Thousands March in Geneva in Protest Against U.S. and Soviet Policies
Several thousand demonstrators, representing an odd mixture of leftist, pacifist, religious and nationalist organizations, marched through the downtown streets of Geneva on Saturday, heaping both scorn and demands on President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev.
In a peaceful protest staged several hours before President Reagan’s arrival in Geneva and three days before the opening of his summit conference with Gorbachev, they walked behind a huge banner that proclaimed, “Reagan-Gorbachev: The World Does Not Belong to You.”
Yet the placards and chants that followed made it clear that a wide variety of people of different political affiliations and different nationalities either blame the United States and the Soviet Union for their problems or insist that the two superpowers can solve them.
“Reagan Out of Central America. Gorbachev Out of Afghanistan,” said one banner. Nicaraguans and Chileans blamed the United States for their troubles; Poles blamed the Soviet Union for theirs. Eritreans called for the Ethiopians and Soviets to leave their province. Palestinians called for freedom for occupied Palestine. Kurds wanted their Kurdistan.
But the spectrum of demands did not stop there. Refugees cried for Indonesia to get out of Timor. Hare Krishnas danced with cymbals and drums, holding aloft signs that demanded, “Free the Soviet Hare Krishnas.”
Militants from the anti-nuclear movement carried aloft enormous papier-mache skull masks and walked slowly behind musicians playing an eerie dirge. Women held up a banner, “Feminists Against Militarization.”
A gay liberation group proclaimed disdainfully, “Heterosexuality Is Like a Mixture of Vodka and Cola.” A pacifist group, however, found that mixture of drinks pleasing. “Vodka-Cola, Yes,” its banner said. “SS-20s-Pershings, No"--a reference to the Soviet and U.S. intermediate-range nuclear missiles deployed in Europe.
Some demonstrators handed out leaflets on a local issue, the decision by the Swiss government to expel illegal immigrants to their native lands. “Switzerland welcomes the big people,” the leaflet said, “but it throws out the small.”
A majority of the marchers seemed more critical of Reagan than of Gorbachev, but there were enough barbs to trouble both. And a Maoist group, which holds the United States and the Soviet Union in equal disdain, hoisted a red banner with the scornful slogan, “Reagan Is the Last Cowboy, and Gorbachev is the New Czar.”
The groups were so disparate that, despite the overriding theme of peace, some demonstrators jostled and shouted at each other as they struggled for what they regarded as the most favored places in the march.
“Calm yourself! Calm yourself!” one parade official shouted at a group of anti-nuclear battlers.
The government of the canton, or state, of Geneva, extremely concerned about security, has refused to allow any demonstration during the summit conference itself and authorized this one so long as it stayed away from the residential areas and offices of the U.S. and Soviet delegations. The demonstrators marched along the main downtown streets on both sides of the lake that divides the city.
A police spokesman estimated that more than 5,000 demonstrators took part in the march. Geneva canton officials had feared earlier that the demonstration would attract even more than that. They were especially concerned about a huge influx of pacifist Greens Party demonstrators from West Germany.
Most of the organizations sponsoring the demonstration came from Switzerland, but they were joined, according to the organizers, by groups from West Germany, Italy, Spain, Austria, Belgium, France, Norway, Sweden and other countries.