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Internal feud threatens to split West Germany's Green Party

In the midst of introductions, a man in pin-stripes strolls onto the stage and flings fake $10 bills into the audience. So begins another day of rough-and-tumble politics for West Germany's turbulent Green Party.

The party, established in 1980, is now racked by internal divisions that threaten to tear it apart. At the core of the dispute are questions about the identity of the Greens and their viability as a party. Compounding the problem is a recent mini-scandal over the possible misuse of party funds by some members.

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``The German Greens seem to have lost their understanding of where they're going,'' says Sara Parkins, co-secretary of the European Greens, a Brussels-based coordinating group. Rather than build strong coalitions around key issues - such as nuclear power - the Greens in West Germany are using their energy to fight among themselves, she says.

Tensions were clearly evident at last weekend's ``perspective congress'' held here. The meeting brought together 600 Greens who sought to hammer out a vision for the future.

They didn't make much headway. But, - in true Green style, - they put on quite a show. The money-wielding intruder at the opening session was protesting the ideas of a group of Greens who favor using market incentives to push forward environmental and social reforms. Protesters unravelled a banner across the stage which blasted the ``eco-capitalists.''

This is just one example of the growing feud between two powerful factions within the party: the realos, who favor a moderate policy of reform, and the fundis, radicals who want to overhaul society - including abolishing parliamentary government and the market economy.

Although, to an outsider, the distinctions on many issues seem a matter of degree, within the context of Green politics, the realos and fundis are worlds apart.

On nuclear power, for example, the fundamentalists want to shut off the plants - today - while moderates favor developing a program to gradually shift toward other energy sources.

But the rift runs deeper than individual issues. Many moderates would like to forge coalitions with the Social Democrats, West Germany's major opposition party. But the fundis refuse to cooperate, arguing that such arrangements reinforce a political system they don't support.

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The result is a political stand-off, magnified by a party policy which forbids those who hold elected office from also serving in any party executive post. The fundis dominate the party executive, which develops policy, while most elected representatives are realos.

``The Green Party, if it continues in this way, is in real danger of breaking apart,'' says Otto Schily, a well-known moderate Green member of parliament.

Still, neither side feels confident that it could make it on its own. West German law specifies that only parties snaring more than 5 percent of the vote can be represented in the Bundestag, West Germany's parliament. Green candidates draw about 8 percent in national polls, so fragmentation could leave both sides out in the cold.

The Greens pride themselves on their diversity, and many contend the current problems are only temporary.

However, their never-ending struggle for consensus has driven some party insiders to say that a breakup is inevitable.

The next election for the Green's executive board is slated for next spring. If no accommodation between the factions is found by then, many believe the groups may decide to go their own ways.

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