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Germany

Easter marches march on ... or is that limping?

Leaders of Germany’s peace movement were talking up the positives from this year’s more than 70 Easter marches nationwide. But others noted that while there were a lot of marches, few of them drew many people.

Protestors march against a planned military facility

Those rainbows stand for peace

Easter weekend, for Germans of a certain political bent, means participating in Easter marches.

Over the five decades Germans have made Easter a time for marching for peace, participants have focused on a number of targets: protesting the stationing of nuclear warheads in the country, stopping the spread of nuclear power, preventing the spread of conflict in the Middle East.

This year's marches centered on criticizing NATO strategy in Afghanistan (especially the presence of German troops there), the stalled peace process between Israelis and Palestinians, and the dream of a nuclear weapon-free world, which was recently rekindled by comments from US President Barack Obama.

According to march organizers, those causes brought out more than 20,000 Germans over this Easter weekend - a sum they considered a positive turnout.

Dwindling attendance

Protestors hold a banner while marching

The marchers say 'no' to war, NATO and nuclear weapons

But others found the numbers less rosy. A single protest, in Fretzdorf, northwest of Berlin, made up more than 10,000 of the weekend total, meaning elbow room at the other 70-odd marches was significantly easier to come by.

Protests in Berlin and Dusseldorf drew about 500 people each, while Munich's march was an even smaller party of 300.

Moreover, the Fretzdorf march, in the eastern state of Brandenburg, was driven as much by a not-in-my-backyard impulse as by a concern for world peace.

The Ministry of Defense wants to reopen a Soviet-era proving ground there that would give Air Force planes a place to practice low-flying bombing runs. Locals have dubbed the planned facility the ‘Bombodrome' and are mostly against it.

“We're from the generation that has known war,” one older woman said. “There will always be an anti-war faction among us, until we die.”

Another local man said, “Would you want to live here, when airplanes are constantly buzzing overhead?”

Motivation needed

Organizers might have hoped for more people to come out and march for world peace, but they weren't expecting too many. Last year's Easter march numbers were also fairly small, and many say it's natural for numbers to fluctuate, depending on the perceived urgency of peace as a political issue.

“Afghanistan just seems very far away for a lot of people,” says Manfred Stenner, the Director of the Coperative Peace Network in Bonn.

But he says too that recent polls have shown that a wide majority of Germans are against having their troops in Afghanistan.

“We see ourselves as representative of that opinion,” he said.

That situation might change, or another potential conflict could push peace to the forefront, where it was in past decades.

Aerial shot from 1983 antiwar protest in Bonn

In 1983, protests brought the people out


“It's natural to have fewer people come out now, compared with the 1980s,” said Stenner. “That was right at the high point of the cold war, when nuclear war could have broken out at any time, and almost did.”

The early 1980s saw a string of anti-nuclear protests in Germany that drew hundreds of thousands, culminating in one in Germany's then-capital Bonn in 1983 that drew half a million by some estimates. That sort of an attendance figure was matched only once since – in Berlin in 2003, against the Iraq war, which was approaching at the time.

Organizers will be hoping for a much bigger turnout next year. The German Easter march movement, which began as an echo of an anti-nuclear march led by Bertrand Russell in London, started in 1960, meaning the 2010 marching season will be the movement's 50th.

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