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West Germany's anti-party party experiments with compromise

Choose one: The fledgling Green-Social Democratic alliance in the state of Hesse is the test of (A) the maturity or (B) the betrayal of West Germany's environmentalist protest party.

All Greens who choose (A) are ''pragmatists'' who will cheer state legislator and ex-chaplain Karl Kerschgens as he gives his first public report on the Hessian party's ''toleration'' of the minority Social Democratic state government in the next week or two.

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All Greens who choose (B) are ''fundamentalists'' who want their ''anti-party party'' to stick with pure protest and eschew dirty co-optation by the system.

Just where the balance falls between the two groups will determine the future of Germany's first grass-roots party. The Greens' mind is with the pragmatists. Their heart is with the fundamentalists.

What all do agree on is that the Greens now face a threat to their very survival.

Their meteoric rise to win 27 seats in the Bundestag (Parliament) a year ago was helped by public indignation about pollution and fear of the new NATO missiles that began to be deployed last December. The question now is whether the individualistic and sometimes eccentric Greens can hold themselves together without that glue of environmental and antimissile passion among voters.

Thus, public concern about pollution may have been diluted to some extent by the conservative West German government's sudden adoption of some of the Greens' environmentalist causes after the 1983 election. And antinuclear sentiment seems to have diminished as the missile deployments have not led to any increased East-West tension after all.

''Realpolitikers'' like Kerschgens say the party can still survive in 1984 - but only if it disciplines itself and plays the game of politics, compromising here to win concessions there. It was Kerschgens' eloquent exposition of this view at a state conference of Greens last January that persuaded his party to try ''toleration'' of the Social Democrats - i.e., voting for the state budget if the government program were made more responsive to environmental concerns.

The Hessian Greens - who have evolved over two years from one of the most radical of the state Green organizations into one of the most moderate - still have to vote on the budget that Hessian Premier Holger Borner has just presented. And the fundamentalists still have a chance to reverse the party's course at the state convention in May.

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At the moment the pragmatists presumably still have the upper hand. The situation is even murkier than usual, however, since the Hessian Greens have just pulled a disappearing act. Most of them are said to be on vacation in Italy this week.

Kerschgens can count as successes in the intensive two-party negotiations Social Democratic Premier Borner's scrapping of plans for a new dam and his promise not to build more nuclear power plants.

Kerschgens can also point to introduction of tougher state regulations on sulfur and nitric oxide emissions from brown coal power plants, construction of a model denitrification plant, a lowering of the threshold for smog alarms, future conversion of the state vehicle fleet to lead-free autos, and deemphasis of burning wastes (with release of heavy-metal and dioxin gases) in favor of compacting and recycling.

The pragmatists regard this list as not bad for a party that got 5.9 percent of the votes last fall as against the Social Democrats' 46.2 percent.

But Kerschgens' tally fails to convince the fundamentalists. They argue that they are giving away too much. They are not preventing the opening of the bitterly contested new runway for the Frankfurt airport next month. They are not getting a ban on night flights, but merely a consideration of their reduction.

They are not blocking completion of the new Biblis nuclear power plant (though the public utility that is building the plant is talking of mothballing Biblis because of lower electricity demand than anticipated). They have no more than a promise to reconsider plans for road construction. They have only delayed , not prevented, construction of two new waste incinerators. They have not conclusively blocked new prison construction to relieve teeming jails (and thus not forced judges to give more socially productive sentences than lockups).

In this whole fierce feud Hesse is a bellwether. If Kerschgens can pull off his semi-coalition, this will be the first successful such experiment in West Germany.

An earlier attempt in Hamburg failed - and led to a reelection in which the minority Social Democrats regained their majority without the Greens.

Win or lose in the Hessian experiment, the Green fundamentalists doubt that they can preserve their own identity once they start wheeling and dealing with the Social Democrats.

The Hessian Greens' cooperation with the Social Democrats is thus a hot issue at national as well as state level. And it is intensified by related controversies over the pledged rotation of Green Bundestag members and the competence of staff work in Bonn.

Some of the most effective Bundestag Greens are now reluctant to vacate their seats in 1985 after half a term to allow their inexperienced ''backers up'' to take their place.

For the moment the Greens are suppressing their intramural conflicts to present a united face in the Baden-Wurttemberg state elections this month and the European parliamentary elections in June. The national Green convention at the beginning of March studiously avoided addressing any of the issues that national parliamentary spokesman Petra Kelly says have brought the Greens to the greatest internal crisis in their brief history.

Contention comes easily in the feisty Greens, however. Few observers think the party can postpone much longer a showdown on the Hessian compromise and the party's other basic controversies.

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