The most crucial peace movement in Europe--the West German one-- is alive and well, as the first antinuclear Easter marches here since the 1960s have shown.
Some 150,000 people (according to the organizers, or half that number, according to police) braved cold weather and pouring rain in six localities to reject new American missiles in Western Europe, call for arms reductions in both the East and West, and oppose US intervention in Central America.
Simultaneously, the Easter weekend showed the other German peace movement--in the East--struggling to stay alive. Its most authoritative leader and towering moral figure, dissident physicist Robert Havemann, died April 10.
And the recent official ban on any spontaneous peace movement induced East German churches to issue their first common pastoral Easter statement in half a dozen years. The churches urged the East Berlin government not to ''criminalize'' the fledgling peace movement that has arisen among young Christians.
The West German Easter marches, the first demonstrations here since last October's impressive turnout of 250,000, were the first test of the peace movement's strength since the opening of US-Soviet negotiations in Geneva on intermediate range nuclear forces (INF), the declaration of martial law in Poland, and Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev's proposal of an East-West moratorium on all new European nuclear weapons.
In addition, the Easter marches were the first demonstrations since the ban on the East German peace movement, the rise of an antinuclear movement in the United States, and the falling out between several West German antinuclear groups over communist influence in the recent planning meeting for the big demonstration to be held during President Reagan's visit in June.
Observers tend to think many of these developments have dampened the West German antinuclear movement to some extent. It had already gathered so much momentum by the high point of the October Bonn demonstration, however, that the various developments may have merely decelerated and not reversed the movement's growth.
Reagan's peace speech of Nov. 18 expressing willingness to go to the Geneva negotiations and present an INF ''zero option'' effectively stole the peace initiative for the moment from Brezhnev, who visited Bonn a few days later. But it failed to convince West German antinuclear activists--who are very suspicious of the US--of America's peaceful intentions.
It is not yet clear if it gave pause to any of those fringe demonstrations that joined the Bonn protest largely because it was the modish thing to do.
Similarly, the declaration of martial law in Poland has triggered some quarrels within the more than 700 disparate West German antinuclear groups. Most dramatically, some leading members of the environmentalist Green Party have recently dissociated themselves from the slogans on Polish and East German issues adopted for the June protest.
They have accused the minority of communists within the peace movement of having manipulated the organizing meeting to water down support for Solidarity trade union members. They have withheld support altogether for banned East German peace activists.
The Young Socialists--the youth wing of the Social Democratic Party, which opposes its own party and government on the issue of new NATO missile deployments in the mid-80s--have reluctantly followed the Greens' lead in dissociating themselves from the organization of the June protest. They still intend to participate, however, subject to a final decision in early May.
They have found nothing wrong with the weak June protest slogans on Polish suppression of Solidarity and the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, but they say their own slogans will go further on several issues.
It is not yet clear how much the quarrels might weaken the peace movement. The Greens are currently being sharply cricitized by other activists for ''splitting'' the movement--a serious charge in a movement in which the feeling of solidarity and togetherness is all-important.