Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the West European peace and environmental movement reached out, tentatively at first and then more vigorously, to the dissident groups in Eastern Europe. Nowhere was this more evident than in West Germany. The Green Party, established in 1979, integrated the peace and environmental agendas and cultivated links with the emerging independent peace movement in East Germany. Much later, in 1993, the German Greens and the East German citizens movements created a political alliance that continues today. Alliance 90/The Greens currently occupy 10 percent of the seats in the Bundestag.
Eva Quistorp, a co-founder of the German Greens, was a driving force behind the east-west dialogue. She visited Prague in 1968 and later worked with members of Charter 77 and Solidarity. In 1980, she co-founded Women for Peace, which had chapters on both side of the east-west divide. She also co-founded European Nuclear Disarmament (END), which aspired to be pan-European and rid both sides of the continent of nuclear weapons.
Quistorp was also not afraid to tackle the “German question” at a time when the majority of peace activists were comfortable with the status quo of a divided Germany. The topic of German reunification, prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall, was largely considered the province of the German Right.
“In 1983, I was asked to sign a European appeal written in West Berlin written by Peter Brandt,” Quistorp told me in an interview in Berlin in February 2013. “I didn’t realize at the time that he was the son of Willy Brandt. I knew him from the student movement only by his first name. He asked me to sign an appeal in 1983 when we had a big conference with END on European nuclear disarmament. We were trying to make a link within the European peace movement to support democratic changes in Eastern Europe, including the Soviet Union. The appeal was for a German confederation within a European confederation linked to European nuclear and general disarmament – this was in May 1983! We were a minority but very proud of our vision.”
It was an odd situation in the mid-1980s when people outside Germany would raise the question of reunification more often than those inside the country. “In 1984, a Korean activist asked me, ‘What is happening with the Berlin Wall and German division?’” she recalls. “No one in Germany or Berlin would ask you that over the years. People were talking all the time about Nicaragua, the actions of U.S. presidents, gender theories and everything, but nobody was debating German reunification beside a small minority like the dissidents who lived in West Berlin.”
In 1989, she was a member of the European parliament when events began to move quickly in East Germany and Eastern Europe. From her parliamentary position, she tried to represent the interests of the East European movements. When the fall of the Berlin Wall came, she was in Bonn. Like many other politicians at that moment, she immediately got on a plane and flew to Berlin. Ultimately she found herself at Checkpoint Charlie.
“But I couldn’t move at Checkpoint Charlie,” she told me. “It was the 10th of November. I’d never seen such a thing in my life: nearly a million people around me moving quietly. I’d been at a football game once, and you couldn’t compare it to a football game. The space was so narrow, and no one was organizing it. There was no clear end or beginning. I was pushed toward the booth at Checkpoint Charlie. I tried to stay in the middle because I didn’t want to get pushed into the wall. I turned around, and then I saw Helmut Kohl coming. He was coming like, well, he was rather fat. I thought, ‘Should I run away? No, I am now a member of the European Parliament, standing here in the masses. This is a historic moment. And I will not leave the moment to Kohl. I have to represent my friends here.’”
She ended up receiving Kohl in a kind of “artistic performance.” But that was the kind of day it was, when a radical Green activist and a conservative German chancellor could put aside their differences just as East and West Germany were putting aside their differences.
“From that moment when I arrived at Checkpoint Charlie, I forgot time and food and everything,” Quistorp concludes. “I don’t know if I ate anything in those hours or drunk any water. It was incredible. It was better than Woodstock!”
Can you tell me about your experience of the fall of the Berlin Wall?
By 1989, I had many years of supporting civil rights movements in Europe. I’d visited the Prague Spring in 1968 with Rudi Dutschke. Later, as a leader of the peace, women, and anti-nuke movements, I worked with people from Charter 77 and supported Solidarnosc. I’d been a cofounder of Women for Peace, which had the same name in both East and West. The official state didn’t like that very much. We didn’t have much money, but we had a very intelligent strategy of nonviolence. Even at that time, you could have creative power. I was involved in these networks, like the Helsinki Citizens Assembly, European Nuclear Disarmament, Women for Peace and so on with personal friends like Bärbel Bohley, Katja Havemann, Ulrike Poppe, Wolfgang Templin and people from Solidarnosc in exile. So I was more or less prepared for the changes in East-Central Europe and the fall of the Wall – even in 1983 with our appeal for a reunified, nuclear-free Europe.
In 1983, I was asked to sign a European appeal written in West Berlin written by Peter Brandt. I didn’t realize at the time that he was the son of Willy Brandt. I knew him from the student movement only by his first name. He asked me to sign an appeal in 1983 when we had a big conference with END on European nuclear disarmament. We were trying to make a link within the European peace movement to support democratic changes in Eastern Europe, including the Soviet Union. The appeal was for a German confederation within a European confederation linked to European nuclear and general disarmament – this was in May 1983! We were a minority but very proud of our vision.
In 1989 the protests began in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. This uprising in China, combined with Gorbachev in the Soviet Union as well as the changes started by Solidarnosc and then Vaclav Havel, gave me great hope. I had no concept of a third way — that was too much of an abstract model for me. But it was a tide, I thought. Then came the break, the massacre in Tiananmen on June 4. And this gave me a feeling of moral responsibility: to act and to see what we were doing given the possible changes in East Europe and GDR and Berlin taking place.
On August 6, 1989, I wrote a press statement – this was a very important day for me since it was the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. Since I was a leader of the anti-nuclear movement and antinuclear power movement, I’d had the privilege and honor to visit Japan in 1984 and, ever since then, the hospitals and the hibakusha in Hiroshima and Nagasaki had been on my mind. I was trying to make August 6 a global day, a European day, and a German day of commemoration in order to build up this notion of a European or global memory. As a German, as the daughter of a Protestant minister in an anti-Nazi family, and as a feminist too, I have to think about memory — including the broader sense of body memory and the destruction of nationalist and patriarchal memories. We women for peace didn’t have much money or hard power, so I had to use soft power more intelligently. That meant including this element of memory. I tried to do this in the 1980s as part of Women for Peace and the European peace movement. I don’t like unified memories, even the good ones. They have to be in dialogue with one another in some way.
I made this declaration on August 8, 1989 at the Berlin Wall. I’d wanted to go to a meeting of East European environmentalists that was taking place a little bit outside of Berlin in East Germany. I knew how important that meeting was at that moment. I had the feeling that I was part of a tide now. I had to see how we could swim in it and not drown. I wanted to go there. I was a member of the European Parliament: they must let me in! But they didn’t let me in. I hadn’t been allowed to enter East Europe and East Berlin since 1982 or 1983. I was so angry. I thought, at least I will do a press declaration.
In this declaration I wrote that if the GDR, about to celebrate its 40th birthday on the 7th of October, would not change itself, then it would either break down or be forgotten in history. I made it clear: at 40, you have to reform yourself, and if you don’t you will have big problems. That was a wonderful prediction. The Left newspaper Die Tageszeitung threw that press declaration in the garbage.
Why did they do that?
This was a Left newspaper that was normally on the side of the dissidents. But we were such a small minority that really knew what was happening in 1989, such a small minority of the scientists and journalists and the Left and the Green activists and even the dissidents of the GDR. The ones who were intellectually best prepared for the changes were Charter 77 and part of the Solidarnosc. It was Charter 77 that wrote to us in 1983 that we had to debate the German question. But the German Left and the majority of the Greens, except for me and maybe three others, considered the question of German reunification to be right-wing and a return to the “Fourth Reich.”
Then came the information that big lines were standing in front of the West German embassies in Prague and Budapest. I got this information mostly indirectly, but partly from Roland Jahn. I did not use the telephone. For nine years, I was doing clandestine work. I never used the telephone to Eastern Europe because I knew it was bugged. My communication system was the street and the restaurants. I had a double life at that time. I was an official politician and also a leading activist. This kind of double life I learned when I was in Chile in 1972 when Allende was still in power. The Latin Americans taught me a lot. I had learned about resistance and democratic struggle from them, and I used this to support the dissidents in Eastern Europe.
So, I heard about the lines standing in front of the embassies. I’d done my press declaration, and I was an official politician. I decided to do some of very quiet things, but at the same time I would do other things very precisely and loudly. I did three or four press declarations at that time supporting the emerging groups in East Germany and calling for the release of political prisoners — that was my first speech on September 1, 1989 in the European parliament. I had the feeling that I was now a non-elected ambassador for my East European and GDR friends. I used the infrastructure of the European Parliament. It was wonderful to be there at the moment, a gift of God in a way.
I called my GDR friend Barbel Bohley from Brussels. This was at the beginning of October 1989. For the first time I could call without problems, and it was a great feeling.
I said, “Barbel, I would like to do more and be with you.”
And she said — she could be very strategic – she said, “Eva, you have to stay in Brussels. We need you to stay there.” I didn’t like that, because it meant being in the bureaucracy, being in those ugly sterile buildings.
The Tiananmen massacre and the reactions to it are missing from many analyses of that time. It was not just the element of fear that influenced the nonviolent behavior in East Germany. Some of us were thinking strategically: about governments and the blocs and the problems Gorbachev was facing. We had an obligation as well, not just to the students in China, but the teachers and soldiers and migrant workers who were part of the broader social movement. In that moment, you always act and think you have to do this now in order to be part of changing the world for the better. I’m older now, and I see how we are part of a larger puzzle, a combination of different movements. And I see that history doesn’t’ change just because of good activists or good political leaders. There are economic factors. And sometimes even your enemy can help as well. We can’t forget the Chinese reformers, and we can’t forget Tiananmen.
We are now in the beginning of October when I called Barbel Bohley. It was before Gorbachev came to Berlin. I was so close to East Berlin and Eastern Europe, so interlinked with them, but at that time I had to go to Italy because I was a member of parliament and I had to take part in meetings or else my demands for Eastern Europe would not be taken seriously. But I didn’t find anyone there among the Greens or anyone else who had the same commitment that I had. This was the European Parliament, but it was really the West European parliament. On October 4, I proposed that we should have an East European working group in the Green Group of the European Parliament. The only person who supported me was Alexander Langer, who was an important Italian in that framework. The others, who are now still leading the Greens, rejected the proposal.
I knew that if we wanted to do politics related to Eastern Europe during the coming changes, we needed people who knew the political situation very well and had the capacity to do the work of investigators. I knew from the beginning that you had to look at the money flows, for instance. I had visited Moscow in 1987, and I saw with my own eyes in the streets around the Kremlin the mixture of mafia and crime structures and high poverty. I couldn’t just look at the changes as “oh wonderful freedom.” It would immediately be hard work as well. People didn’t have the right political language to describe all that was happening. And there were no prepared plans in their back pockets either.
On November 9, 1989, I was in Bonn participating in a peace conference of the Greens. On November 7, I had the first bad dream that I remembered in my life. Usually I don’t remember my nightmares. Then, on November 9, I left the conference in a nice car — as a member of Parliament you got a nice car – and spent the night with a friend outside of Bonn. It must have been around 7 pm. I asked her to put the news louder. Someone was talking about “traveling conditions.” It was unusual for somebody in East Berlin to talk about that. Even to mention the words in a press conference was strange. Being in Bonn, I was separated from my usual information flow, and I had to prepare myself for the next day of the conference. I turned on the TV, the old black-and-white screen. I don’t know if it was 8 or 9 pm. I was talking a lot of with the friend at whose place I was sleeping. This thing with “traveling conditions” was working in my head, and I saw this as a sign. But I did not yet know what kind of sign. I only knew that something was happening.
Then I saw Water Momper, the mayor of Berlin, on the black-and-white screen. I had worked with Walter Momper in the Red-Green Coalition team in March 1989. At that time, I tried to change my city Berlin to make it more European and more international. Through this I wanted to help my friends on the other side. “Couldn’t we have a UN agency here in Berlin,” I proposed, “and have a very modern building with glass over the Wall?” The architectural proposal came from my Japanese Buddhist friends, who had been marching with me throughout Europe. So, you see that my vision of the world has been globalized and Europeanized a lot by the help of others. In 1984, a Korean activist asked me, “What is happening with the Berlin Wall and German division?” No one in Germany or Berlin would ask you that over the years. People were talking all the time about Nicaragua, the actions of U.S. presidents, gender theories and everything, but nobody was debating German reunification beside a small minority like the dissidents who lived in West Berlin. But my Japanese and Korean friends were connecting the division of Korea to German history.
Walter Momper did not laugh at my proposal, because he knew me a little bit and took me seriously. But then he said, “Ms. Quistorp, what will the Soviet Union and Gorbachev say?”
And I said, “Mr. Momper, Gorbachev would be the first to like it.”
So, I saw Momper on that black-and-white TV on November 9, and I thought, “Why is he on TV so much?” I was tired, and I was not fully following what was going on. I wanted to be prepared the next morning for the rest of the conference, so I decided I should not watch so much television. I went to sleep. And I had my second nightmare. Both of these nightmares involved the tunnels under Berlin. You know these Nazi-era tunnels? It was like the Warsaw Ghetto tunnels: people trapped there with water rising in the tunnel. I’ve never experienced this in my life. Later, an American psychoanalyst asked me what my dreams had been at this time. Only then did I take this dream seriously and put it together with what happened. I believe there are collective feelings and dreams. In a similar way, birds can feel an earthquake coming.
In my official brain, I saw the new freedom as positive change, something I’d been working for with so many others. Only years later, when the Yugoslav war was taking place and the problems with racism and mafias were not going away, I had the feeling that maybe there had been something deep in that nightmare of mine. It was not so easy to build a new Europe on the old structures with dirty water underneath.
I was in the car going back to the conference the next morning. When I heard the radio around 7 or 8 am, I was like a rocket. I left my clothes at the apartment. I left behind the conference. And I said, “I have to get on an airplane.”
At the airport was the political elite of Bonn all standing on line to get to Berlin. I was standing with Egon Bahr, the minister for inner German affairs who’d been one of the architects of the Ostpolitik with Willy Brandt. He knew me because I’d been a leader of the peace movement. I heard him talking behind me about a Polish-German youth network, which sounded interesting. I turned around and immediately said, “It would be better to have Polish-German-French cooperation.” But I was glad that he was thinking so quickly.
When I arrived in West Berlin, I immediately went to Rathaus Schoneberg [city hall], and there the game was going on. Kohl was speaking. The majority of the Berliners there were not applauding Kohl. It was a strange mood. Berlin was a Left, alternative city. This scene was very much against Kohl. I thought, “This is too much a traditional game for me. Real history is not happening here at Rathaus Schoneberg. I have to get connected now to East Berlin.” So, I went to Checkpoint Charlie where we did vigils with Women for Peace in support of Barbel Bohley and Ulrike Poppe. Before, I was not allowed to pass through Checkpoint Charlie, so to go there now was…
But I couldn’t move at Checkpoint Charlie. It was the 10th of November. I’d never seen such a thing in my life: nearly a million people around me moving quietly. I’d been at a football game once, and you couldn’t compare it to a football game. The space was so narrow, and no one was organizing it. There was no clear end or beginning. I was pushed toward the booth at Checkpoint Charlie. I tried to stay in the middle because I didn’t want to get pushed into the wall. I turned around, and then I saw Kohl coming. He was coming like, well, he was rather fat. I thought, “Should I run away? No, I am now a member of the European Parliament, standing here in the masses. This is a historic moment. And I will not leave the moment to Kohl. I have to represent my friends here.”
So, in a way, I received him. It was a kind of artistic performance. I thought that maybe it would be too ironic or surreal for him. But he took it seriously. And I did too. I was representing people. I was still an activist, a free spirit who liked these kinds of moments. I was quicker than ever before in my life. I was suddenly before him and I said, “Hello, Mr. Kohl, I am from the Greens!” And he said, “Macht ja nicht” [“That’s not bad”]. He had some humor. There was a little bit of the Buddha in the man.
From that moment when I arrived at Checkpoint Charlie, I forgot time and food and everything. I don’t know if I ate anything in those hours or drunk any water. It was incredible. It was better than Woodstock! This sometimes comes to mind when I walk the streets here today. The good-looking hotels and the new rich coming to Berlin: it’s boring for me. Those moments in November 1989 were so lively. It was a wonderful expression of real people’s power, which I had seen in the Philippines in 1986, which I’d seen at my first rally of two million people in Chile in 1972. Those moments in Berlin in 1989 were part of German-European history. After so many years of struggling, some people could get out of prison. Some people who had been badly treated could get good positions, not in terms of career or money, but in terms of taking responsibility to shape politics and democracy.
The mixture at Checkpoint Charlie was wonderful. You could talk to the people around you. Nowadays people have their ears full of electronics, and their faces are just facades. But then you could talk to everybody. In fact this history was not written by two or three big men or scientists or think tanks. It was the courage of ”unknown normal people” — like in Chile or Philippines or China.
Then finally I walked across to East Berlin and saw the guards in their uniforms. So many of them should be praised because they behaved nonviolently. For me to praise soldiers is very rare. I grew up very critical of the military and uniforms and so on. That famous song of Wolf Biermann — Soldier, Soldier – that’s all part of my training. Maybe some of them were harsh to me or friends of mine when they were in prison. It was very harsh what many people suffered in prisons in GDR, in Poland, in Soviet Union — and many of them are still victims. Many of the former elite came into high positions and nice pensions while many of the victims don’t have nice pensions.
TV also changed in those days. It was a democratic revolution on TV. Normal people were interviewed on TV — professionals from the army, teachers, dissidents, social workers — and not just for one. It was great material. This lasted for three or four weeks until the Round Tables started. And the Round Tables themselves were great. I had difficulty returning to Brussels and Strasbourg and Bonn. I don’t know how many days I spent there. I wish such good days to everyone who struggles for freedom.
You went to Bonn and —
I had to attend the sessions of parliament. I knew that I had to focus on the transition of East Germany and East Europe in the parliament. And that meant I couldn’t just give speeches. There was also the work of bureaucracy and budgets too.
Suddenly people were interested in the East –
We had heavy debates within the Greens. The Social Democratic Party had heavy debates too. In the Greens, I was supported only by Yves Chochet and Alexander Langer, my friend from Italy. But they were the only ones in the Green group. In fall 1990, before the German reunification treaties were signed on October 2, that was a great chance to be part of that European history. Some leaders tried to block this, like Mitterrand and Thatcher and Andreotti. But at the official foreign policy level, Bush and Gorbachev played good roles. Kohl probably tried his best too. I was not part of negotiating these treaties because the Greens were only in the regional governments. But in the European parliament I got the flavor of what could be done. It made me impatient too. Almost no one knew about the East European opposition. I could not teach a crash course — I didn’t have time for that. But the mistrust against the Germans started to come out.
I said to you earlier that I come from an anti-Nazi family. More and more I think that influenced my actions during these years and weeks around German and European reunification and building up a new Europe. I only started to say this in the last two years because I became fed up with the fact that people think there were no anti-Nazi families in Germany. The opposition to the Nazis is underestimated in all the histories. As a student, I thought that my parents were not heroes because they were not famous, and there are no placards in their honor. They were not Communists or socialists. They did not fight with guns. I was part of 1968, and everything then was about revolution. My parents had not been part of any revolution, so I thought they couldn’t have been important. Now I feel ashamed about this because they were part of important civil disobedience.
So in 1989, I thought that maybe I could bring in some of my family tradition. I had overcome the German feelings of guilt as I got older and traveled to all these places. The people who invited me, mostly peace and human rights groups, they gave me the feeling that they needed me, and that gave me the feeling that I could contribute. In the United States, some African American activists asked about Nazis in Germany, so I had to learn to deal with this. But I had the feeling that I could open the space up a little bit and bring in some of the democratic German traditions and get away from the feeling that I had to bow to every French or British or Dutch person. But to none of them did I tell that I was from an anti-Nazi family. I didn’t want to hear all those things about how Germany couldn’t get too big or too powerful again. When they said “the Germans,” why weren’t they thinking about the German dissidents or the German migrants?
I realized with a shock at that time that many Europeans in political and scientific positions do not know Europe or the differences among European countries very well. They had done their political jobs in their countries and did some tourist traveling to different countries, but they didn’t know the political situation in countries. Fine, they might have thought that I was an arrogant or naive German. But I pleaded for German reunification as quick as possible because I did it in the name of my friends in Prague and Warsaw — to give honor to what Solidarnosc did. I had to find a structure for the transition that gave thanks and provided a framework for acting for East European dissidents and reformers too. I think I had this in common with Alexander Langer. We’d both been ’68 intellectuals and activists. We knew that you couldn’t just ensure positive change by putting activists at the high level and throw everybody else out. You needed combinations and alliances to build a stable political society. And you needed new elites. From German history, I knew that it was a big mistake to keep the old Nazi elites in the system — that was the debate of 1968. And I did not like the old GDR and Communist elites winning in that open game. But there were also some reformers in the SED. You can’t just live by revolutionaries and artists. On the other side you can’t give too much space to narrow-minded bureaucrats. You have to build a democratic administration in between.
It was important to have links too with the Church, like the Catholic Church in Poland, although my Left and Green and liberal friends in West Europe didn’t like them at all. I had a different relationship with them because I am a daughter of a Protestant priest. I am very critical of the papal system, but I knew there were Catholic intellectuals and normal people. There is sometimes with intellectuals and journalists a lack of understanding of simple people. I saw in the citizens groups a need for some elements of religion linked to family tradition and community life. In leftist-liberal theory, the Church equals sexual repression, hatred of science, and so on. Some of it is true, but for a stable democracy, scientism is not enough. Science can be dogmatic too.
Some of the democratic institutions of the West were not prepared for these changes, and some of the dissidents in the East were not prepared either. I blame us now for not dealing with all the problems in the right way, neither in the European Parliament nor in the Round Tables. Part of the problem was there was too much happening at the same moment. There was the Berlin Wall falling and people released from prison. But there were also financial flows, the arrival of companies like Goldman Sachs and the oil industry, the emergence of the trafficking of women, different mafias misusing open borders, and so on.
I always learn a lot when I walk on the streets. In June 1987, when I could enter the Soviet Union with my friends Petra Kelly and Margaret Papandreou, Mikhail Gorbachev and his wife Raisa invited us, along with other peace groups, to the Kremlin. After my speech urging Gorbachev to bring home his troops from Europe and cooperate with the United States on nuclear disarmament, which was broadcast live over Russian television, I went out alone to a beautiful Russian Orthodox church. Then, I saw this criminal activity on the side streets of Moscow. A crime would take place, people would close their windows, and there was no police to be seen. I’d not seen that in my life. But I saw it in Moscow – and this was before the fall of the Wall. The usual story is that crime only took off after the end of the Communism. But I learned from Mary Kaldor that there were similar elements in the weapons industry on both sides before. Probably because I was always an anti-Stalinist, I didn’t believe in the innocent clean Socialist functionaries.
In June 1987 in Moscow I saw a line in front of a wagon full of strawberries. I could cry again thinking about it now. These old women who lived through the first World War, the second World War, Stalinism, and here they were in June 1987 standing on line in front of a wagon to get strawberries. But I looked into the wagon, and the strawberries were all rotten. I carried this image until the fall of the Wall.
What do you think remains of the people power of that period? What is the legacy of that spirit?
The spirit is still moving. In order not to lose political energy, I have to look around to find where that energy is emerging again. I was hoping to see it in North Africa in January 2011 or in Belarus or in Ukraine with the Orange Revolution. It’s very sad that these can’t be compared with 1989, and it’s not just the question of success. Some of us made mistakes by not telling our history good enough to other countries. There is a debate now around the Iraq War and the question of exporting democracy. But if we want to support democratic activism in different countries, we have to recognize the specific differences among the countries. Elections in East Europe and East Germany are a different thing than elections in North Africa or Iraq or Russia.
We forget that not everything was destroyed here in Germany. The Nazi regime could not destroy everything from the humanist, Enlightenment, or Christian traditions. There were still some structures left that could then be rebuilt by different people and different powers in Germany. But the situation in Russia, Belarus, or North Africa is very different. It’s not that Islam or Russian culture is not compatible with democracy. But there are lots of different elements that build up a democratic culture: 200 years of the Enlightenment, all the debates within the Church, the possibility for women to get university education, and so on. You have to take these things – as well as police reforms and constitutional reforms — as seriously as you take elections. Here in Germany, we had the money and the political will to help dissident groups organizing their Round Table and create institutions like the Stasi Commission. Some of my old friends are now in very high positions. I didn’t understand why Poland and Hungary and Czechoslovakia didn’t introduce the same. It’s interesting that they didn’t.
Maybe they didn’t need it the same way as Germany. A figure like Vaclav Havel as president in Czechoslovakia was a walking institution. I recognize now that some good things can be exported from Germany, but I’m very much against models and imitations. It can only happen if you take into account the different conditions. Even the export of an institution like the Stasi Commission to North Africa is not right. It’s not the right moment. I remember Roland Jahn saying on television when Tunisians came here, “You have to know the truth and you have to say the truth, and then change can come.” I thought: he doesn’t realize how Protestant that sounds. He was speaking like a very Protestant minister. That institution can only function in a very Protestant society – even in the GDR, which is not so religious, the way they act and they way they are political is very Protestant.
You cannot translate the Protestant tradition to Arab countries. You can’t even transport it to southern Europe. We should have an inter-cultural exchange on this. There is a debate now on austerity in European politics. It is focused on hard politics and the regulations of neoliberalism. But there is an element of culture too. You have to deal it with it very sensitively. And it needs time.
If you think back to that period of time, 1989 and 1990 has anything changed in your own Weltanschauung? Have you reexamined any of your thinking?
First, I still believe that big and wonderful changes took place as a result of the longtime work and courage of many people. And being in the role of a European Parliament member, I felt both influential and at the same time very unmighty. I had to learn from the problems of the transition. Part of the problems of the transition came from the inside. But from the outside came this tsunami of neoliberal finance and corporate globalization. We have to include these factors in our debate on democracy as it relates also to North Africa and other areas of the world.
Also, the media question is getting more and more important. It was always important since 1968, but with globalization and the Internet, it is getting more important. The praise of the Internet was too naive. I criticized my journalist and scientist friends who were calling the Internet a “democracy machine.” Now seven years later, they are writing about hate sites and Islamic radicalism on the Net. Of course there was the Iranian Facebook revolution, then the Arab Spring Twitter revolution. The Internet has direct political relevance for people on the ground, and for democratic and women’s activists. The Internet didn’t affect us between 1979 and 1989. If there had been the Internet, there would have been a different group of activists.
The wars in Yugoslavia were hard to face. Those were the hardest years of my life. So, the years after 1989 were not just nice. Between 1991 and 2000, those were the darkest years for me. I couldn’t enjoy traveling — to nice hotels in Prague, in Budapest — because of the escalation of violence in Yugoslavia. I felt responsible.
Why did you feel responsible?
Because I am German and because I am European. I come from an anti-war family. I never traveled to the Balkans. I was never a tourist there. I did have contact to the Korcula Praxis group through a Dutch friend, so the Yugoslav model was on my radar screen. When the Greens entered the German Parliament in 1983, we had to develop a more precise economic program. One of our members in parliament was a Protestant theologian who brought the Yugoslav model of self-management into the debate. So the Greens have included the “third way” a little bit. Therefore, I was prepared to think through the visions and dreams of the Left and to be more pragmatic and critical.
There is not enough deep and clear and empirical political thinking about the changes from globalization that we have experienced since 1989. If you have to stabilize your house against the winds and then you see the groundwater too is rising and a heavy storm is coming in — then it’s more difficult to stabilize your house with traditional democratic strategies. But I try not to be too sad or disappointed.
I never gave up a worldwide view of women’s rights with the help of my Latin American friends, and the African women I met at UN conferences. Some of them have been so impressive. I was a friend of Wangari Maathai. I’m a friend of the Mothers of the Plaza in Argentina and the mothers of Russian soldiers and the children of Chernobyl in Belarus and Ukraine. When I speak of women’s rights, it’s always social and political rights, and it involves changing the global media, the sex industry, the trafficking mafia. It also involves applying the rules of democracy to financial oligarchies and helping all states fight against corruption and build up the rule of law. On that level, we have no effective global thinking or democratic structures, not effective enough research and investigation. In this age of Google and Amazon, Exxon and Gazprom, Facebook and Twitter, we need stronger independent media, stronger trade unions, and new forms of international solidarity.
There are a lot of negative trends in Eastern Europe right now, whether it’s Jobbik or trafficking. But what do you see that makes you feel positive?
I support campaigns against anti-Semitism in Hungary and anti-Roma sentiment in Europe, and I hope that Poland and Hungary don’t go nuclear (both Hungary and the Czech Republic are now becoming dependent on Russian nuclear energy). But on the positive side, I recommend to everyone to travel by train from Berlin to Prague. It’s a luxurious trip because it’s not yet so fast. It’s wonderfully slow along the river. You have to look out and not touch your laptop during that time. Look right and left at the landscape and get a sense of the history between Dresden and Prague. On that train there is no ugly passport control like before, no German dogs, no ugly smells. You can get wonderful Czech food in the restaurant, and they even speak some German and English — it’s wonderful. Or go by train from Berlin to Warsaw or Poznan or Szczeszin. It’s wonderful.
Or walk around Prague. I can see some people looking like here in Berlin, some poor old women or drug addicts, but the city itself is such a miracle, and I’m so happy that it was saved through all the war and occupation. Prague is wonderful even though I know that there is corruption in the political field and the political parties don’t make me happy.
I’m a little happier with Poland when it comes to political parties and political figures. And there’s the newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza. But then there was the catastrophe of Smolensk, and the death of the forgotten hero of Solidarity, Anna Walentynowicz. She was important like so many forgotten women activists were. Along with the Polish Catholic Church here I organized a memorial for all the people who died. It needed a lot of energy and work because we didn’t get any money to organize it. I asked the German government if they could put the flags at half-mast. But they didn’t do it. Sometimes these little things, these symbolic measures, can be so necessary in stabilizing democratic dialogue. There has been a lot of good dialogue work between Germany and Poland. But some of those who did it are getting older. There is a lack of continuity, which is related to the Internet and greater mobility. So, there have been some setbacks in the Polish-German dialogue. The right wing in Poland has made propaganda against “the Germans.” Which meant that it was so important to share feelings with the Polish people about their history and put the flags at half-mast at the funeral of so many Solidarnosc people to spread a different picture in the media.
Symbolic gestures can be very powerful.
I learned that from Willy Brandt. Democracies are not stable. We have to defend them now under these conditions to allow some of the fruits of 1989 to be passed to the next generation. I asked the government to link the Smolensk commemoration to culture. Put up the figures of those who died and tell their history. There’s a big Polish community here in Berlin. It’s so important to share a tragedy as part of working on a collective European memory, like what we do with the Holocaust memorial and what they want to do with the totalitarian memorial. It’s a kind of memory industry. These projects are linked to a lot of money and a lot of bureaucracy. But people in government or in the media should be sensitive enough at the moment when history happens, without big money or bureaucracy, to open up the space to broaden memory.
I felt like a leading figure in European history. But since 1992, I’ve felt more as if I have been accompanying. They could act themselves now. I should only open doors and accompany people. For instance I organized a hearing on European democracy and mass media and included people in the Balkans to help them find money for independent media. And I was following Sarajevo and Tuzla until 2000, even when I was out of parliament.
But as a former leader of the peace movement and as a Green member of the European parliament, I was the first one in Germany and in the European parliament calling for OSCE and UN intervention to liberate Sarajevo — even in August 1992. I also proposed an international peace march to Sarajevo led by Raisa Gorbachev and Joan Baez, both of whom I knew. But I had a feeling that both the movements and the parliaments were too slow in thinking and acting at that moment, and many people and even scientists followed their old patterns of rather national and academic debate. But I tried to take responsibility by reacting early and quickly. I was supporting the newspaper Oslobodjenje and peace groups in Belgrade and Zagreb and Sarajevo in summer 1992. With Marco Panella and Alexander Langer from Italy, I tried to wake up the European parliament with a special session on human right violations in Bosnia. But the Greens and the peace movement – not to mention Helmut Kohl and all the political parties in Germany — wanted to maintain their so-called pacifist role.
After I read about organized mass rape in August 1992 in Bosnia, I called for an international womens tribunal in Zagreb and to establish trauma-healing medical centers for women in the region. Out of these proposals grew Medica Mondiale and a resolution in the European Parliament on rape as a crime of war, the first time in history. With my colleague Alexander Langer, I called in parliament for an international tribunal or court of war crimes in Yugoslavia and then supported the campaign for the International Criminal Court with a global women’s caucus. On this I was helped by Benjamin Ferencz, my hero of international law against genocide, in the tradition of Rafael Lemkin.
So I wrote an article for Die Zeit, which they then did not print, called “Why Was Auschwitz Not Bombed Early Enough?” It was about why peace doves were so helpless then, not using AWACs or other means at least to put a limit on MIlosevic and the warlords like Karadzic and Mladic to stop the mass rapes and the camps and the siege of Sarajevo. Only after the OSCE and UN and the European governments did nothing did I then ask for NATO to act. I hoped that this would push the UN to change its policy on peacekeeping, which you could see later in Srebrenica, between using force against war crimes and genocide and the so-called neutral self-defense only. My letter to women worldwide in fall 1992 was given to Clinton, or so my American friends told me.
But I was the subject of a hate campaign within the Greens and the peace movement, as did Alexander Langer in Italy. In January 1993, I suffered death threats from gangs tied to Milosevic, who even found access to my offices in Strasbourg and Brussels and Bonn. Like Putin today, they had their secret service and agents and propaganda machine in other countries. At least I found new good friends amid this darkness: Jakob Finci andSonja Beserko, the Women in Black and Sonja Licht, and Zoran Djindjic.
I would love to do a brainstorming session on how to make the democracy support of the European Parliament and national parliaments more effective. The funding should be more flexible, to give some more people a chance. Maybe my role is now to network and mediate between NGOs, parliament, and government officials. I don’t have the funding and the infrastructure like a head of a foundation or a member of parliament anymore. But I can continue my work now through the Internet and by many simple means, building on my experience within the global and European social movements, the intellectual debates on sustainable societies, and against the rollbacks we are seeing. All of this is happening more quickly through the Internet. But I hope, to quote the old song from the times of Martin Luther King, Jr., that we shall overcome….
Berlin, February 5, 2013