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Environmentalist Party Gaining Strength : Greens Battling for West German Votes

January 24, 1987|WILLIAM TUOHY | Times Staff Writer

FREISING, West Germany — The Greens, the radical environmentalist party, have been building strength in the north during the campaign for Sunday's West German national elections but are lagging behind in the conservative south.

Petra Kelly, the lively, articulate Greens leader who has a seat in Parliament, is trying to change this. She is waging a determined campaign in rural Bavaria that has attracted a good deal of attention.

"I've been surprised at the good reaction I've received," she remarked here during a break in her hectic campaign to win a new seat.

"I debated with the conservative candidate, Albert Probst, and he got confused about the dangers of radioactivity . . . and it was apparent to the audience. He decided not to appear against me at a second scheduled meeting."

The Greens' campaign has been helped by last April's nuclear disaster at Chernobyl in the Soviet Union and by the chemical spills in Switzerland last November that polluted the Rhine River. Moreover, many young voters, disillusioned with the opposition Social Democratic Party, have been shifting their votes to the Greens.

"Four years of parliamentary existence have made the Greens presentable," the news magazine Der Spiegel said in a cover story on the party. "The weaker the Social Democratic Party appears, the more attractive this young party becomes."

Thus the Greens' stock in public opinion polls has been rising steadily. Current voter surveys show them attracting 11% of the vote, well ahead of the other minor party, the liberal Free Democrats.

So the Greens, who received 5.6% of the vote in the last national elections, in 1983, could well become West Germany's third-largest party.

In 1983 the Christian Democratic Union polled 38.2% and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, 10.6%. The Free Democrats, the junior partner in the coalition government, received only 6.9%.

Rotation in Parliament

One problem many voters have with the Greens, in addition to their radical program, is that they agreed originally to rotate their people in Parliament every two years, to avoid creating a fixed hierarchy in the party. West German law allows this. But the practice led to a lack of party discipline and firm leadership, and this in turn has prevented some voters from taking the Greens seriously.

Kelly, a founding member of the party, has been a member of Parliament from Nuremberg, and she was not scheduled to run again. But then the Greens decided to change the rotation rule.

"They asked me to run again," she said, "and so I took this strange new district, north of Munich, which I had not represented before. I've had to spend a lot of time going around and getting known."

Kelly, a German who takes her last name from an American stepfather, has been spicing up her appearances with guest speakers, for the most part ecologists and people involved in human rights.

"Instead of just my speaking or hearing someone rattling off propaganda," she said, "I've tried to hold a round-robin conversation with various authorities on the subjects we are interested in."

Like other Greens candidates, Kelly has a musical group at her evening appearances. Because of this informal style--chats interspersed with music--their campaign has come to be known as "Winter Magic."

But she reminds her audiences, up to 600 people in some instances, of her platform: better health protection and services; environmental care; abolition of atomic power and nuclear arms, and concentration on human rights in foreign policy, "whether in the Soviet Union or Chile."

Her personal popularity and publicity--she recently appeared on the cover of Stern magazine with the leaders of the other parties--is doubled-edged.

"The Greens aren't supposed to have leaders," she said. "If I sign autographs and speak out on questions when asked, some people in the party believe I'm being too forward. If I don't, other people are disappointed. It's a strange system."

The Greens, as might be expected in such an individualistic party, often feud among themselves and are broadly divided into two camps--the fundamentalists, or "Fundis," who believe in political opposition for opposition's sake, and the realists, the "Realos," who think the Greens must be willing to form a coalition with the Social Democrats if they are to be taken seriously as a party.

Kelly is a Fundi, for, as she puts it, "our whole purpose is to be in opposition, to call attention to the wrongs in the society, not to become a partner of the Social Democrats."

Conflict in Party

This puts her in conflict with other Greens leaders, such as Josef Fischer, who , in a "Red-Green" coalition with the Social Democrats, became the minister of energy and environment in the state of Hesse; and Otto Schily, the West Berlin lawyer and sometime member of Parliament who believes that the Greens must eventually try to participate in the national government through a coalition.

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