East Germany's unique peace movement faces harder times

''I have gotten used to not being afraid any more,'' Barbel Bohley told 600 listeners last February at a peace forum at St. Peter's Church in Dresden-Neustadt in East Germany. ''That is the precondition, if one wants to work for peace here.''

She has need of this resolve now. Ms. Bohley has spent the last three weeks in jail and faces trial for giving information about the East German peace movement to French journalists and a New Zealand peace activist.

The latest reports indicate that she and Ulrike Poppe, another jailed activist, began a hunger strike Jan. 1. They are described as protesting the urging by East German officials that they (and presumably their husbands and children) emigrate to West Germany as an alternative to potential jail sentences of 2 to 12 years.

It is not yet clear just how much repression of the East German peace movement the imprisonment of Bohley and Poppe represents. But it goes well beyond the periodic 24-hour internments to which the two had become accustomed. But this might indicate no more than a continuation of the salami tactics of expelling ringleaders to the West.

On the other hand, the crackdown on Bohley and Poppe - and the detention over the new year's weekend of at least five other activists in the group Women for Peace - might indicate a more general Soviet-bloc disappointment with Western peace movements, and a more definitive end to grudging Soviet-bloc toleration of domestic East German peace activists.

Unlike nuclear pacifist groups in the West, Women for Peace was founded primarily to seek a right of conscientious objection for women newly subject to the draft in East Germany. Regulations extending conscription to women were passed in 1982, and preliminary registration of nurses and postal clerks for the draft began this past fall.

Despite somewhat different aims, the various Lutheran women's - and men's - groups seeking a right of conscientious objection in East Germany feel a close kinship with the nuclear pacifists in West Germany and have maintained close contact with them.

The East German government, which has been hoping the Western peace movements might block new NATO missile deployments, has more or less allowed the East German movement to encourage the West German movement. It has generally let East German activists alone as long as they confined their activism to church forums and did not demonstrate in public.

But Women for Peace is unwilling to observe these rules, especially when its two main leaders are behind bars. In small protests in three East German cities in late December, it expressed concern about the new, uncertain ties.

''In their work Barbel Bohley and Ulrike Poppe . . . have always observed the valid laws of the GDR (the German Democratic Republic, or East Germany),'' the group's statement noted. ''Since the deployment decision of the (West German) Bundestag (approving the stationing of new NATO missiles in West Germany beginning at the turn of the year) we have been hearing constantly of imprisonments on charges of actions that a year ago would not have led to jail. . . .

''We emphasize: In the domestic political climate of our land a decisive worsening has begun. That is equally true for nonstate contacts to citizens of the other German state (West Germany).''

In this issue East Germany is the crucial nation, since no other Soviet-bloc country has developed a viable peace movement. In the Soviet Union the few would-be peace activists have been arrested as soon as they began publicizing their views.

In Polish Catholicism there is no strain of pacifism comparable to that in German Protestantism - and dissenters from the political system have always channeled their energies into workers' and/or nationalist causes rather than pacifism.

In Hungary, although some activists continue to meet informally, the small Peace Group for Dialogue dissolved itself last summer after police broke up an ''international peace camp'' in Budapest. And in Czechoslovakia, the tiny peace movement has been synonymous with the tiny human rights movement, though this could change now that Czechoslovakia is publicly slated to get new Soviet, short-range missiles.

The reasons for the unique East German situation include not only the stimulation of coverage of West German peace movements on West German TV news, which 80 to 90 percent of East Germans can receive. They also include East Berlin's desire not to offend Bonn gratuitously on human rights issues at a time when West German credits are important for the flagging East German economy.

More fundamentally, the unloved East German government has been seeking legitimacy by identifying with the moral authority of the Lutheran Church as well as with bourgeois historical German heroes.

The 500th anniversary year of Martin Luther in 1983 - which the state celebrated almost as assiduously as the Lutheran Church - was not a propitious time for arrests of Lutheran peace activists.

But with the Luther year now over - and with the year-end failure of the West German peace movements to block NATO missile deployments - some of the restraints are gone. Hence the worry of Women For Peace that the arrests of Bohley and Poppe may presage a more general crackdown.

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