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No G8: Heiligendamm Report Back
This year’s meeting of the Group of 8 (G8, the 7 richest nations in the world: Great Britain, United States, Germany, France, Japan, Italy, and Canada, plus Russia) was held in the resort of Heiligendamm, Germany from June 6-8. At the meeting, the 13 percent of the world’s population was “represented” to decide policies that will have tremendous effects on the other 87 percent of the world.
In response, tens of thousands of demonstrators arrived in the area in an effort to shut down the summit. The reasons for such a confrontation include the G8’s policies on aid to Africa, the propagation of neoliberal economic globalization, the neglect of the fight against AIDS, the inherent and rabidly undemocratic nature of the G8 itself, among many others. Repression On May 9, state repression of anti-G8 organizing exploded with the raid of 40 sites including private homes, social centers, and the alternative web provider SO36.net. Police searched the sites of what were to be convergence centers in Hamburg and Berlin to stop leftist groups from allegedly forming “terrorist groups.” However, after the police admitted they had made no arrests and found absolutely no evidence of a terrorist plot or any illicit materials, it became quite obvious that the real reason behind the raids was simply to smash the infrastructure that had formed to counter the G8 summit. But the plans of the German police failed as, following the raids, thousands spontaneously took to the streets in cities across Germany to denounce the raids and public support for the G8 opposition grew tremendously. Around the actual site of the summit in Heiligendamm, a 12 km security fence was built at a cost of $17 million in order to protect the grounds from protests, and a no-go zone was created to keep people from getting anywhere near the fence. In May, the Kavala (special police) banned most of the planned permitted demonstrations. After lawsuits were filed for reasons of unconstitutionality, many were then re-permit- ted, only to be banned once again days before the G8 began. Another measure the German state took to repress the anti-G8 movement was the use of travel bans and the closure of relatively open borders within the European Union. This same tactic was used to defend the G8 in Genoa in 2001, where activists were turned away at the French border and prevented from entering Italy. This power that was granted under a supposed “State of Emergency” was, in actuality, used less than many people thought it would be. But there is one case worth mentioning in which a group of Polish anarchists were stopped on a train while attempting to enter Germany. The group was told that if they entered the country they would be immediately arrested, and in response they occupied their train car, hanging banners out the windows, and were soon joined by five Germans. After hours of threats, the group left the train when the German border patrol said that an anti-terror unit would board the car if they remained. Hamburg and the ASEM Conference The international demonstrations began on May 28 in Hamburg, the first day of the 7th Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM). ASEM is an inter-regional forum consisting of the European Commission and the 27 members of the EU and the 14 members of the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Plus Three regional grouping. The “Three Pillars” of the ASEM conference are political dialogue, security and economy, and education and culture. At least 5,000 people—several thousand in the black bloc alone—marched from the St. Pauli neighborhood of Hamburg. The original route of the march was changed last minute by the police, despite the demonstration organizers having secured proper permits. Thousands of riot police (almost outnumbering protesters) lined the march, completely surrounding it, and numerous police vans, water cannons, and armored tank-like vehicles used for clearing barricades, followed closely behind. The spirit was lively as the black bloc led the march through the city streets, followed by a diverse crowd of marching bands, dancers, and various leftist groups and parties. As the march neared its destination—the Hamburg city hall where the conference was taking place—riot police cut off the demonstration. Some of the black bloc ended up on the other side of the police line and watched quietly while riot cops kept back the rest of the march. Soon scuffles broke out between demonstrators and riot police, as the latter began to forcibly end the march. From that the situation escalated until a small riot broke out. Bottles were thrown at police vans and riot units, and snatch squads chased after small groups of black-clad protesters. A molotov cocktail streaked through the sky but missed its target of a police van below. Fireworks were popping off from all directions. And water cannons soon raced through the streets, blasting away as the crowd dispersed. Close by, other groups from the black bloc had successfully made their way to the city hall, and small street battles began with the police at the security fence. At one point a riot cop—who had taken off his helmet and armor — was caught alone outside his van as the riots drew close. And in a moment reminiscent of Genoa and the death of Carlo Giuliani, the officer drew his gun. But just as he raised his gun in the air, the back window of his van exploded from behind him by some flying object, and he retreated to cover. The police eventually withdrew, after taking 86 prisoners throughout the day. Back at Rote Flora—the huge squatted theater serving as a social center and convergence point for the G8 demonstrations—there was an excited atmosphere as the militant march had largely been able to hold its ground against the repressive police measures, and people anxiously discussed their journeys to Rostock, where the anti-G8 movement would be based. Rostock Convergence Center Many months before anybody came to Rostock for the G8, German activists moved there in order to prepare the necessary infrastructure needed to oppose such a summit. Rostock lies roughly 30 km from Heiligendamm and served as the main point from which the protests were to be centered. Amazingly, the city (slightly disgruntled at the enormous costs of having such a summit nearby) donated a school building for use as a convergence center. The Elm-Welk School was a four-story building with three wings, covered ground to roof in revolutionary murals, banners, and graffiti. It housed a large Indymedia Center, equipped with computers and video editing stations, as well as a radio broadcasting over three continents. There were also two press groups operating, sending press releases to thousands of media outlets in over 35 countries. There were numerous rooms were set aside for sleeping, a large kitchen, a bar, a cafe, art room, and outdoor bike workshop, among other facilities. Despite threats of Nazi attacks and police raids, the convergence center func- tioned throughout the summit and was a valuable asset for the demonstrations. Many times a tense atmosphere hung over the school during periods where police or Nazi raids seemed a serious risk. Only on June 7 was there any serious confrontation, however. A large group of local Nazis, numbering from 50-70, gathered at the Convergence Center. Soon, organized anti-fascist groups from the surrounding camps arrived at the school to form a counter-presence. Police then arrived, surrounded the Nazi group, and acted as a buffer. Despite pledging not to raid the school, the police did set up a checkpoint for anyone entering or leaving the building and conducted mandatory searches, allegedly looking for “weapons.” June 2nd- Make Capitalism History: The Riots in Rostock June 2 marked the first day of action against the G8 with the Make Capitalism History march bringing together a very diverse crowd of tens of thousands from NGOs, trade unions, Communist groups, various leftist organizations, a 5,000-person black bloc, and 13,000 German police. The riot police attempting to control the demonstrations were pelted with bottles and rocks as cobble stones were torn up from the street for additional ammo. Cars were flipped and one set alight for use as barricades, as well as dumpsters and other objects. One police van was destroyed after being caught on the wrong side of the street fighting. Police used pepper spray to keep back anyone who got too close, including nonviolent activists and even the large numbers of press present with video and still cameras. As things progressed, they used water canons and tear gas. By the end of the day, over 125 protesters had been arrested in Rostock, and according mainstream press accounts over 500 injured—433 of them police officers. This last figure is widely believed to be extremely exaggerated by police and media. But it is certain that many more injuries than reported were sustained by demonstrators, as they were typically treated by the medical collectives who do not cooperate with the authorities, or simply not treated at all. It is also fairly safe to assume that the protesters’ injuries were far more serious than those of the police for lack of protective armor and helmets, and weapons to inflict damage. June 6th On the morning of June 6, people began to leave the camps to head toward different blockade points as part of the coordinated Block G8 effort. Police attempted to stop the different convergences, but it proved impossible as protesters dispersed throughout the fields. By the time the first main group reached the no-go zone they numbered 5,000. Police helicopters hovered overhead but generally did not engage the demonstrators below. Surprisingly, police harassment was not as severe as was expected. They searched some buses and detained others, but the massive repression that had been expected never came to fruition. Later, however, as about 2,000 people trekked through fields towards the security fences, police chased them with water cannons and tear gas. Helicopters occasionally landed teams of riot units to control the demonstrations, but overall, direct confrontations were rare. By afternoon, the blockades were deemed to generally be a success as over 10,000 people participated. Five thousand blocked Gate 2 alone after skirting police lines, and most of the roads into Heiligendamm were blocked either by protesters or police. Around 2:30pm about 500 participated in dismantling part of a NATO-constructed security fence. Riot police crushed several of the smaller autonomous blockades later in the afternoon, brutally arresting dozens. Police officially cleared the West Gate at 5pm after a snatch squad had encircled a group of clowns. The large blockade at Gate 2, however, was still present by nightfall at around 9pm. The group numbered around 1,000 decided to stay overnight. By this time around 200 people had been arrested during the day, about 60 of which happened in a parking lot near the Rostock-Laage airport. June 7th At 9:30am, a group of 2,000 began their walk north towards the fence. Meanwhile the blockade at Gate 2 was still active. Supporters arrived with food and supplies early in the morning. The police presence was strong but at around 11am twenty police vans and a tank left the gate—presumably to head towards the abandoned Gate 1 where the march from Reddelich was expected to arrive. Around noon water cannons arrived at Gate 1 just in time to meet the Reddelich march as they emerged from the woods and scattered into the fields. About 200 protesters were at the gate and surrounded by police as they gave the first order to disperse. By 1pm almost 3,000 people were present at Gate 1. The police attempted to push two groups together in order to clear the road. Scuffles broke out as police used water cannons, tear gas, and batons to push the crowd and the demonstrators pushed back using banners to try regaining the road. Thousands of protesters spread themselves out along the fence throughout the afternoon in an effort to disperse police. The cops were unable to control the entire crowd due to the area covered and so were unable to forcibly disperse the demonstrators. Meanwhile, at Gate 2, water cannons stood by as the blockade continued. Cars with G8 delegates were delayed extensively and some eventually had to turn back. At around 5:30pm, water cannons dispersed the crowd. The same began at Gate 1 where police violently attacked the blockade with water cannons and batons. Several injuries were reported, one of which was extremely serious and the street medics asked for help from the police medics to transport the victim to the hospital. Throughout the night, police attacked protesters with water cannons as they tried to hold the blockades. By midnight five people were injured badly enough to be hospitalized, mostly as a result of the water cannons. As the night became morning, the blockades were completely cleared by police. Conclusion The blockades seemed to have been the most effective aspect of the week, which was surprising for many who had opted out of participating in favor of conducting more militant actions that never really manifested. It will no doubt be used by strict pacifists as an example of successful nonviolent direct action. But it is important to look at the diversity of tactics and how they compliment each other. During the 1999 anti-WTO protests in Seattle, the small black bloc was generally thought of as a success by the more confrontational wing of the radical movement, and that was possible because the massive nonviolent blockades detracted most of the police attention. Here the situation was exactly the opposite. The massive nonviolent blockades were largely successful because of autonomous blockades and the employment of more confrontational tactics that took police presence away from the main gates. But time will tell how these events are analyzed and lessons are learned. All in all, over 700 people were arrested during the protests against the G8 summit. Many had already faced their “fast-track” trials by the time the conference ended and had been sentenced to long prison terms—up to ten months without probation in a number of cases—for crimes such as throwing rocks at the police. The repression against the anti-G8 movement was extreme to say the least, and will most likely continue for a long while following the conference. As this summit has drawn to a close we must remember to take the fight back home and keep up the militancy generally exhibited in the streets and camps surrounding Heiligendamm. What we saw in Germany was a week of intense action, but what we didn’t see was the massive organizing effort and sustained resistance to repression that made the counter actions possible. We must always be working against the G8 and the system they represent.
More info on the actions in Germany:
Indymedia Germany (in English)
Dissent Network UK
Dissent Network Germany (in English)
From Fault Lines #21