MASS RALLY IN PORTUGAL/ DU: axis of anti-militarist struggle in Europe

By John Catalinotto

31 Jan 2001--In Lisbon, Portugal, on Jan. 25, some 2,000 demonstrators gathered at the prime minister’s office to protest the dangers from depleted uranium and to demand that Portuguese troops be withdrawn from the Balkans.

In Greece the day before, the first 80 of 462 troops who requested to leave their Kosovo assignment returned. This is one-third of the Greek forces helping NATO occupy the Serbian province.

And the Greek army is having trouble finding volunteers to take their places. Then in Athens on Jan. 25, thousands demonstrated against DU and NATO.

At a Jan. 23 meeting in Yugoslavia, President Vojislav Kostunica refused Hague Tribunal Judge Carla del Ponte’s arrogant demands that he turn Slobodan Milosevic over for a war-crimes trial. Instead, Kostunica asked Del Ponte to bring war-crimes charges against NATO for using DU in Yugoslavia.

Organizing efforts against DU are continuing in Italy, Spain and Belgium. A three-day conference is scheduled in Brussels, Belgium, beginning March 1.

The leading organizers in these countries--like those in Greece and Portugal--have not limited their demands to moratoriums or bans on DU use. Rather they have again raised the issue of the legitimacy of NATO’s war on Yugoslavia. They have attacked plans to militarize Europe. And they have hit their own governments' complicity with NATO and the Pentagon.

In Britain, reporters for the daily newspaper the Independent have been writing about the DU issue regularly. While NATO and British officials have tried to deny DU’s dangers, these journalists have continued to find and publish answers that expose these official lies. In France, too, the media have published much about the dangers of DU.

The latest revelation is that some of the DU ammunition used in both Iraq and Yugoslavia was contaminated with other heavy metals—including the very poisonous plutonium. The presence of plutonium could account for the leukemia cases that developed in such a short time; such a development would be unlikely simply as a result of uranium exposure.

In Germany, there have been no mass protests yet. But the Schroeder regime has been on the defensive about the dangers to German soldiers.

Defense Minister Rudolph Sharping has sharply criticized the United States for allegedly failing to keep its allies informed of DU use. At the same time he has minimized DU’s dangers.

Until Jan. 29, the U.S. government had kept the lid on the DU story inside this country. Until then, the DU coverage had mainly been reported here as a European panic that had no basis in fact. But on Jan. 29, the New York Times ran a story giving some weight to anti-DU scientist Dr. Asaf Durakovic’s argument that DU is dangerous when inside the human body.

The International Action Center published a paper by Dr. Durakovic in the second edition of that group’s comprehensive book about depleted uranium, “Metal of Dishonor.” [available at]

How to wage the struggle against DU

DU is a real threat to the environment, to the population of Iraq and Yugoslavia, and to NATO occupation troops. But the political struggle against DU weapons goes beyond these dangers.

It also involves popular disillusionment with NATO’s aggression against Yugoslavia, rivalry and competition among the European NATO countries and U.S. imperialism, and mass organizing by anti-war and anti-imperialist forces.

The strongest opposition has arisen in Greece and Portugal. These are the least affluent of the NATO and European Union member countries. They also have the most influential working-class parties still oriented toward struggling for socialism.

It is instructive to see what the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) and the Portuguese Communist Party (PCP) have said about the fight against DU.

At a Jan. 10 news conference, KKE General Secretary Aleka Papariga said the problem of DU is not limited to leukemia. “Honest scientists who aren’t servants of NATO and the EU” say that “the immune system is weakened and the human body is exposed to all kinds of illnesses and infections,” Papariga said.

She added that “the KKE is already undertaking initiatives in mobilizing the people as well as coordinating the people’s action and the resistance forces at a Balkan level and even broader.”

Papariga also noted that “the Balkans continue to ‘smell of gunpowder’" and that "the re-division among the leading imperialist powers has not finished.” She said, “The whole of the Balkan peninsula finds itself in the whirlwind of new confrontations and border disputes.”

She warned against limiting the anti-DU struggle, saying the KKE condemns “every devious attempt and propaganda aimed at driving home the view that a healthy war waged by imperialists is possible, provided some known dangerous weapons are banned.”

The next day mass anti-DU demonstrations took place in a half-dozen Greek cities. Soon Greek troops, who are volunteers, began demanding to leave Kosovo.

In Lisbon on Jan. 25, Rosa Rabiais of the Political Commission of the PCP spoke to the 2,000 demonstrators from numerous organizations, unions and movements who had joined the PCP’s call against DU.

Rabiais called for a broad movement of public opinion and popular intervention. She said this was necessary not only to stop DU but to “end the systematic violation of the United Nations Charter and international law as took place in the war against Yugoslavia” and to “end the militarizing of the European Union and start a process to dismantle NATO.”

Rabiais ended with a call to get Portugal out of the Balkans.

In both countries leading activists broadened the fight against DU to include solidarity with the Yugoslav and Iraqi victims, struggle against NATO and EU militarism, and condemnation of their own capitalist governments.


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