The perennial summer squabble between members of the West German government coalition is more venomous than usual this year. And it's not dying down, despite the distant call for a truce from Chancellor Helmut Kohl in his Austrian vacation house. On the surface, the main argument concerns treatment of 14 leftists in Chile who might be condemned to death for robbery and murder there and who might then ask for political asylum in West Germany.
The West German Constitution, in reaction to the atrocities committed during the Hitler period, contains a generous guarantee of asylum for foreigners who are being persecuted for political reasons.
Other feuds rage as well in Bonn over policy toward South Africa, agriculture, legislation restricting demonstrations and the right of asylum, legal treatment of Aquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) victims, and, in one of the unlikelier issues, fees charged by dentists.
What is actually at stake here is a fundamental dispute within the ``Union'' - Dr. Kohl's Christian Democratic Union and Barvarian Premier Franz-Josef Strauss's Christian Social Union about whether the political orientation of the conservatives should be right or center.
The surprising aspect of this summer's quarrel is that it is occurring not between the two poles of the center-right government, the law-and-order Christian Social Union and the civil-rights Liberals, but between the Bavarian Christian Social Union and its sister Christian Democratic Union conservatives in the rest of West Germany.
Behind this internecine strife lies campaigning for state elections next month and opposing strategies for countering the conservative disenchantment expressed in recent elections by stay-at-home voters.
For Dr. Strauss, as usual, the solution lies to the right. The Christian Social Union regularly wraps up such decisive majorities in Bavaria that Bavaria is referred to ironically as a one-party state - but Strauss does not want his bargaining power in the federal coalition to be reduced by any drop in his state majority. He, therefore, wishes to woo back the few percent of voters who have been deserting the Christian Social Union for more right-wing and nationalistic splinter parties.
In the case of the 14 Chilean members of the pro-Castro Movement of the Revolutionary Left, therefore, the Christian Social Union's prescription is to regard these people as terrorists.
The Christian Social Union argues that even if the Chileans were tortured in prison, that does not mean that their confessions to acts of violence were false. The Christian Social Union also asks why, since Austria, Belgium, France, and Peru have already offered them asylum, West Germany then needs to intervene in the case.
For the Christian Democratic Union, by contrast, the main electoral threat is not from the right, but from the center that not so long ago admired Social Democratic Chancellor Helmut Schmidt.
Two of the party's leading politicians would therefore like to use the Chilean issue to move the Christian Democratic Union more toward the center: Norbert Bl"um, labor minister and leader of the conservatives' ``social'' wing with a strong social conscience, and, more surprisingly, Heiner Geissler, the party's general secretary and frequent hatchet man.
Dr. Geissler has said that the Christian Democratic Union must be seen to represent the ``values'' of the younger generation, such as respect for human rights.
And Dr. Bl"um kicked off the whole Chilean controversy when he visited Santiago, the Chilean capital, last month. There Bl"um found ``clear and gruesome'' evidence of torture in the case of the 14 Chilean prisoners, suggested West German asylum for them, and urged Chilean President Augusto Pinochet to end political torture and the death penalty.
Bl"um and Christian Social Union Interior Minister Friedrich Zimmermann sparred inconclusively over the Chilean issue at a special session of the parliamentary committees on the interior and foreign relations last week.
Dr. Kohl sent his message warning everyone to refrain from ``senseless and superfluous'' arguments this week.
And final resolution of the whole affair has now been put off to a ``coalition summit'' in the fall after all the political players have returned from holiday.
Despite the West German chancellor's appeal, the pro-Christian Social Union newspaper, the Bayernkurier, continues to attack Bl"um and warn that the Christian Democratic Union is heading for disaster.
Various Christian Democratic Union and Christian Social Union spokesmen continue to accuse each other of threatening the survival of the coalition.
And Bl"um is shortly going off to stir up more controversy on a visit to South Africa.