The Magazine

Some Peace Movement

Where are Germany's peaceniks now?

Jun 26, 2006, Vol. 11, No. 39 • By JEFFREY GEDMIN
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EARLIER THIS MONTH, several hundred people gathered in Nuremberg, the site of an Iran-Mexico soccer match, for a protest. Their concern was that Iran's president might fly to Germany to attend the World Cup match. According to a German peace activist newsletter, the crowd of protesters was most unimpressive, a bunch of losers really. Those denouncing Iran's head of state were a motley crew of "Christian Crazies," "anti-German Germans," and "cheering Persians," the last being "loyalists of the mass-murdering regime of the shah."

It's not the first time I have wondered about Germany's real peace activists. Speaking of mass murder, I walk by the North Korean embassy nearly every day in Berlin. It's a stone's throw from my apartment in Mitte near Friedrichstrasse. Although North Korea is the last Stalinist regime on earth, and is building nuclear weapons while starving its population to death, I've not seen a single concerned citizen from the peace movement with a sign or a flower before the embassy's entrance. Meanwhile, the number of protests here calling for an end to the slaughter in Sudan stands by my count at about zero. Still, Iran should be a no-brainer. Or so you would think.

The German peace movement has always been antinuclear. Iran wants the bomb. The peace movement loves the U.N. and international law. Tehran defies the International Atomic Energy Agency. The peace movement condemns the "arms race." When Iran goes nuclear, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Turkey will also want the bomb. The peace movement cherishes human rights. The mullahs stone women to death. The peace movement is modern, multicultural, and secular. President Ahmadinejad believes in the Hidden Imam and relishes a good clash of civilizations. The peace movement likes peace. The Iranian leader has called for a U.N. member state to be wiped off the face of the earth.

Okay, it is tedious to state the obvious, but the German peace movement--always the largest, most vocal, and best organized in Europe--is once again exposed as a farce and a fraud. During the Cold War it thrived on anti-Americanism and a good dose of Soviet bloc support. In the '80s, for example, East Germany's secret police helped finance the work of "Generals for Peace," a group of eight former NATO generals opposed to the stationing of NATO missiles in Western Europe. These included the lover of Petra Kelly, the desperate, strident young woman who helped start the Greens. Kelly and General Bastian killed themselves in an apparent suicide pact in Bonn in the fall of 1992.

The peace movement was back in top form recently when George W. Bush said he would compel Saddam Hussein to comply with U.N. resolutions. In Berlin, half a million people took to the streets (their counterparts were out in full force across Europe and in the United States, of course, too). Teachers in Berlin let students out of school to march for peace. The churches were there. So were the trade unions. At night there were candlelight processions at the Brandenburg Gate. It is hard to remember any of these folks lifting a finger for the good people of Iraq before or since. I recall a few dozen lonely souls protesting here against Saddam Hussein.

And all those banners declaring "No Blood for Oil"? That's always been an amusing bit of shtick. Europe depends on Middle Eastern oil even more than the United States. Saudi Arabia is one of Germany's most important trading partners in the region. Iran is the other. I am waiting for someone from the peace movement to catch on. In 2004, while Gerhard Schröder was still in office, German exports to Iran rose by 33.4 percent (3.6 billion euros). Last year the figure hit 4.5 billion euros. German imports also rose by 35 percent (391 million euros) two years ago, with the first expansion of crude oil deliveries. The former chancellor, now chairman of the supervisory board of Russia's Gazprom--let's call him father of the modern German peace movement--was just named honorary chairman of the German Near and Middle East Association. This is an umbrella group for German industry. And Schröder is now speaking out against sanctions on Iran.

Angela Merkel has been great on Iran. She has not yet sat down to discuss with top industry leaders, though, the impact of possible sanctions on German companies and an ailing German economy. Volkswagen is in Iran. DaimlerChrysler is there. German companies sell the Iranians machinery, production facilities, and electrical engineering products. The German-Iranian Chamber of Industry and Commerce, according to a newsletter of the Iranian German Business Forum, is one of Germany's largest in the world. It tends to the needs of some 1,400 member firms from both countries. But you would think that for the peace movement a little prudence would be in order. You would think that for progressives, human rights would trump profits.