force within a government that supports the bombing.

By a 58-42 split, Fischer's "realo" (realist) faction weathered the challenge from "fundis" (uncompromising fundamentalists). A loss could have prompted Fischer's resignation. Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder would have been forced to find a new coalition partner or call fresh elections.

The Greens hold 47 seats and Schroeder's Social Democrat Party holds 298 in the 669-member Bundestag.

Germany's participation in NATO's air campaign over Yugoslavia has been crucial on several fronts. Not only are Luftwaffe warplanes hitting Serbian targets -- the first use of German force since World War II -- but Germany has also taken in thousands of Kosovo refugees.

Western diplomats expressed confidence that Germany would have remained a key NATO ally in the Kosovo campaign.

"Nothing would have changed in that respect," said one attending the conference. But the debate reflected the serious strains the bombing of Yugoslavia is causing in domestic European politics.

Fischer was was loudly booed by some, and posters attacked him as a warmonger, even depicting him with a Hitler mustache. But he has won praise for his own peace plan -- a softening of NATO's demands by offering a 24-hour bombing lull followed by a gradual withdrawal of Serbian forces.

Pub Date: 5/14/99

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