Disarmament Campaigns

By Disarmament Campaigns | 1987-02-01 12:00:00

GDR Peace Days

The Friedensdekade (Ten Days of Peace) in the GDR is an officially apolitical event held yearly by the Protestant Churches. Because it is organized by individual parishes, the Friedensdekade can be observed in different ways. In recent years, especially from 1982 to 1985, it was often used as a workshop for peace activists.

This year the Friedensdekade took place Nov. 9th to 20th under the slogan "Peace Be With You." This slogan is evidence of the crisis the independent peace movement in the GDR faces. Although there was much criticism of this slogan by many peace groups and activists, and by the entire Student's Chaplain Conference, the political activity this year was low. There was little publicity and fewer people attended than in previous years. Special congregations and prayers were held, but mostly under the themes "Peace with your neighbor," or "Peace with Myself." In some parishes the Friedensdekade was connected with German-Jewish issues and history. There were, for example, discussions, exhibitions, and films, such as in the East Berlin district of Pankow where Lanzmann's film "Sho'ah" was shown. Activities also took place in Dessau and Jena. Topics such as "The Militarization of East German Society" and the Gorbachev-style "new thinking" were among the carefully-raised political issues. But the discussions took place in (church connected) peace groups and received little publicity.

The city of Jena proved to be an exception. Although the peace groups there suffer from deportations, imprisonments, and demoralization, the events were well attended. Remarkable for a country like the GDR, there was a public discussion in a packed church on Christian GDR positions toward conscientious objectors. In many cities Roman Catholic parishes participated in the Friedensdekade.

The East German Peace Movement

During the annual "Friedensdekade" (Ten Days of Peace) a Disarmament Campaigns staff member talked with a peace activist about the situation of the independent peace movement in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany).

"An Independent peace movement has never existed in our country. There were only a number of small groups or individuals," said the activist, who wishes to remain anonymous.

Yet for a Warsaw Pact state like the GDR, at least to an outside observer, there was much activity, although less in the last three years. The highest point was in autumn '83 in the struggle against U.S. Pershing II -- and Soviet SS-20 missile deployments. The peace groups' slogan "Swords into Ploughshares" was adopted by the international peace movement.

Peace groups have been less active lately, for a variety of reasons. The GDR has an oppressive government and only minimally developed democratic structures. The aims of the independent peace groups are not at all the same as those supported by the official "Peace Council of the GDR." In the GDR, where all political activities are state-controlled, any independent activity arouses the suspicions of the "Staatssicherheitsdienst" (i.e. the State Security Service). Peace activists are still being deported to the West and imprisoned for "subversive activity," "spying," or "illegally contacting Westerners." Especially in the city of Jena, a centre of peace activities, activists are concerned about losing their jobs or student status and other possible restrictions. Peace groups have been infiltrated and their work hindered.

Activists often resigned or became demoralized after the deployment of the Pershing II and SS 20 missiles. Because of repression and resignations, there are fewer independent peace groups than three years ago. Those existing almost all work under the umbrella of the "Union of the Protestant Churches in the GDR." The churches can operate more openly due to an agreement between the president of the churches' union, Bishop Albrecht Schönherr, and General Secretary Erich Honecker (head of the GDR government), in which the Protestant Church recognizes the authority of the Socialist Unity Party (SED) and sees itself as a church inside socialism. The Party accepts the church as a part of socialist society. The churches can more or less work independently; observed, but normally not disturbed by the state. This means that it is nearly impossible for a peace group to work outside this protective umbrella.

Three years ago some peace groups existed without this shelter, but most of them have disappeared. Sometimes there are discussions within the parishes about the independents, who use this umbrella for their own work. The churches tolerate this if it does not endanger their relationship to the Party. Religious leaders can be more open in public statements, as a minister's salary is raised by the congregation, independent from state funding.

Only a minority of parish members are interested in peace activities, which are viewed by the majority with apathy and sometimes even with mistrust, especially if their children work on peace activities. Parents fear possible difficulties their children could face. In the GDR peace activists are usually younger than thirty.

This lack of feedback even from conservative members makes it possible to support more progressive positions, especially compared to the Protestant Church in the Federal Republic of Germany. A case in point is the September synod where the thesis of the "just war" was officially renounced. The issues discussed within the peace groups have changed, too. There is less political analysis. The impossibility of independent peace groups to influence government policy and the recent East German and Soviet initiatives (nuclear free corridor in Central Europe, a test ban moratorium and the Gorbachev Proposals) have turned the movement toward more personal actions.

GDR citizens face militarization in many parts of their lives. There are regular school classes in both theoretical and practical military training, for both boys and girls. There is also, for the most sought-after jobs, a compulsory six-week long military camp. This is written in the apprentice's contract and has to be signed. There is also compulsory army service for young men, which lasts two or three years. This is followed by army reserve training. Both male and female university students must also sign a paper, which states that they "will enjoy serving a special military training period to defend their socialist fatherland." It is not mandatory to sign, but those who refuse can face pressure to leave the university because of "unexplained" failure of all exams. It is sometimes possible to avoid all these periods of training, but not without endangering one's personal career.

Alternative Visions of Europe

"For Another Europe"

On 28-30 November the West German Greens organized a congress in Cologne called "For Another Europe." The congress's objective was to initiate a discussion for Europe on alternative visions and strategies to bring this about. Right now it has become important to draft an alternative plan of Europe due to the revival of the Western Europe Union (WEU). The WEU, originally founded in 1954, is considered by the bigger Western countries, especially France and the FRG, to be the basis for a third military superpower. Peace activists fear that the WEU would consolidate Europe's bloc mentality and aggravate the arms race.

Issues discussed included what a European identity means, the East-West and the West-West (Western Europe and U.S.) conflicts, détente from above and below, how to strengthen Western peace movements networking with Eastern democratic opposition, inner European North-South conflicts (e.g. Turkey), and the danger of creating an elite in the alternative movement. Among the participants there were representatives from both Eastern and Western peace movements. Some were very prominent speakers from Eastern Europe, such as Lew Kopelew (author from the USSR) and Dzenek Mlynar (General Secretary of the Czechoslovakian Communist Party in 1968). It was felt that the discussions could lead to a fruitful initiative. Contact: Die Grünen im Bundestag, Martin Gräbner-Reimann, Kongress "Fur ein anderes Europa," Bundeshaus, 53 Bonn, FRG. Tel. 0228-213257.

Helsinki Process: New Directions for the Peace Movement

A special meeting of the International Peace Communication and Coordination Center (IPCC) was held in Vienna the first week of November, just before the official opening of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE). Over 35 representatives of West European and North American peace organizations met with consultants from West and East Europe to discuss existing initiatives for dialogue and joint cooperation, both governmental and non-governmental, based on the Helsinki Final Act.

The Helsinki Final Act was signed by 35 nations, including the U.S. and USSR, in 1975. The Final Act identifies three areas, commonly called Baskets (see box) on which the countries agreed to work together. The agreement on Basket III involving human rights was enthusiastically received by political opponents in East European countries. The IPCC meeting was held on the eve of the CSCE, the official Third Review Conference for the Helsinki Final Act.

Experts involved in East-West initiatives from each of the three baskets spoke at the meeting, as did delegates from the Soviet Peace Committee (SPC) and representatives from independent East European peace movements' peace programs.

Chemical Weapons Free Zone

Karsten Voigt, Social Democratic Party (SPD) member of the West German (FRG) Parliament, spoke on joint East-West security initiatives. Voigt said the FRG had several pilot projects with E. European countries, involving all three Helsinki baskets. He gave as an example the recently concluded agreement between East Germany's (GDR) ruling party, the Socialist Unity Party (SED) and the SPD to establish a chemical weapons-free zone in Central Europe, which could become a treaty between the two states if the SPD wins the January elections in the FRG. The two parties have also discussed a 150-kilometre nuclear-free corridor through the FRG, GDR and Czechoslovakia. (Papers on this and other drafts are available from the SPD Fraktion Bundeshaus, 5300 Bonn 1, FRG. Tel 0228-163876.) "This is a good example of what small states, formal and informal parties can do," Voigt said, also noting that such discussions were important even if they do not lead to agreements.

Examples of East-West cooperation in economic and technological matters were also given by a member of the Dutch Federation of Trade Unions and a member of the Hungarian Trade Union (SZOT). Economist Harriet Matejka criticized the lack of attention paid to the second basket, and noted that since the Final Act, joint ventures between East and West European states had risen from seven to 66 projects by 1985.

A Basket of Human Rights

Basket III (human rights) issues were of special interest to the Western peace activists at the IPCC meeting. There was agreement that while all three baskets should be seen as interdependent, lack of progress in one area should not be used as an excuse not to proceed in another area. There was also agreement on the following initiatives:

Whether to Use the Helsinki Final Act

Many activists present strongly favored using the Helsinki Final Act as a basis for their future work. The Helsinki Baskets could provide a framework that would help establish a true and lasting détente. Others felt that the Helsinki agreements were too unknown among Western people. Therefore it could be difficult to generate enough public support for such a platform. Many Western citizens and officials believe that all the demands, especially those involving human rights, have been realized in their countries. The U.S. sanctuary trials and the situation of guest workers and women in other Western countries prove otherwise. In the East, although the content of the agreements have received much more attention (Soviet newspapers published the whole text), dissidents and peace activists still face imprisonment and harassment.

The peace movements have responded to this situation by coming up with their own initiatives based on the Helsinki Baskets. The recent meeting in Vienna was one such initiative in the field of East-West relations and human rights. A meeting to review the CSCE next year will be another such initiative.

The Helsinki Final Act

The Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe -- the Helsinki Accords -- consists of three "baskets" or sections:

Basket 1 deals with security issues. It includes commitments to non-use of force, inviolability of borders, and sovereign rights to neutrality and non-membership of alliances.

Basket 2 deals with economic issues, such as expansion of trade, technological and scientific collaboration, and tourism.

Basket 3 deals with individual freedoms. It includes provisions on the reunification of families, freedom of movement and freedom to circulate information.

British Academics Boycott Star Wars

More than 500 British academics -- more than half the membership of the university departments approached -- have pledged not to participate in SDI (Strategic Defence Initiative -- "Star Wars") research for the U.S. military, Peace News reported. During the summer boycott coordinators circulated the pledge to mathematics, physics, astronomy, computer science and related departments all over Britain. Already a majority has signed the boycott pledge, and of those who haven't, only a handful have expressed any scientific enthusiasm for the project.

Pledge signatories include three winners of the Nobel Prize for Physics, as well as 25 fellows of the Royal Society. A similar pledge in the U.S. has also been signed by more than half the membership of the top twenty physics faculties in universities there. The U.S. signatories include 15 Nobel Prize winners.

The British scientists' reasons for boycotting Star Wars include the fact that it is technically impossible, that in a limited form it would be an escalation of the arms race, and that the program -- as shown at the Reykjavik summit -- is an obstacle to arms control negotiations.

The boycotters are in effect refusing "easy money" from the U.S., despite drastic cuts in research funding at British universities. They say that Star Wars work would "threaten the vitality of civil science" by controlling its direction and imposing restrictive security classifications.

Some of the signatories pointed out that they were not against all military-related work, but that to accept funding for something which is scientifically nonsensical would be dishonest.

Contact: British Star Wars Research Boycott Coordinating Committee, c/o Robert Brandenberger, Dept. of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, Cambridge University, Cambridge 3, U.K. Tel. Cambridge 337882. or Devid Wright, Dept. of Physics, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia PA 19104. Tel. 215/898-7938.

Peace Office in Nicaragua

Pax Christi's Central American peace office has opened in Managua, Nicaragua. The coordinator, Lidwien Michiels, has begun the work of establishing contacts with groups both in Nicaragua and the surrounding countries. The office's first period report on peace initiatives in Central America will appear soon.

Contact: Officina por la Paz, Aptdo. Postal 3063, Managua, Nicaragua.

Easter Island Militarized?

The people of Easter Island, a Pacific island under Chilean control, are organizing against the extension of Mataveri Airport by the U.S. military. An agreement between Chile and the U.S., signed last January, gave the National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA) the right to use the airport as an emergency landing site for space shuttles. The $20 million construction work, carried out by U.S. firms, began in March.

Council leader Lazaro Hotus, claiming that construction explosives have destroyed homes and rare archeological sites, has begun a campaign to stop the extension. The campaign is supported by islanders and opposition politicians and lawyers in Child. Supporters believe the airport extension, coupled with reports that the U.S. also plans to build a large harbour, may be a first step toward making Easter Island a U.S. military base.

Peace Magazine Feb-Mar 1987

Peace Magazine Feb-Mar 1987, page 16. Some rights reserved.

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