West Germans brace for hot fall protests
Officials in West Germany are bracing for a long, hot fall as the time approaches to station those first NATO Euromissiles here. Antinuclear protesters are expected to mobilize up to 2 million demonstrators on the big target date of Oct. 22, according to a source who follows the issue closely.
The conservative government is determined to proceed with the planned deploy-ments no matter how strong the protests - and it has the political and police power to do so. Nonetheless, a demonstration of more than a million people would represent a serious polarization of society.
Polarization would be fed by the expected call for a postponement of the missile stationing by the opposition Social Democratic Party (SPD) - and by any violence in connection with the antinuclear demonstrations.
Endorsement of a unilateral moratorium on the NATO deployment is widely regarded as certain to win a majority at the SPD convention that will follow the Oct. 22 demonstration by a short week and a half.
The SPD began shifting left - from what an allied diplomat here describes as its original ''yes but'' position to a ''no but'' and then just a ''but'' position on the missiles - once Helmut Schmidt was no longer chancellor and thus unable to discipline the party's left wing. That left wing shows every sign of dominating the missile debate at the convention.
The extent of violence that might crop up at antinuclear protests in October and later is hard to predict. Demonstration organizers have resolved to keep protests peaceful.
The vast majority of the anticipated 700,000 to 1 million protesters in Bonn, the 200,000 to 500,000 in north Germany, and the 400,000 to 600,000 in south Germany (government projections) on Oct. 22 will no doubt maintain the peaceful tradition of West German peace demonstrations.
Furthermore, there is unlikely to be any violence at the site in Schwabisch-Gmund where the first battery of US Pershing II missiles is due to be emplaced this December. Commando operations and not just generalized rock-throwing would be required to get through to this heavily guarded site.
Nonetheless, there is concern here that violence could develop at the fringes of the main demonstrations in one of two ways: as an attempted exploitation of the general protest by left or right extremists; or as a result of excessive use of force by the police.
A few antinuclear activists are already arguing that the usual peaceful demonstrations, no matter how large, are never going to block missile deployment and that more drastic measures (even including self-immolation) are needed. Then the thousand-odd political ''chaotics'' who have used various protest marches as an excuse to battle with the police in recent years are apt to do so again.
And it would be surprising if the well-armed and -financed leftist anarchist Revolutionary Cells and remaining Red Army Faction (Baader-Meinhof gang) - along with right-wing radicals who have previously bombed US installations - did not seize this opportunity to attempt more terrorist acts.
As for the police, they generally do not carry handguns when they patrol protest marches. They have powerful weapons in clubs, water cannons, and tear gas, however, and they are increasingly frustrated by the injuries they have sustained from protesters' rocks, slingshot projectiles, and gasoline bombs. Moreover, the new center-right government is far more inclined to favor tough police action than was its center-left predecessor.
The overall numbers the activists can mobilize, and the strength of the peace movement, are somewhat uncertain. Opinion polls suggest that a majority of West Germans dislike the deployments. Yet in the March election the missile issue excited far less interest than did economic recession - and the government of Chancellor Helmut Kohl won a resounding victory on a platform that included a resolve to begin deployments in December as planned if there is no prior Euromissile arms control agreement.
Yet at the same time the relegation of the SPD to the opposition in the past eight months has freed it from the restraints of government responsibility. The SPD left wing has been far more vocal in opposing the missiles since Schmidt was toppled from the chancellery.
With the conservatives seemingly assured of the votes to stay in office eight years in any case, there is little incentive for the SPD to attempt to lure back middle-of-the-road voters by ''me-tooism'' in defense issues.
The general expectation, then, is the SPD will try instead in its out-of-power years to win back the left-wing voters who this year gave the strongly antimissile Greens enough ballots to get into the Bundestag (parliament). There is no incentive for the SPD to appeal to the center until the conservatives have been in power long enough for middle-of-the-road voters to get restive.