For the past 20 years there has been a strong local resistance at Gorleben against the construction of a nuclear industry park in the small region of Wendland in northern Germany. Although the anti-nuclear movement of farmers, citizens, artisans, students, doctors, lawyers, etc. had been successful in mobilising larger sections of the population for active protest and civil disobedience, governments and industry managed to force two high-level radioactive nuclear waste transports to Gorleben. The size of the police force as well as its brutality are unparalleled in post-war Germany. (See appendix).
Another round of protest is beginning now as a third transport is expected to arrive in the beginning on March 1997. As in the past, teams of local clergy as well as members of a German human rights organisation will be present to document the events and de-escalate in conflict situations. A first field experiment in April 1996 has shown that an international presence of human rights observers can be helpful to ease tensions, to moderate police behaviour and to support the nonviolent struggle. Therefore, we are working on the establishment of an international observers team of experienced human rights and peace activists to monitor and document the events in Gorleben and report independently from media coverage to an international public.
The team is supposed to consist of six experienced activists, balanced in gender as well as geographically. We hope to be able to encourage especially also activists from Latin America, Africa or Asia to participate in this project. Team language will be English, with at least some members being able to communicate in German. Each team member should have an organisational affiliation at home, supporting his/her participation in the mission. The team will make all its decisions by consensus. Beginning of the work is mid-February 1997. The project will probably end five to six weeks later. The team will be assisted by a translator and local guide.
In the beginning the team will have to establish itself, to get to know one another, to get acquainted with the local situation, to determine its mandate, and to introduce itself to the actors in the conflict. During the hot phase, it will be in the field and observe the events, the police behaviour, the media coverage and represent the eyes of the international public. It will co-ordinate its efforts with other human rights initiatives. The third task will be the preparation of a report to be spread internationally and be presented to the public. An evaluation of the team's experience will conclude the team's work.
The team will be able to work independently, but with support and advice by groups and organisations working on nonviolent conflict resolution. It will receive an orientation in the beginning of its presence and may consult support persons when necessary. It is expected to cooperate in the evaluation of the project.
International Support Network (ISN)
We are still in the process of establishing an ISN which will be kept informed through e-mail as well as ordinary mail and fax. Each ISN member should be able to mobilise support in its home country or region. It might be necessary to alert the ISN to protest constitutional rights violations. We appeal to groups and organisations to support us by participation in this ISN. If you are interested, please contact us.
Financial support needed
The project Gorleben Peace Team will cost approximately DM 30 000 (around $US20 000). Only a small part of this sum will possibly be covered by public funding. Therefore, we are looking for donations to cover these expenses and make the project possible. Please send us donations in form of cheques made payable to "KURVE Wustrow". All donations received will be acknowledged, in Germany donations are tax-reducible. Donors of DM 100 or more will receive a report about the events around the nuclear waste transport.
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Bildungs und Begegnungsstaette fuer gewaltfreie Aktion KURVE Wustrow
ph. +49 5843-507, fax +49 5843 1405
Gorleben and the anti-nuclear resistance
1. Geography and population
The region of Wendland, roughly between Hamburg, Hannover and Berlin belongs to the state of Lower Saxony (capital Hannover). Until 1989 it was situated in a nose-shaped exclave of West Germany, only connected to the rest of the country through two railway lines (one of them - to Dannenberg - in use for passenger transport) and three roads. The other two sides of the triangular region were borders to East Germany, fenced, mined and without a border checkpoint. The north-eastern border was the river Elbe, one of the largest European streams.
The Wendland itself in old times was populated by Slavic tribes (relatives to the Polish people) in their most western settlement area. Although Slavic language ceased to be used in every day life in the eighteenth century, a lot of local as well as family names still recall that period. Germanic tribes only settled the region later. After the war, refugees from territories which had come under Polish or Russian control settled here. Still Wendland was the least populated district of West Germany, with a very weak economy: who wanted to invest in a region with so little access to the rest of the West German economy and completely closed borders in the east? Since the establishment of European agricultural policies, small farmers had to leave the region. In the 60's and 70's Wendland was re-discovered by artists and retired city dwellers who bought the abandoned farm houses.
2. The nuclear industry park
The conservative state government of Lower Saxony believed that this would be an ideal site for the establishment of a nuclear industry park with a power station, a nuclear fuel reprocessing plant and final as well as intermediate storage facilities. The region had a very conservative government which would welcome additional income through this industry. The low population density promised little resistance against dangerous industry. It was easily controllable in case of accidents, contaminated winds would blow over the state borders to East Germany (nobody believed that Germany would become one in near future). And it had salt mines at Gorleben which at the time were believed to be suitable for several 10,000 years of storage for highly contaminated and poisonous nuclear waste.
In Germany the whole nuclear industry is highly subsidised by the governments. Legally it only can exist if the final deposit of the waste is guaranteed. Gorleben has been the only site for proposed final storage in West Germany. The exploration of the salt mines therefore was very important for the future of the whole nuclear industry. At the same time Gorleben always had been declared "an exploration of salt mines" and not a final storage, because that would have required public approval which state and industry were afraid not to get.
3. The resistance:
After plans became public, resistance within the population developed slowly and only gained momentum in 1978 when the farmers who feared for their income if contaminating industries were established in their neighbourhood, organised a "March to Hannover" with many tractors and lots of people joining. While they were marching the disaster at the US nuclear power station at Harrisburg happened and the demonstrators got immense support. The chief minister of Lower Saxony had to declare the construction of the nuclear fuel reprocessing plant (the most dangerous facility planned) "politically impossible". In the years following, Bavaria tried to build this plant against resistance in Wackersdorf, but had to abandon this idea too. Now nuclear fuel is reprocessed in France and England, with a contract saying that Germany has to take back the waste which is produced by the reprocessing: about twenty times the original amount!
The plans to build a nuclear power station were given up too. What remained was the construction of storage facilities at Gorleben. In May 1980 demonstrators squatted in the forest where bores were drilled to find out the most suitable place. A hut village was built and the "Free Republic of Wendland" declared with passports and an own radio station. New methods of basic democracy and communal decision making were developed, experiments in alternative energy and economy started. After four weeks police raided the site with much brutality against a completely nonviolent resistance (people sitting calmly and singing on the central village square) and demolished the village. Still construction began on the site of another bore nearby. Many of the village inhabitants remained in the region and continued their experiments with alternative economy, self-government and sustainable energies. A lot of projects developed and the "Free Republic of Wendland" continued as a future vision already beginning today, rather than a territory.
In 1983 construction of the factory hall planned to be used as intermediate storage was completed. In 1984 a large police force accompanied a first empty CASTOR container for nuclear waste to Gorleben. This CASTOR remained the only one until the mid-nineties. In 1988 the intermediate storage was extended for the construction of a pilot-conditioning plant meant to cut and repack the nuclear fuel and prepare it for final storage. Resistance was led by the "Ini 60" a group of over 60 years old citizens from the region, but also groups of farmers, artisans (carpenters initiative, e.g.), students, doctors, etc. took part.
The organisation and strength of the resistance was tested again in 1992 when a series of medium level waste originating from the Transnuclear Affair was transported to Gorleben. A lot of local groups developed in the region, in most towns and villages people organised their resistance and telephone chains for emergencies. Outside the region many people asked to be included in the emergency network.
It became clear that resistance would not be able to militarily stop a transport against a large number of police divisions. It would be necessary to make the intention and determination to resist clear beforehand in order to politically prevent a CASTOR transport to Gorleben. Meanwhile the state and local governments had changed to Left-Green coalitions. But promises to scrap the Gorleben plans where not kept by the politicians once they were elected. The resistance had to remind them.
In summer 1994 the first CASTOR was filled in Philippsburg in the south of Germany - industry and central government felt it politically wise to prove that after eleven years of completion the intermediate storage could be used. Resistance on the streets as well as in the courts stopped the transport for nine months until it was brought here on 25 April 1995 under protection of 15,000 police, the largest police action in Germany since the war. Ironically this was just a day before the ninth anniversary of the Chernobyl accident which had contaminated large parts of Europe. Resistance was great, making the political as well as economic price for the transport high.
On 7 and 8 May 1996 a second nuclear waste transport reached Gorleben. Resistance was even stronger which made it "necessary" to deploy a police and para-military force of 19 000 persons. The days before police stated that they are "preparing for war".
For the last years, Gorleben resistance has developed new ideas for actions of civil disobedience. For example in March 1995 about 1000 resisters unscrewed train tracks on a train line only used for CASTOR transports under the eyes of the police who were informed because many people had published their names with the appeal to take part in this action.