"It has been like watching a sleeping lion come to life again." So said a British activist who had come to NATO headquarters over Easter weekend with some 600 protesters from six European countries and the United States to demonstrate peacefully against nuclear weapons.
"The lion is mad."
Since the 1960s, the antiwar movement in Europe has been inactive while the arms race continued. Now it has taken to the streets again -- angrier than ever.
The new movement's long-term aim is "a nuclear-free Europe from Poland to Portugal," as the umbrella organization, European Nuclear Disarmament (END), puts it.
Immediately, however, it wants NATO to reverse a decision taken 15 months ago to deploy 572 American-made nuclear missiles, beginning in 1983, in five European countries (West Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Britain, and Italy) and to open negotiations with the Soviet Union on limiting each side's nuclear arsenal in Europe.
Some analysts say the movement's chances of success on both fronts are excellent.
Nowhere in Europe has the rise in popular opposition to nuclear warfare and the NATO decision in particular been more meteoric than in Britain, where the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) -- a leader in the ban-the-bomb protests of the '60s -- has been reborn and endowed with full adulthood in less than a year. Nearly defunct 12 months ago, the CND now boasts 15,000 paid-up members with people sending in applications at the rate of 500 a week. Some 2,000 CND activists crossed the English Channel to participate in the Easter weekend demonstration at NATO headquarters in Brussels.
The new antiwar movement in Europe includes the young and the old, and its adherents range from religious pacifists (mainly in the Netherlands and West Germany), to neutralists (Scandinavia and Britain) who want their countries out of NATO, to former soldiers who see nothing wrong with NATO but are against nuclear arms.
But the born-again war-haters have one thing in common: They want nuclear weapons banned from Europe, and they intend to press their cause in mass meetings, seminars, marches, peace festivals, and sit-in demonstrations throughout Europe this year.
In some countries -- especially West Germany and the Netherlands -- their ideas are already flowing in the mainstream of national politics. In many countries -- and perhaps most significantly -- the middle-class man-in-the-street is beginning to doubt the wisdom of having nuclear missiles in his own backyard.
* A marplan poll published April 22 shows that half of Britain's voters disapprove of their government's decision to allow the United States to station nuclear cruise missiles in their country. Nine percent say they "don't know." Only 41 percent say they approve. Twenty-three percent say they favor unilateral nuclear disarmament.
* West German activists have collected 150,000 signatures against the NATO decision.They hope to have 1 million by this time next year. Antiwar and antinuclear-energy groups have joined forces to mobilize thousands of people for demonstrations across the country.
* An opinion poll in the Netherlands, where the nuclear disarmament issue has been in the campaign spotlight for next month's parliamentary elections, shows that 48 percent of the population wants the country to play no nuclear role in NATO. A two-year delay in deciding whether to accept the new American missiles on Dutch soil has been in force since last year.
* Belgium's center-right government is persuaded by popular opinion, influenced strongly by the Flemish Socialist Party, to back off from its original decision to accept the missiles. Formal endorsement of the NATO decision is on hold.
These items do not refute the fact that NATO defense ministers meeting in Bonn earlier this month reaffirmed the decision to deploy the 572 cruise and Pershing II missiles in Europe, and that at their twice-annual meeting in Rome on May 4-5, The NATO foreign ministers will probably do the same.
Yet there is some concern in NATO circles that growing popular oppositions to the decision will have a detrimental effect on the Atlantic alliance. "The main effect so far," said one official, "has been to deepen the division between Europe and the US."
Equally important is the impact Europe's antinuclear sentiment could have on US and Soviet moves to open discussions aimed at limiting nuclear weaponry in Europe. So far, it has been positive. In an apparent attempt to appease European public opinion, US Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. hinted to reporters on April 16 that preliminary talks with the Russians could begin soon.
Meanwhile, the antinuclear movement in Europe is planning to step up the pressure. But the protesters are aware that trying to convince governments and NATO to think again will be an uphill battle -- despite the recent surge of support for their movement.
Terry Provance, national coordinator for the disarmament program of the American Friends Service Committee, represented US antinukes at the NATO Easter demonstration.He says, "Yes, more pressure on individual governments and NATO will be needed to move the European countries to press the US harder to begin negotiations, so that the current pace of arms-race madness can be broken and turned around. You will hear more from us."