In the weeks and months preceding the recent G8 summit held near Rostock on the Baltic coast, the German authorities made intensive preparations aimed at minimising the scale of protests. They built a fence stretching kilometres and attempted to intimidate potential protesters. But in defiance of these measures, tens of thousands came to demonstrate against the G8 and blockade the summit.
The barrage of official propaganda was unleashed long before the summit began with opponents being systematically presented in the media as violent troublemakers. This was intended to persuade the German public that forceful police tactics against protestors were needed. But shortly before the summit, when police decided to take advantage of the tense atmosphere to search the homes of a few left activists who had long been on their list of suspects, there was a change in the public's mood. And so, initially at least, the attempt by the authorities to win support for tough measures against anti-G8 demonstrators failed due to police heavy-handedness.
The Demonstration on Saturday 2 June
But pictures from the large demonstration on Saturday 2 June were just what was needed to put the propaganda train back on track. By intentionally provoking the anarchist groups who had turned out in large numbers, the police were able to get the photos they needed to justify their brutal tactics of the following days.
The Saturday demonstration was noisy and large but it was not aggressive. The 80, 000 participants - many from the trade unions and the new Left Party in Germany, but also from a wide range of other left organisations and the youth - made it clear that the G8 is not welcome in Germany. Many of the demonstrators actively helped to de-escalate the situation by sitting down to form blockades against the deployment of water cannons or approaching the lines of riot police with their empty hands in the air. In such ways protesters were able to prevent further police aggression on that day.
These events, and especially the way in which they were reported in the mass media, swung public opinion back behind the police. All of this acted to discourage especially those who were planning to take part in various smaller protests and blockades. In the protest camps the use of violence by demonstrators was discussed and this led to some disorientation among the leaders and participants of the blockades.
The following days were characterised by police repression. There was a massive police presence all around the camps and particularly in the centre of Rostock. Many protesters were stopped and searched, or expelled from protest areas, others were detained or arrested. Police repeatedly made it difficult or even impossible for volunteer legal teams and paramedics to gain access to protestors.
In many places demonstrators were surrounded and then attacked by water cannons. At one of the demonstrations on Monday, police demanded that protesters take off all sunglasses, caps, sweaters with hoods, and neck scarves. This led to a very active "naked block" being formed at subsequent demonstrations!
The Camp in Rostock
An important part of the life of the demonstrators was the protest camps. The camp in Rostock was simply a field, which suddenly found itself occupied by 8,000 people who formed a more or less self-sufficient community. A field kitchen was besieged daily by hungry protesters, the camp had its own security guards called Rabbitz, and there were even open-air showers. There were also circus tents for events and meetings, and an almost unending line of portable toilets.
The camps were divided into districts, called Barrios, run by different groups. I was involved in the Barrio called "June Revolt". This was co-run by three German youth organisations including the new Left Party‘s youth organisation called Linksjugend ['solid]. Every day we had Barrio meetings where tasks were allocated, ideas discussed and up-coming events announced.
After the first two days, which were a bit chaotic, our camp began to get organised, although some things could have been done better. There was always someone to fill up the water bottles for washing hands in front of the toilets, or to wash up in the field kitchen, but many of the camp and Barrio organisers rarely saw the inside of their sleeping bags.
Not many photos or reports are available from the camps because for the most part there was a ban on photographing and filming.
Early in the morning on Wednesday 6 June, the first day of the G8 Summit, most of us left the camps in order to go and blockade the summit. This act of civil disobedience was prepared and supported by a broad alliance including Attac, environmental organisations, left groups and many others. Between 8, 000 and 10, 000 people were involved in the blockades. The police were completely caught by surprise by this mass action. The roads to Heiligendamm were occupied and therefore blocked from Wednesday to Friday morning. The only tactics that the police could come up with were to use water cannons, batons, pepper spray and tear-gas to injure at least a few protesters.
The photos that then circulated in the media of individual demonstrators in the fields and of people sleeping on the roads once again turned public opinion onto the side of the protesters. False reports from the police and their agents provocateurs could not stop this.
The frustration of the police in the face of the determination of the protesters at the blockades was expressed in their blitz raid on the Rostock camp that was later described by a police spokesperson as an "inspection". On Wednesday evening, a police helicopter equipped with a camera suddenly flew over the camp at an unusually low altitude, a number of police vehicles arrived with their sirens on, police in riot-gear got out and marched into the camp. Despite vigorous protests by the camp leadership, the camp was surrounded and police threatened to conduct a search. However, they withdrew when they realised that the people at the camp were not intimidated but instead phoned protesters at the blockades to say that the blockades should be continued despite the raid.
We have to admit that in spite of the excellent efforts put into the successful mass blockades and the various other protest actions, the G8 Summit was able to go ahead with little difficulty. To a large extent this is due to the fact that the blockades in effect had little support from the trade unions that would have been able to mobilise many more people. In addition, larger protests in the big cities of Germany would have given more strength to the message "You are not welcome here".
The Importance of the Unions and the labour movement
Broad protest movements against G8 Summits, the World Bank, or the other ruling institutions of worldwide capitalism and imperialism are important and must be supported. The experience in the camps around Heiligendamm has radicalised many youngsters. But it will take more than just the usual left groups to effectively oppose these institutions and bring about another world. To achieve this goal, left-wing youth movements need to close ranks with the mass of the working class because only the working class has the potential for a revolutionary transformation of society. The most advanced layers of the working class are to be found within the trade unions, struggling against the neo-liberal attacks of the capitalists. All those youth who sacrificed a week to protest against the G8 summit should now link up with the most advanced workers in the workplaces and unions for a common struggle against the bosses` onslaught, neo-liberalism, and capitalism.