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Germany: Bush Arrives In 'Hostile' Berlin Before Summit In 'Friendly' Moscow

  • Jeffrey Donovan

U.S. President George W. Bush has arrived in Berlin at the start of a six-day tour of Europe and Russia. He was promptly greeted by massive protests in the German capital, Berlin, a city where American leaders were welcomed as heroes during the Cold War. But in a sign of the times, Bush is likely to get a warmer reception when he arrives later today in former enemy territory, Moscow, for a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Berlin, 23 May 2002 (RFE/RL) -- What a difference a war makes.

Forty years ago, it was a "cold" war. Berlin was an island of freedom in a hostile sea of East German communism. And U.S. President John F. Kennedy was given a hero's welcome.

In a now-legendary speech in June 1963, Kennedy told thousands of jittery West Berliners that free men everywhere would not forget them, or betray the struggle they faced daily in their divided city: the struggle for freedom against totalitarianism.

"All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words, 'Ich bin ein Berliner.'"

West Berliners cheered, thrilled to get such strong U.S. backing. They were to repeat their enthusiasm in 1987, when U.S. President Ronald Reagan was hailed as he stood at the Brandenburg Gate -- the former dividing line between East and West -- and intoned, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"

Two years later, in 1989, the wall came down. But yesterday, after six months of an American-led war on terrorism, President George W. Bush got a welcome Kennedy could hardly have imagined.

Arriving on his first official trip to Germany, Bush was greeted by thousands of demonstrators protesting his policies on everything from the war on terrorism to the Middle East, a possible war in Iraq, trade, and the environment. Some 10,000 German police were called in to keep the peace. The Associated Press says more than 50 people were arrested and 44 police officers injured in clashes. Police were pelted with bottles and stones, and windows were smashed at stores and restaurants. Water cannon were used to disperse some unruly protesters.

Bush was expected to discuss those issues, with emphasis on the war on terrorism, in meetings with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. The two meet again today after having a quick coffee and strudel at a downtown cafe in the former East Berlin last night.

European leaders have voiced concern over Bush's intentions on possibly taking on Iraq. And they have criticized Bush's "unilateralism," as well as his imposition of tariffs on steel imports and his refusal to sign the Kyoto Protocol on global warming or to back an international war-crimes court.

Bush told reporters that the protests don't bother him -- that it's a sign of a good democracy. But it is ironic that in Berlin, the U.S. president faces greater public animosity than he will in Moscow when he kicks off a three-day summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin later today.

Indeed, among a sea of anti-Bush banners in Berlin, one telling reminder that times have changed stood out: "Bush, du bist kein Berliner." ("Bush, you're no Berliner.")

Despite yesterday's violence, overall, the demonstrations in Berlin had a carnival atmosphere, with even a touch of humor, such as a rendition by a trumpeter playing the U.S. national anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner."

A few blocks down the boulevard Unter den Linden, the imposing cupola of the Berlin Cathedral loomed behind Stefan Voigt. A 22-year-old self-described "Trotskyite," Voigt summed up the causes that united what protesters say were 40,000 people, against police estimates of 17,000.

"The war, yes, the U.S. in Afghanistan, a possible war in Iraq, the support for [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon. And I think that there are a lot of other questions, such as the Kyoto Protocol or the very repressive politics in the U.S.A. against different groups," Voigt said.

Like many of the protesters, Voigt said he had sympathy for the U.S. when it was attacked by terrorists on 11 September, but he feels the war on Afghanistan was not justified.

"It was not a solution. War is not the solution for this problem. When you look now at the situation in Afghanistan, it's not improved very well. It's chaos there," Voigt said.

A walk down the boulevard, which is divided by a wide tree-lined walking path and lined by major landmarks such as the Opera House and 18th-century St. Hedwig's Cathedral, is like strolling through a giant bazaar where you can "buy" whatever cause you want to demonstrate for.

Standing next to a ship propped up on wheels and painted in camouflage with the banner "Capitalism Is Boring" on one side and scantily clad young people dancing on top, 40-year-old Venezuelan Ulises Costas sells T-shirts emblazoned with the bearded image of Argentine revolutionary hero Che Guevara.

Costas said he's protesting what he calls a "long history of American injustice" toward Latin America.

"More than 120 years of interventionism, of exploitative transnational politics that has robbed Latin America of its great riches, not to mention the [1973] coup in Chile, the silver of Peru, the petroleum of Venezuela, the bananas of Nicaragua, the oil of Mexico," Costas said.

But if that's too much oppression to bear in the afternoon heat, there's relief down the road: more music and drinking and dancing just beyond a wave of Palestinian flags and a stand selling Bob Marley T-shirts beside copies of Karl Marx's "Das Kapital."

Martin Atzler, however, wants nothing to do with dancing. He's a serious guy. He wants to talk about history. What's wrong with America, he asked, if it helped to save his city from communism and eventually unite a divided Germany in democracy?

"The proxy wars of the Cold War -- the battles fought in places like Vietnam, Angola, and Nicaragua -- were not worth the bloodshed, even if the final result was democracy in a united Germany and the fall of Soviet communism," Atzler said.

"If you see East and West Germany, I prefer democracy, because I prefer freedom. But if you see what was done in the Cold War, and what policy was done on both sides, I don't see any good in that," he added.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, a former leftist radical, was asked about the dilemma between acting or not acting against perceived evils during an interview with a group of foreign reporters yesterday.

Fischer, some of whose own Green Party partners took part in the protests yesterday, said his whole life philosophy was shaped by pacifism. But all that changed after the Balkan wars of the 1990s and the massacre of Muslims by Bosnian Serbs at Srebrenica, while the West stood by and watched.

"After Srebrenica, I had a real problem with myself -- seeing my picture in the mirror in the morning when I used to shave my skin," Fischer said.

Fischer said the Balkan experience led him to a difficult conclusion: "Pacifism cannot mean to stay there and watch people getting killed."

Bush has long argued that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is seeking to develop weapons of mass destruction that could eventually pose a direct threat to the Middle East region, as well as to the U.S. and its Western allies. He said the same thing about Iran and North Korea, which with Iraq form what Bush calls an "axis of evil" -- a label that has incensed European allies, who call it simplistic.

Bush appears certain to argue for a broadening of the war on terrorism in his talks with German officials and in a speech today to the German parliament, or Bundestag. Bush says preemptive action must be taken to prevent terrorists -- or Iraq -- from striking first. He says Europe is as much at risk as America.

But it's unclear whether Fischer -- or the German government -- would go along with any U.S plans to take the war on terrorism to Iraq. Fischer suggested it would be very hard, as his center-left government barely survived a parliamentary debate earlier this year on sending peacekeepers to Afghanistan.

"Public opinion is a real problem," Fischer said, waving his hand at the action outside a Foreign Ministry window. In the streets below, however, thousands of young people had already made up their minds.

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