Violence: Floods, Drones and Cops

There is almost too much to write about from Berlin! To start off, the uncanny disappearance of 1.5 million residents of Germany, missing since the last census over 20 years ago. Instead of 81.7 million people there are only 80.2 million (of whom 6.2 million, or 7.7 percent, were not German citizens). You may ask “Who cares?” One answer: hard-hit Berlin, where 400,000 are unaccounted for, and which will now lose millions of euros in subsidies from the European Union and richer German states.

Then there are those deadly killing machines, the drones, which Obama is trying so hard to justify. Germany’s Thomas de Maiziere is in a worse bind: his Defense Department wasted $ 650,000,000 dollars on Northrop Grumman’s Global Hawk drone, renaming it the Euro Hawk. It may soon be called the Euro Vulture, since his project is a cadaver: his drones, lacking an anti-collision system, are officially banned in Europe, and unless Herr Minister can do some skillful maneuvering, Merkel may have to drop him from her cabinet – just a few months before the big election. Of course, Northrup Grumman will hardly drop from its double digit billion domain, nor will Germany’s arms ranking greatly suffer; it remains the world’s third biggest weapons exporter. And the use of smaller, unarmed, low-flying drones has also been suggested for the war against scofflaw graffiti artists.

Another item might interest amateur or pro historians. Germany’s Social Democratic Party, on the eve of its festive sesquicentennial celebration in Leipzig (150 years), announced a new international “Progressive Alliance” to compete (and perhaps replace) the Socialist International, which was constituted in 1951, largely to “fight the menace of Communism”. It once made headlines with leaders like Willy Brandt and Olaf Palme, but also with Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and similar “socialist” members. Although the fifty parties forming the new organization are not officially quitting, the old Socialist International will hardly make many headlines in future. Will the new Alliance? Founded in Leipzig’s historic City Bathhouse, its political temperature could remain lukewarm; it will include the British Labour Party and – just imagine – the fiery Democratic Party of the USA, with Howard Dean a main speaker and Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin in the new leadership. As yet I have heard neither sobs at the collapse of the one nor hurrahs at the birth of the other. But who can tell?

The dominant news in Germany is about the terrible floods filling many urban areas with filthy water and leaving sticky sludge, mud, destruction and a loss of many millions to those lining the flooded Danube, Elbe and their tributaries in the south and east. Many, with no insurance, are ruined by these worst foods in a century, in four centuries in some cases. The debates continue; is the main culprit the human-caused climate change or over-farming and construction in riverside areas which once, harmlessly, drew excess water out of the raging rivers? Or both?

But I must finally turn to my main subject, though it was largely submerged in the press by the floods.

The dozen or so towers and skyscrapers of Frankfurt on the Main are too tall to worry about inundations of a watery kind; owned by banks, they hope for fluidity of a financial nature. Both the locals, like the Deutsche Bank, or foreigners like JP Morgan and Bank of America, are mostly well protected in that connection. But on Saturday the European Central Bank, one of the very biggest, forty stories high, suddenly feared a siege!

But although this attack was certainly angry enough, it was completely non-violent. It was the newest action of the Blockupy Movement, a European offspring of Occupy Wall Street, and it was protesting the entire austerity policy of the so-called Troika, the new dictators of Europe, forcing millions in Greece, Spain, Cyprus and Portugal to endure brutal poverty measures, an economic flood which hurts people in all countries while the euros pile up in those big towers. The troika consists of the Commission of the European Union, the International Monetary Fund and, last but not least, the European Central Bank, which is in Frankfurt – and now was forced to face its foes.

On Saturday, June 1st, up to 20,000 people, many from other countries, marched through the banking district – sort of like Wall Street. They even had court permission to march a definite route – and they kept to the agreement. The police, unfortunately, did not.

He march started at noon but had hardly gone 300 yards in the first twenty minutes when the police stopped it, separating and surrounding the first group of 1000 people, whom they decided was a “black block”, although a large number were wearing t-shirts and apparel of all different colors.

“Halt,” the police said, “You are violating the law by wearing masks!” What did the “masks” consist of? Sun glasses and umbrellas! They agreed to give them up, but the police insisted on frisking and registering every one of those blocked off. This the spokespersons of the group rejected. Then the police demanded that the rest of the marchers leave them and take a different route. They refused to leave the first group in the lurch – and alter a route formally approved in a court decision. The bargaining dragged on for two hours, with those in the first group still surrounded, unable to leave.

Suddenly the police moved in. Using the alleged explosion of three firecrackers (“Bengal fireworks”) as an excuse, they charged in between the two groups, heavily armed as any battalion in Afghanistan with helmets, visors, special bully clubs with handles (so-called “tonfas”) and the especially nasty quartz sand leather gloves. And pepper gas by the gallon, to be used as often and as close as possible. Here is how one participant described what followed.

“They made no distinction, beating young and old alike. I was lucky and got only a little of the pepper spray. I saw a kick with a military boot aimed at me but could not escape it – and felt the footprint hard on my right thigh through my clothing. I was beaten on my nose and chest.

“The women with me were torn from my side. Later they reported the same violence (although one young policeman cried and stammered, ‘That’s not right, those are elderly people.’ Another young policeman saved my wife Christine by pushing her behind himself, thus saving her from the gas and the beatings by his wildly violent male and female colleagues.
“I pushed my way out of the gas clouds and the orgy of violence to the side of the street – and by a miracle found the women again, also hit by the tonfas and the gas… We pushed on to the green street edge, where the wounded had dragged themselves or been helped. Young and old. With bright red faces, swollen eyes, coughing fits, uncontrolled spastic motions, trembling from head to foot. My limp, the bruises of the women I was with and our only slightly irritated eyes seemed trifles compared to what we were witnessing…for a stretch of 150 meters the demonstration had been cut off so no-one could get through…For thousands it was impossible to get to the transportable toilets or get food or water…
“Some protesters pulled the victims further back between the water cannon and police forces to where some doctors and medical helpers in the group did what they could to alleviate the pain of their wounds and burning eyes…

“And then, without warning, came another attack. Behind us the continuing beatings by the police forces at the head of our column, on the other side the clouds of gas into the locked-in group. At our feet those already wounded. The dividing railings were opened about 5 meters for them to make another frontal attack on those of us seeking vainly to escape…
“I’ll pound your head to a pulp,” whispered one of the cops not far from me when he raised his tonfa stick…” (As reported by Axel Köhler-Schnura, a 64-year-old leftist economist).
People had their arms twisted, their heads bent back or twisted, in some cases mouths and noses held shut until they fainted. Kicks and blows were the rule. This lasted from 2 PM to 8 PM; not even the intervention of two Bundestag deputies of the LEFT party or the credentials of journalists impressed the cops. It was late in the evening before the last demonstrators were permitted to leave – after having their identities registered.

Most remarkably, perhaps: despite over a hundred casualties the Blockupy people refused to be provoked while refusing to abandon the first group which was hit the hardest. Thus the obvious aim of the police to make it easy for the media, as so often, to pin the whole event on a radical, violent “black block” of wild anarchists, just didn’t work this time. There were no provocations at all; perhaps even the usual police provocateurs found it impossible to do the job expected of them.
This Blockupy protest was supported by forty organizations, most actively the anti-banker group Attaq, the Ver-di union, second largest and most militant federation in Germany (city and state employees, hospital, postal and garbage units, also cultural professional groups like music teachers and writers), and the LINKE (Left) party. At least two of its Bundestag deputies, including the co-chairperson of the party, Katja Kipping, were in the middle of the event.

In the days that followed, a Frankfurt leader of the right-wing CDU attacked the Greens and the Social Democrats: „Are they also part of the black block of the enemies of democracy or with us on the side of a just state?” He even accused the Greens of returning to their old stone-throwing beginnings of the 1970’s. But this was just election year play-acting since banners or flags of the SPD or Greens were visible on Saturday. And while later in the week both SPD and Greens loudly demanded an investigation of events, the situation is especially complicated for the Greens since they are partners with the CDU in Frankfurt’s city government. And while criticizing the police brutality, the Green leaders quickly added that what happened need not endanger their coalition.

A dramatic aspect of the Blockupy event was that, at almost the same time, police with similar weapons were violently attacking protesters in Istanbul, Ankara and many other cities in Turkey. The past year has seen militant actions in Greece, in Portugal, in Spain and Cyprus. Germans, though also hit by the economic crisis, have been far better off than those in the southern countries, and have been less active and less militant. Those in power in Germany, in office like Angela Merkel or in those skyscrapers like the heads of the big banks, would like to keep it that way – and frighten off any protests like those in Frankfurt. They have shown that they can get as tough as the cops in Istanbul.