SPEAKERS AT THE 9th ANNUAL European Nuclear Disarmament (END) Convention repeatedly warned participants that the peace movements’ agenda is only half-accomplished, but left a key question unanswered: what direction should peace movements take after the massive changes in Eastern Europe?
Some 1,200 people from over 45 countries attended the Convention, which was held in both Helsinki (Finland) and Tallinn (Estonia), 3-7 July. The opening session tried to deal with the reassessment of peace movement goals. “We must create a ETD movement,” said Cay Sevon of the Finnish Peace Committee, “a European Total Disarmament movement. Why let the military spend one trillion dollars last year with no fuss? That’s the same amount of the Third World debt! Why do we allow this? Finland is planning its greatest arms sale yet, Sweden is continuing its arms programme and the Baltic Sea is militarized by the USSR. Where is the pressure for pan-European disarmament, or plans for a new security system?”
Poet Andrei Dementiev, speaking on the same panel, said that it is not enough for Soviet activists to be anti-militarist. “Our threat is internal,” he said. “We are creating an image of an enemy at home, which may be more dangerous than an external enemy. We need a civil peace that must include political and national reconciliation.”
PANELIST JOHN LAMBERT of the leftist think-tank Agenor asked ifa European peace movement really existed. “Or do we come with our own agenda and the priorities ofour own country? Most civil societies operate within their national framework—there is no framework at the European level to deal with missile depots, reprocessing plants, low-flying military training and more. We face a challenge of method as a movement. We need action, ideas adapted to a European level, credible alternatives. We should demand an immediate end to the Warsaw Pact, to NATO and to nuclear weapons in Europe.” The peace movement hasn’t faced up to the fact that it needs organization, Lambert said, and some sort of federal, non-bureaucratic structure. He reflected many participants’ feelings when he questioned elsewhere if the annual Convention should continue.
Bea Stolte of the Netherlands’ Green Left argued that “the world is much bigger that Europe. Europe’s wealth is built on the Third World.” More cooperation is needed between peace, environmental and Third World movements, she said. “We can learn from other movements how to organise ourselves.”
Speaking at another panel, British activist Mary Kaldor agreed that the European peace movement had a lot to learn from social movements in the Third World. She also presented a bleak picture of Europe’s future if the peace movement quits now:
“NATO remains and is expanded to include Germany. There are new economic divisions between the rich West and Central Europe and new military divisions along the Soviet border. There’ll be a greater emphasis on medium and long-range nuclear weapons, based in the UK, France and Italy. It would be a more inward looking Europe, incapable of solving economic and environmental problems.” Kaldor also chided activists: “We have a sense of defeatism when we should have a sense of celebration. We’ve played a central role in bringing about the INF Treaty and the changes in Eastern Europe. We challenged the assumptions of the Cold War. Several signatories of the END Appeal signed in 1980, the Appeal called for a nuclear free Europe from the Urals to the sea are now in government.” She warned that “NATO was formed to ensure the cohesion of the West, not to combat Stalin, so now NATO is regrouping to sustain itself. It won’t demilitarize—it will just shift to medium-range missiles, which is what the planners wanted all along. There will be a greater emphasis on the threat from the South and on Islamic fundamentalism.”
Throughout the Convention the connected and complex issues of nationalism, new enemy images and internal conflicts, especially racial tensions, were debated. Disturbed by the Baltic nationalists who spoke during the Tallinn part of the Convention, some long-time activists wondered if the movement was deteriorating into nationalism. Some activists from smaller West European countries said they were revising their ideas on nationalism, given their concern about preserving their culture and language in tight of European integration.
RAFFAELA BOLLINI OF THE ITALIAN peace movement warned that democracy may be gaining a foothold in Eastern Europe, but it is still not reality for many Southern countries or for minorities within Europe. “We should thank our immigrants. They show us the reality ofour planet, show us that Europe is not only the cradle of the French Revolution, but of fascism and imperialism. This new freedom will fail ifwe can’t develop respect for differences. We can help this process by using two of our key traditions nonviolence and common security.”
The END Liaison Committee accepted the proposal of Tair Tairov of the Civic Peace Coalition (USSR) to have next year’s END Convention in Moscow.
A PUBLIC FORUM, attended by several hundred people in New York City on 6 June, examined the question of how perestroika was affecting women in Eastern Europe. Sponsored by the Women’s Foreign Policy Council, the forum was convened by former US Congresswoman Bella Abzug.
The changing situation of East European women has come under increasing scrutiny. Feminists have in particular criticised the Western media for portraying perestroika and glasnost as a victory for capitalism, and ignoring the role of women in the changes sweeping Eastern Europe. There is concern that women will lose employment and maternity benefits, guaranteed under various socialist systems, if Western business practices are adopted. American feminists point out that while the US is touted as a prime democratic example, women are only five percent of the US Congress, child care legislation and maternity benefits are below most West European standards, and the US has no national health insurance.
“Soviet women possess rights to employment, health care, and education for which a South Bronx teenage mother or an unemployed steel worker in West Virginia would give much for,” Esther Kingston-Mann, a US professor of Russian history, wrote in the May issue of Sojourner, a US feminist newspaper. “Although the most Western-oriented of Soviet economists have begun to propose that the state withdraw from long-term policy commitments like full employment, none of the USSR’s massive array of social welfare guarantees have as yet been rescinded.” She believes that social welfare issues, which strongly affect women, will ultimately determine the fate of perestroika, and cites Gorbachev’s promise, made in April before the Supreme Soviet, that valuable foreign currency would be spent to import scarce baby food and upgrade outdated equipment in maternity wards.
Fears about unemployment are justified, according to Ulrike Helverth, a journalist with Berlin’s Tageszeitung. She said, “Already Western businesses have told East German employers that single mothers be fired first, because childcare is too expensive. Some one-fifth to one-third of East German industry will close down, with three million unemployed. Women will be the first victims.” Helverth said over 1,500 women had met in East Berlin to plan for a new feminist society. “They demanded —and won— the right to a seat at the roundtable talks on an interim government. They’d gotten subsidies forchildcare and the right to abortion into the social charter. They were pushing for a Ministry of Equality, until a 50% quota in government was achieved. But the March elections changed everything. It was a vote for the Deutschmark.” Only 21% of the Parliament are women, she said. West German feminists are fighting to save the more liberal East German abortion law, and to have it adopted rather then the restrictive West German law.
PETRA KELLY, GREEN PARTY MEMBER in the West German Parliament, also blamed the March elections, with their victory for Kohl, with destioying the dream for a more equitable society. She said, “When men suffer, it’s great and noble; when women suffer, as in a revolution, it’s ignored. There might be a thawing between East and West, but there’s an Ice Age in regards to the Third World. There’s a growing hatred of everything not German, against migrant workers. Women are the first to see this new nationalism and to suffer from it. Military budgets are not decreasing and women will be the first to suffer when child care facilities are closed down…For a new culture, to build a civil society, women must be strong—patriarchal politics, banks and a centralized German state cannot solve the problems of women or bring about a better Europe.”
Olga Lipovskaya of Leningrad said women’s influence in politics is declining in the USSR. Only 17% of the Supreme Soviet are women, down from 33% in 1984. “The new candidates are men from the police or military who talk about the need for women to return to women’s destiny,” she said. “Democratic change means economic change. That means unemployment and poverty. Women are already being fired. So far perestroika’s greatest achievement has been the freedom to have posters of naked women.” Lipovskaya also noted an increase in violence against women: in 1989, 22,000 cases of rape were reported, an increase of 24% from the year before. “We need a feminist movement,” she said. “This year Moscow had the first feminist seminar. The seeds have been sown. We wait for spring.”
Susanna Szelenyi, Hungarian Parliament member, said she had high hopes for a women’s movement in Hungary. Under Communist Party rule women were 25% of Parliament. Today only 25 out of 400 members are women, but “they are more for women than before. We hope we’ll be a good example 10 take on a bigger role as women,” she said. None of the 53 parties who ran candidates in the recent election had a platform on women, she noted.
Scheduled speaker Rita Klimova, Czech ambassador to the US, was hospitalized earlier that day, but fellow diplomat Dr.Zikova spoke for her. As an example ofmen’s attitudes in the Czech/Slovak Federal Republic, Zikova said a Czech official had suggested recently that she give up her diplomatic passport to her husband, “because the Americans aren’t interested in more than one female diplomat. You have a Ph.D. You can be a secretary,” he advised.
Joanne Landy of the Campaign for Peace and Democracy, East and West, concluded the forum. “The emergence of a women’s movement there will take place against a terrible background. Stalin corrupted the words ‘women’s equality.’ Women will face opposition from the Church, men, and Western business who will play on the vulnerabilities of the weak. We must help East European women.”
Contact Women’s Foreign Policy Council, 1133 Broadway, New York, New York 10010, USA.
by Shelley Anderson, Disarmament Campaigns editor.