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'Opposition party' takes on new meaning in West German politics

By Elizabeth PondStaff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / April 30, 1981



West Berlin

The hedgehog is expected to do well here May 10 -- so well that the established political parties are running scared. The hedgehog is the prickly symbol of the Alternative List, an antiestablishment, pro-squatter, pro-environment, radically democratic omnibus protest party of politically minded members of West Berlin's thriving counterculture.

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Most of today's counterculture -- in distinction to the student protest movement of the late 1960s -- is probably apolitical. Its participants want the state to get off their backs, leave squatters alone, stop mucking up the air and water, and disarm. But that's the extent of their political involvement. they don't trust or even care about the state sufficiently to want to transform it in the fashion of the "long march through the institutions" proclaimed by their 1968 predecessors.

Except for supporters of Alternative List, that is. These people still hope to effect change in society. They want the squatting of 150-odd empty buildings in West Berlin to be legalized. They want city funding for the existing two and hoped for more houses for abused women. They want equal rights for women and for homosexuals, and voting rights for resident Turks and other foreigners.

They want the Western allies to reduce their existing token military contingents in West Berlin. They want a nuclear-free zone in Europe and neutrality for both West and East Germany and for Europe as a whole. They want German reunification -- but "not as a Prussian centralized state," their campaign literature specifies.

They want, in addition, a party that is as open, unorganized, and unlike the despised establishment parties as possible. All AL meetings, including those of the nine-person steering committee, are public. Dues --which are the main finance of this shoe-string operation -- are whatever a member chooses to give.

Appropriately, there is no single spokesman for the AL. At a recent meeting with foreign journalists in the cellar of the party's headquarters/pub/alternative bookshop, five earnest young men explained the AL collectively.

What kind of vote do they hope for in the election? Between 5 and 10 percent , thought Joachim Wachsmut, Wolfgang Engeler, Klaus-Jurgen Schmidt, Ulrich Brunner, and Michael Springer.

Votes over the 5 percent legal minimum --percent in 1978 and current polls both suggest is a real possibility -- would seat the AL for the first time in the city council. And such an outcome could tip the present close balance between the ruling Social Democratic-Liberal coalition and the opposition conservatives.

Any AL candidates elected to the city council would turn over to the AL that part of their salaries above the level of skilled workmen. Any councillors would vote in accord with the wishes of the AL membership meetings -- to the point of splitting 50-50 on any issue the membership was divided on. Any councillors would be ready to rotate out after two years and give their seats to fellow AL candidates.

So far AL members are united in opposing more power plants in West Germany; cutting down trees for any kind of construction; secrecy in government; the compulsory East German currency exchange required of visiting West Germans; new NATO nuclear weapons; the right extremist Gray Wolf Turkish organization; and "Germanization" of foreign workers.

They are united in favoring: extensive grass-roots engagement in policymaking , including self-governing renters' associations; energy saving; better prison conditions; "distancing" of West Germany from the United States; construction of more bicycle paths in West Berlin; East German permission for West Berliners to cross to East Berlin with their bicycls; free access between Berlin, West Germany, and East Germany; and (borrowing the Dutch couterculture slogan) "more fantasy."

Their political aim according to their brochure is "to reveal machinations of establishment people that are hostile to citizens" and to get early inside information for "outside-parliamentary resistance" to government policies considered inimical.

"Outside-parliamentary" activity refers to spontaneous environmental and other citizens' initiatives of the sort that are routine in the US but are still vie wed with great suspicion by the major West German parties.