Bridging the East-West Divide

In the 1970s and 1980s, the West European peace and environmental movement reached out, tentatively at first and then more vigorously, to the dissident groups in Eastern Europe. Nowhere was this more evident than in West Germany. The Green Party, established in 1979, integrated the peace and environmental agendas and cultivated links with the emerging independent peace movement in East Germany. Much later, in 1993, the German Greens and the East German citizens movements created a political alliance that continues today. Alliance 90/The Greens currently occupy 10 percent of the seats in the Bundestag.

Eva Quistorp, a co-founder of the German Greens, was a driving force behind the east-west dialogue. She visited Prague in 1968 and later worked with members of Charter 77 and Solidarity. In 1980, she co-founded Women for Peace, which had chapters on both side of the east-west divide. She also co-founded European Nuclear Disarmament (END), which aspired to be pan-European and rid both sides of the continent of nuclear weapons.

Quistorp was also not afraid to tackle the "German question" at a time when the majority of peace activists were comfortable with the status quo of a divided Germany. The topic of German reunification, prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall, was largely considered the province of the German Right.

"In 1983, I was asked to sign a European appeal written in West Berlin written by Peter Brandt," Quistorp told me in an interview in Berlin in February 2013. "I didn't realize at the time that he was the son of Willy Brandt. I knew him from the student movement only by his first name. He asked me to sign an appeal in 1983 when we had a big conference with END on European nuclear disarmament. We were trying to make a link within the European peace movement to support democratic changes in Eastern Europe, including the Soviet Union. The appeal was for a German confederation within a European confederation linked to European nuclear and general disarmament -- this was in May 1983! We were a minority but very proud of our vision."

It was an odd situation in the mid-1980s when people outside Germany would raise the question of reunification more often than those inside the country. "In 1984, a Korean activist asked me, 'What is happening with the Berlin Wall and German division?'" she recalls. "No one in Germany or Berlin would ask you that over the years. People were talking all the time about Nicaragua, the actions of U.S. presidents, gender theories and everything, but nobody was debating German reunification beside a small minority like the dissidents who lived in West Berlin."

In 1989, she was a member of the European parliament when events began to move quickly in East Germany and Eastern Europe. From her parliamentary position, she tried to represent the interests of the East European movements. When the fall of the Berlin Wall came, she was in Bonn. Like many other politicians at that moment, she immediately got on a plane and flew to Berlin. Ultimately she found herself at Checkpoint Charlie.

"But I couldn't move at Checkpoint Charlie," she told me. "It was the 10th of November. I'd never seen such a thing in my life: nearly a million people around me moving quietly. I'd been at a football game once, and you couldn't compare it to a football game. The space was so narrow, and no one was organizing it. There was no clear end or beginning. I was pushed toward the booth at Checkpoint Charlie. I tried to stay in the middle because I didn't want to get pushed into the wall. I turned around, and then I saw Helmut Kohl coming. He was coming like, well, he was rather fat. I thought, 'Should I run away? No, I am now a member of the European Parliament, standing here in the masses. This is a historic moment. And I will not leave the moment to Kohl. I have to represent my friends here.'"

She ended up receiving Kohl in a kind of "artistic performance." But that was the kind of day it was, when a radical Green activist and a conservative German chancellor could put aside their differences just as East and West Germany were putting aside their differences.

"From that moment when I arrived at Checkpoint Charlie, I forgot time and food and everything," Quistorp concludes. "I don't know if I ate anything in those hours or drunk any water. It was incredible. It was better than Woodstock!"

The Interview

If you think back to that period of time, 1989 and 1990 has anything changed in your own Weltanschauung? Have you reexamined any of your thinking?

First, I still believe that big and wonderful changes took place as a result of the longtime work and courage of many people. And being in the role of a European Parliament member, I felt both influential and at the same time very unmighty. I had to learn from the problems of the transition. Part of the problems of the transition came from the inside. But from the outside came this tsunami of neoliberal finance and corporate globalization. We have to include these factors in our debate on democracy as it relates also to North Africa and other areas of the world.

Also, the media question is getting more and more important. It was always important since 1968, but with globalization and the Internet, it is getting more important. The praise of the Internet was too naive. I criticized my journalist and scientist friends who were calling the Internet a "democracy machine." Now seven years later, they are writing about hate sites and Islamic radicalism on the Net. Of course there was the Iranian Facebook revolution, then the Arab Spring Twitter revolution. The Internet has direct political relevance for people on the ground, and for democratic and women's activists. The Internet didn't affect us between 1979 and 1989. If there had been the Internet, there would have been a different group of activists.

The wars in Yugoslavia were hard to face. Those were the hardest years of my life. So, the years after 1989 were not just nice. Between 1991 and 2000, those were the darkest years for me. I couldn't enjoy traveling -- to nice hotels in Prague, in Budapest -- because of the escalation of violence in Yugoslavia. I felt responsible.

Why did you feel responsible?

Because I am German and because I am European. I come from an anti-war family. I never traveled to the Balkans. I was never a tourist there. I did have contact to the Korcula Praxis group through a Dutch friend, so the Yugoslav model was on my radar screen. When the Greens entered the German Parliament in 1983, we had to develop a more precise economic program. One of our members in parliament was a Protestant theologian who brought the Yugoslav model of self-management into the debate. So the Greens have included the "third way" a little bit. Therefore, I was prepared to think through the visions and dreams of the Left and to be more pragmatic and critical.

There is not enough deep and clear and empirical political thinking about the changes from globalization that we have experienced since 1989. If you have to stabilize your house against the winds and then you see the groundwater too is rising and a heavy storm is coming in -- then it's more difficult to stabilize your house with traditional democratic strategies. But I try not to be too sad or disappointed.

I never gave up a worldwide view of women's rights with the help of my Latin American friends, and the African women I met at UN conferences. Some of them have been so impressive. I was a friend of Wangari Maathai. I'm a friend of the Mothers of the Plaza in Argentina and the mothers of Russian soldiers and the children of Chernobyl in Belarus and Ukraine. When I speak of women's rights, it's always social and political rights, and it involves changing the global media, the sex industry, the trafficking mafia. It also involves applying the rules of democracy to financial oligarchies and helping all states fight against corruption and build up the rule of law. On that level, we have no effective global thinking or democratic structures, not effective enough research and investigation. In this age of Google and Amazon, Exxon and Gazprom, Facebook and Twitter, we need stronger independent media, stronger trade unions, and new forms of international solidarity.

There are a lot of negative trends in Eastern Europe right now. But what do you see that makes you feel positive?

To read the rest of the interview, click here.