BERLIN - Since they joined the federal government, Germany's Greens have proved a bitter disappointment to the country's anti-nuclear movement from where it drew much of its original support.
Opposition to atomic power, widely regarded by ordinary people in Germany as an unacceptably dangerous and unsustainable form of energy, has been fundamental to the Greens' political base.
This week's huge confrontation between anti-nuclear militants and the forces of the state over a transport of highly radioactive waste across the country underlines the cleft which has now opened up between the Greens' leadership and that base.
"Atomic state equals police state," a common slogan of the militants read.
A central plank of the Greens's coalition agreement with the Social Democrats of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder after the leftwing general election victory of 1998 was a commitment to negotiate a nuclear energy phase-out.
The chairwoman of the German Green Party, Claudia Roth, right, and floor leader, Kerstin Mueller, left, protesedt along with hundreds of farmers against the transport of nuclear waste to the northern German town of Gorleben, Sunday, March 25, 2001. Thousands of protesters forced the transport to retreat before it eventually reaching Gorleben. (AP Photo/Jockel Finck)
The turning point came last June when, after difficult negotiations, the government reached a compromise deal with the power companies for a phase-out which should see the last atomic plant closed around 2021.
The problem is that the phase-out is both vague and far in the future, as it is based on an average working life of Germany's 19 atomic power stations of 32 years, and names no final date for the closure of the last of them.
The deal, negotiated by Environment Minister Juergen Trittin, also only provides for an end to the fiercely opposed cross-country convoys of nuclear waste from Germany's power stations in 2005.
The disappointment with the Greens' leaders goes beyond a section of the urban middle-class or the young hippie-like fringe from which many of the demonstrators against the "Castor" waste containers came.
It includes people of the Elbe valley region of Lower Saxony whose gentle, wooded countryside has been blighted by the establishment of the Gorleben dump for nuclear waste and the resultant repeated mass confrontations.
"Wo ist der Ausstieg? (Where is the phase-out?)" huge graffiti in the region ask. "Trittin verraeter (Trittin traitor)" they also declare. Everywhere in the region, the yellow "X" of the "Stop the Castors" movement was on display this week.
The Greens' leaders tried to have it all ways with respect to the controversial cargo.
They said they could not call for demonstrations against the decision of a government of which they are a part, and declared support for the phase-out as the best possible deal they could get, albeit unsatisfactory.
Without them, they say, there would be no phase-out deal at all.
At the same time they defended the right of militants to demonstrate, while opposing their efforts to physically prevent the passage of the convoy, contrary to their position over the last such transport from France in 1997.
The Greens are Germany's third main party after the Social Democrats and the Christian Union. But their electoral support is in a decline. Meanwhile Trittin himself, toward whom the chancellor is notably cool, has became a target of attack by the right.
Given the huge cost -- political and financial -- of this week's police operation, there must be real doubt among the parties in government that there can be any further such transport of nuclear waste in the near future.
Copyright © 2001 AFP