Accessibility links

Breaking News

Yugoslavia: German Greens Back Temporary Halt To Bombing

Bonn, 14 May 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The junior partner in Germany's governing Left coalition has averted a crisis both for Social Democrat Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and for NATO by rejecting calls for an unconditional and permanent end to the Alliance's current bombing of Yugoslavia.

The demand for an end to the bombing came yesterday from the pacifist and Left wings of the deeply divided Greens environmental party at a special congress in the city of Bielefeld. Both the pacifists and the Leftists argued that, over time, sanctions and other measures -- rather than air strikes -- would have compelled Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to stop what the West says is the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo.

Instead of a call to end the strikes permanently, the special congress voted for a compromise resolution presented by the party's executive. The resolution calls for a temporary suspension of NATO air strikes to allow for further diplomatic efforts to achieve peace and the return home of the Kosovar deportees.

The vote on the resolution, supported by 444 delegates, came after hours of heated debate and even occasional fist-fighting among some delegates. The motion calling for a permanent and unconditional end to the bombing obtained 318 votes, not sufficient to carry.

A German political analyst, Angela Buchner, said the outcome serves to keep intact the governing coalition. Like most other German political analysts, she believes that Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, who is a prominent member of the Greens party, would almost certainly have resigned if the congress had voted for an unconditional halt to NATO's bombing.

Buchner and other analysts believe Fischer's departure would have meant an end to the coalition and created major problems for the Social Democrats led by Chancellor Schroeder. They argue that such an outcome could also have presented problems for NATO, which has often said that the 19-country Alliance is united over its Kosovo campaign.

Fischer, who leads what is known as the "realist" wing inside the Greens party, had previously presented his own plan to NATO. In it, he proposed a temporary suspension of the bombing to see whether Milosevic would withdraw all his forces from Kosovo and allow the return of the deportees under international protection.

Yesterday, Fischer urged Greens delegates to back his ideas. He said: "I ask you to help me, to support me, not to cut out the ground from under my feet." Fischer argued that, while Milosevic had signed 18 peace agreements since 1992, he had rarely honored any of them.

Fischer had to shout to make himself heard over the whistles and boos of his party opponents. Several groups shouted repeatedly that he was a "murderer." Others waved banners displaying Fischer with a Hitler-like mustache. One man threw a paint bomb at Fischer, which hit him on the head and caused damage to his inner-ear. He was taken to hospital for treatment, but returned to the congress two hours later.

Many of Fischer's opponents told the congress they wanted the Greens to remain in the federal government, after the many years of political struggle it had taken them to get there. Among them was a pacifist member of the federal government, Annerlie Blutenbach, who told the congress: "I don't want to leave the Government, but I do want to change the direction of the Government."

Her views were echoed by another member of parliament and veteran pacifist, Christian Stroebele. He said that he wanted the Greens to remain in government, but that "issues of war and peace are more important." One of the two spokeswomen for the Greens national leadership, Antje Radcke, warned the congress that by voting against NATO they could relegate the Greens party to permanent opposition because no other party would trust it. She argued that the Greens could make a greater difference inside the government than in opposition. The other spokeswoman, Gunda Roestel, said the temporary halt proposed by Fischer and his supporters offered a path to a peaceful end to the conflict and to the return of the ethnic Albanian Kosovars.

Many analysts believe that, in the long run, the Greens will split and one of its present factions will form a new party. After yesterday's vote, some leading Green pacifists and Left-wingers in fact said they will leave the party. A press briefing today was told that among them were some who had helped create the federal Greens party 20 years ago. But it was unclear today how many would really carry out their threat.