Hope, dispair at women's peace rally

A West German who said she had been active in the disarmament movement for decades began to weep while talking about the election triumph by Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

Chancellor Kohl and the Christian Democrat-Liberal coalition he heads favor a Western missile deployment this year if arms control talks fail. The election had been widely seen as the acid test against the installation of a new generation of nuclear weapons in Western Europe.

''What will follow the election is very important for Germans and the people around them,'' she said as she and thousands of other women from some 20 countries met in Brussels this week in one of the many antinuclear events around the world this year.

The election is a setback for the bulk of the German anti-deployment candidates despite the ascendancy of the Green party there, one delegate from Belgium observed.

''It's put a real damper on the movement. It discourages people from getting or remaining involved because they feel the election has sealed the fate of the missile deployment.''

But such discouragement is not pervasive here. Attitudes differ according to the activists' varying aspirations and preoccupations. What is the end of the road for one nation or ideology may be regarded as merely a way station for others.

So West German and continental European nuclear opponents focused all their energies on gaining a victory for sympathizers and stopping the missile deployment in West Germany. These ambitions may have largely been dashed at the ballot box last week.

But British and American disarmament forces are still concentrating on their own national battle horses, such as the cruise deployment in Britain or the MX basing in the United States.

Many attending the Brussels meeting, sponsored by the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, still held out hope that continued public pressure could influence governments to either renounce the planned basing of US cruise and Pershing II missiles in Western Europe or push for an agreement at arms control negotiations.

Actress Julie Christie, who was part of a contingent of British women at the meeting here, voiced an optimism that abounds in Britain following the attention focused on the women's ''peace camps'' at Greenham Common and other military bases.

''We've gone backward and forward so many times over the years, that one more setback isn't going to make that much difference,'' she commented. ''There is a spreading public awareness that no ideology, no force is worthy of nuclear war.''

''It's going to get rougher,'' noted Margot Miller, another British activist. But she felt Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's government could be moved to abandon the cruise installation if it did not share in the decision to launch them, as well as plans for the new British Trident sea-based systems, because they would be too costly.

American women at the talks were also unmoved by the German election results. US participants, like their British counterparts, were still buoyant from relatively favorable results in votes around the country on various nuclear freeze proposals.

''I know the public is fickle and easily discouraged,'' noted one American leader, ''but this campaign is deep-rooted in the communities and it will be an issue in the 1984 presidential election.''

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