Europe: European Union – “Don’t mention the war!”

The Swedish Social Democratic government is now attempting to lead the protest against the war in order to derail it. Instead of criticising the actual war in Iraq, however, they concentrate most of their comments on post-war Iraq and on restoring the role of the UN. This position of "Don’t mention the war!" is also the position of the European Union.

The European Union leaders met in Brussels on Day X (20 March) when the war had just started. "The entire room was cold", said one diplomat quoted In the New York Times. "It was one of the coldest opening this house has ever seen". The EU Commission president, Romano Prodi, stated that the meeting took place in a "bad time" for the EU, as well as for the UN, NATO and trans-Atlantic relations.

The position of the EU leaders was to avoid any of the sharp debates preceding the war. "It is not constructive to go over the old debates", commented the Swedish Prime Minister, Göran Persson. After Chirac and Schröder had called the war "unjustified" and Blair countered that it was "unavoidable", the meeting closed the discussion on the war. Most of the meeting went on to discuss ’economic reform’.

The leaders agreed on a statement which accepted the war, in which they expressed the wish that: "The war will be brief and will not cause too many casualties and there will be as little turmoil as possible as a result". On that day, George W Bush would not have said it differently. A ’clean’, quick victory with no ’turmoil’ in the south or the Kurdish north, was the aim of the invading troops.

Like Bush, the EU leaders then went on to attempt to Interpret their own wishes as facts. The statement concentrated on ’humanitarian issues’ and stressed that the UN should have a strong mandate in Iraq after the war. The last point was obviously an attempt to counter-balance the Influence of the US. At the same time, their own weakness does not give them much hope of grabbing any of the oil or Influence in Iraq after the war.

With much tougher resistance from Iraqi troops than the EU leaders in the spirit of Rumsfeld, expected, the position of hoping for "few casualties" and a "brief war" becomes a hopeless position. Pressure will again increase on governments in Europe to raise criticism against the war itself. But that kind of criticism will be raised by national governments, since within the EU, such issues will only lead to a deadlock and increase the bitterness of the present crisis.


In Sweden, Prime Minister Persson in December said that "a short war" could be positive for both the world economy and in democratising the Middle East. In January, he "could not understand" the position of Gerhard Schröder. As late as in February, Foreign Minister Anna Lindh claimed that the anti-war demos could "play into the hands of Saddam".

The anti-war movement has completely taken the Social Democratic leaders by surprise. One hundred thousand demonstrated in Stockholm on 15 February, compared to 3,000 in the biggest anti-war demos both in 1991 and against the Afghanistan war in 2001. In 1991, 50 school students attended the protest in Stockholm on Day X at the start of the first Gulf war while this year 10,000 have come out on strike twice within two weeks.

This mass public opinion has put enormous pressure on the government and caused a change in emphasis. This started with Anna Lindh saying that Sweden would vote ’No’ in the Security Council against the last US-British resolution. And when the war started, both the party secretary, Lars Stjernqvist, and several ministers spoke at demos against the war.

In 1968, the Swedish minister Olof Palme (later PM) marched with the North Vietnamese ambassador against the Vietnam War. This time, PM Göran Persson, did not exclude marching against the war, if the demo slogans were "Defend international law, strengthen the UN and disarm Iraq". On the slogan "Stop the bombing war and the US assault on Iraq", he answered: "I doubt that anyone would call for a demonstration with such a narrow position. This is primarily about disarming Iraq, not about the US".

So the day the bombing started, the Swedish PM wanted to march for the disarming of Iraq! And he, showing how out of touch he was, did not believe anyone would use the slogans which actually mobilised millions on Day X.

The talk about "strengthening the UN" contains no concrete proposals at all. Everyone knows that every debate within the UN would just reproduce the situation of the last months. The UN would be set aside, maybe used later for distributing food. The issues of conflict are not caused by the procedure of the UN, but by the different interests of the ruling classes of different states.

The only possible counter-weight to the US is the power of the mass protests and particularly the working class. But a genuine mass protest movement, organised in workplaces and schools, organising strikes, actions and civil disobedience is what the Social Democratic leadership fear most of all.

They are only using the anti-war movement for their own interests. No rank and file Social Democratic members are being mobilised for the anti-war demonstrations, only government ministers speak from the platforms. The Immigration Minister, Jan O Karlsson, spoke abstractly about "Creating a world in which international law is respected". How would this world differ from today’s? How will it be established? Who will rule it? The answer is that behind the rhetoric is hidden the same old capitalist world as today. The struggle for a new world is a struggle against capitalism and imperialism, a struggle in which the social democratic leadership has no interest.

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March 2003