The Blockade of Heiligendamm
“God knows what’s happening here! There are water cannon, there’s tear gas, police, tanks!”
This was a phone call from Rostock. In the voice of the person with whom I was talking, a recent graduate of the Free University of Berlin, there was not so much fear as amazement, mixed with pride; this is what it’s come to, we’re in the very centre of world events.
I felt a slight twinge of regret; the journalist in me was awakening. Here I was sitting in Berlin at a seminar with intellectuals, discussing the prospects for democracy and the future of social movements, and I was missing the most interesting things of all! That evening, the television showed skirmishes on the streets of Rostock. True, the reporting was very brief and restrained. The situation was starting to become clearer.
The demonstration timed to coincide with the opening of the G8 summit in Germany had been projected to be massive and peaceful. Left-wing sources put the attendance at around 80,000 people, from almost every corner of Europe. Everyone knew in advance that clashes could occur, but both sides, activists and police alike, hoped that everything would pass off smoothly. Rostock is the capital of the German province of Mecklenburg-Pomerania, where power is held by a coalition government headed by the social democrats, and in which the Left Party (Linkspartei) was until recently a participant. The local police had been instructed to show restraint, and the demonstrators had not wanted to embarrass a friendly administration. The federal police, it is true, were taking a much more decisive line, so that there were obvious disagreements among the authorities. The organising committee for the Rostock protests had successfully exploited this situation, constantly criticising the ruling groups and forcing them to justify themselves. “For the first time in many years we are on the ideological offensive,” explained Peter Wahl, one of the committee’s leaders. “Now the press is publishing our point of view, and the government is losing the debate. We’ve won ourselves a tribune!”
Unfortunately, these subtleties were completely lost on the anarchists of the “Black Bloc”, significant numbers of whom had come from different countries, including Greece, Italy and Poland. The “autonomists”, or as they are called here, the “chaotics”, were employing their usual tactics. Emerging from behind the backs of the demonstrators, they pelted the police with stones, and then dispersed among the protesters. The police responded with tear gas and water cannon, often attacking completely peaceful columns. The left activists tried to reason with the “chaotics”, but this was impossible, especially since the police, now taking their first casualties, were also beginning to turn savage. The “chaotics” started building barricades, and Molotov cocktails began exploding, while the police brought their more specialised equipment into play. Both sides called their reserves into action. The “chaotics” threw more than two and a half thousand fighters onto the streets, and the police mobilized ten thousand. The battles continued until the evening.
The size of the “black bloc” was a surprise both to the authorities and to the organisers of the demonstration. Rapidly growing numbers of young people are showing a readiness to defend their antisystemic views with the help of force. In Seattle and Prague the notorious “black bloc”, whose members engaged in battles with police and smashed shop windows, consisted of only a few hundred people. In Rostock there were already thousands, of both sexes and mostly very young. The increasing strength of the “black bloc” represents a response not only to capitalism and to governments which do not inspire the slightest trust in the new generation, but also to more moderate leftists who over the past decade have achieved nothing or almost nothing.
There were, of course, no tanks in Rostock, only police armoured vehicles, though these looked quite threatening enough. It is not surprising that the woman who phoned me had got mixed up. She had been trained in sociology, not urban warfare.
A small group of Russian activists who were taking part in the demonstration managed to extract themselves unharmed from the first clashes. Some of these people had already been in Athens at the European Social Forum, where the “autonomists” had placed the demonstrators in a difficult position by using the same tactics. Now, seeing the people in black masks and detecting the smell of tear gas, the Russians judged the situation correctly, and decided to stay a little further from the epicentre of the conflict. If the German press can be believed, a number of Russians had managed to get themselves arrested in Rostock several days before the demonstration; they had walked along the main street and frightened the burgers by singing the Internationale. They had evidently drunk too much beer with the British Trotskyists.
On the evening of June 3, the first arrest was reported of a Russian participant in the demonstration. According to the police, he had joined the “chaotics” in throwing stones. The “chaotics”, however, had concealed their faces with masks and handkerchiefs, while our compatriot had cheerfully displayed his physiognomy to several dozen video and still cameras.
I personally reached Rostock only on the evening of June 3. Properly speaking, this was the right time to arrive, since the opening of the summit still lay ahead. The northward-bound train was half-empty, though the carriages contained unusual numbers of young people with rucksacks, quietly reading radical left pamphlets. Most had not been organised by anyone; they had simply put their affairs to one side for a few days and were making the trip to Mecklenburg in order to express their opinions of the world’s leaders.
At the station, people were already waiting for the train. Several young women met the arriving activists and gave them information about where they could stay and where they should go. Meanwhile, a squad of paramilitary police moved onto the platform. It was as if they had been specially selected – tall and blond, true Aryans. Among the police were a few women, just as tall and strapping as the men. The police stood around for a while with a bored air, then blocked the way of one of the detachments of young people. For three minutes both groups eyed one another silently. Then, without a word, the police began checking the young people’s rucksacks. The owners did not protest.
On the square outside the station I found fifteen or so unkempt-looking punks, who were clearly preparing to camp there for the night. Standing next to them was Vasily Tereshchuk, an assistant to the Ukrainian human rights commissioner. The punks amiably and politely explained to us how to get to the hotel. Then one of them suddenly asked whether I had a return ticket to Berlin. “Did you by any chance come on the weekend fare? You can go back tonight on it. I’d like to go to Berlin, I want to take a break.” He was clearly longing for a hot bath.
Music could be heard coming from the city port, and several thousand young people were bobbing up and down in time to a song whose words were quite impossible to make out. Above the crowd were the flags of the Left Party, of the social democratic youth (Jusos), and the young greens. A little further on, the Trotskyists were selling their literature. Several sailing chips were at their moorings, their masts adorned with placards denouncing the hypocrisy of the G8. The largest (but also the most puzzling) belonged to Greenpeace, and demanded: “G8 – Stop Talking, Act Now!” The reference was evidently to the promise by world leaders to put an end to poverty.
The city was festooned with revolutionary posters and graffiti in the most unlikely places, and next to them was an advertisement inviting people to visit the “Special G8 Casino”. The slogan of this establishment was “No risk, no fun”. In other words, if you don’t take risks, you don’t get to drink champagne.
The concert drew to a close, and a column of police cars drove to the outskirts of the city as the guardians of law and order, wearied by their difficult and dangerous service, went off to take a rest. A good many also remained in the port, but they were no longer in a workday mood. Evidently mobilised from other cities, the police photographed the waterfront scene, watched the day’s video recordings, and strolled along the wharf among the demonstrators. At the railway station, the police explained helpfully to the punks how they could get to the camp of the antiglobalists. It was hard to imagine that the previous evening some of these people had been indiscriminately beating one another up.
The camp, situated at the end of a ten-minute journey from the city center, amounted to a small tent village with its own streets, main gates, and even something like an administration. The main street was named Via Carlo Giuliani, in honour of the young antiglobalist killed in Genoa by carabinieri in 2001. There was also Rosa Luxemburg Avenue, populated by Marxists, and Durruti Boulevard, beloved of the anarchists. The streets looked imposing only on the map; in reality, they were marked off by narrow yellow tapes of the sort which police use to cordon off a crime scene. At the entrance to the camp was a barrier, and next to it, a tent with a sign saying “concierge” and a tent where mobile phones could be recharged. There were large numbers of chemical toilets, all of them very dirty, and also a free internet access point, where there was always a queue.
It was explained to us that computers and other valuable objects should not be left in the camp (this is why some young people went even to the demonstration with rucksacks on their backs). At the camp entrance one could read the tearful story of two German girls who the previous evening had met up with four Britons, had spent a very enjoyable evening, and in the morning had found themselves with neither their personal belongings, nor their tent. Now they were asking that their tent, at least, be returned to them.
Representatives of the press were not admitted to the camp, and filming or taking photographs was banned, which caused a great deal of annoyance to journalists. A television journalist from Moscow assured me that the camp must have been full of drunks and marijuana smokers, but we saw nothing of the kind. The characteristic smell of the weed, which can, for example, be smelt in the corridors of several Moscow institutions of higher education, was completely absent. People were drinking mainly beer, and the strongest liquor was a bottle of grappa, which the St Petersburg artist Dmitri Vilensky had brought with him, and which we joined him in consuming.
Various Greeks and Russians, sipping on Australian wine, sang revolutionary songs, which sounded remarkably similar in both languages. From time to time young people wandered past in the characteristic dress of the “black bloc”. Here they were not hiding their faces, and this was the reason for the ban on photographs. Many residents of the camp ignored the ban, using mobile phones to “hold the moment”. No-one paid particular attention to this, so long as the rule-breakers were from among their own. Somewhere music was playing, and people were dancing. People were typing texts into computers, watching a video on agrarian problems in Latin America, and arguing politics.
Meanwhile, the city seemed to have died. Although significant numbers of residents of this traditionally “red” region were sympathetic to the protesters, the citizens of Rostock preferred not to wander abroad more than they had to, leaving the streets at the disposal of the revolutionaries and police. The windows of a few shops had been prudently covered with plywood sheets. The well-meaning burgers sipped beer or coffee on University Square and gazed at the antiglobalists who were acting out some incomprehensible spectacle right on the pavement.
The clashes which had been initiated by the autonomists on June 2 had resumed by the evening of June 4, when news reached Rostock of disturbances that had taken place in Berlin. The next peaceful demonstration ended in skirmishes with the police. Helicopters appeared above the port, which was in the hands of the antiglobalists, and with wailing sirens a column of police buses made its way from the outskirts of the city into the center.
“All this is just the first act!” the Swedish sociologist Stefan Sjoberg assured me. “If things like this start even before the guests arrive, what’s going to happen when they come?”
The Plans of the Authorities
To defend the G8 summit in Heiligendamm, near Rostock, the German authorities had assigned more than 16,000 police, equipped with water cannon, armoured personnel carriers, helicopters, and a vast number of police cars. They were supported by detachments from the Bundeswehr, the German armed forces. The village of Heiligendamm was enclosed behind a wall many kilometers in length, around which a security zone was established. The authorities reported proudly that they had spent twelve million euros on the wall’s construction. If these events had occurred in Russia, I would have suggested cynically that at least ten million of this sum had been stolen by the officials, but knowing the scruples of the German bureaucracy, I was prepared to believe that the structure really had been that expensive. Though to tell the truth, it would have been better if they had stolen the money. The funds would have gone to something useful, such as building houses in the country. How much would have to be spent on dismantling this structure, one can only guess. Critics of the summit immediately compared the Heiligendamm wall to its ill-famed counterpart in Berlin.
Formally speaking, all these measures were intended as part of the struggle against terrorism. In fact, both the authorities and society as a whole understood perfectly what the G8 summit was being defended against. No terrorists were found near Heiligendamm, but massive numbers of left-wing youth had come from all over Germany in order to protest. Although people from virtually every country of Europe were to be seen in the ranks of the antiglobalists, as well as Latin Americans and citizens of Tunisia, Lebanon and Israel, most of the protesters were Germans.
It was not only the authorities and left-wing organisations that had been preparing for the protests. The German railways had begun selling a special “Protester’s ticket”. With this ticket, for a price of only fifteen euros, one could travel wherever actions and confrontations between demonstrators and the forces of law and order were anticipated, throughout the whole course of the summit. People really did buy these tickets. But only Germans. For the most part, Russians, Britons, Spaniards and Greeks paid nothing. The dozens of police who surrounded the platforms of the railway stations and rural sidings took an interest in everything except unpaid fares. “What the devil are tickets, when the revolution’s here!” the artist Dmitry Vilensky exclaimed indignantly.
The situation really was revolutionary, with thousands of radical youth filling the streets of Rostock. Clashes with the police kept on occurring, and from time to time someone was arrested. Sometimes the police started trying to justify themselves, shouting into a megaphone: “Achtung! We’ve no intention of violating your civil rights, and we aren’t going to check your documents! We only want to make sure you aren’t carrying anything sharp or heavy!”
However, they did check documents, especially those of people in cars. Rostock was effectively under a state of siege. After a few days we got used to the wail of police sirens, learning to distinguish between the local police and their federal colleagues, and to tell by their uniform badges which province various detachments were from. The most disagreeable were the Prussians, from Berlin and Brandenburg. The Bavarians were easier to get on with; they responded to jokes, smiled, and in general did not take too serious an attitude to what was going on. Police posts were everywhere. “The police have set up a very effective blockade,” a taxi driver lamented. “You can’t drive through, and you can’t get through on foot!”
The best way to penetrate the police cordons was to have a press pass. All the organisers of the demonstration had been able to provide themselves with these documents, because Germany is full of left-wing publications which issued the necessary authorisations without any problems. But since a crowd of journalists had come to Rostock from the entire world, from Mexico to Kenya, the police coped poorly with the challenge of making sense of all these papers. For some reason, however, it had not entered my head to supply myself with documentation as a correspondent for Vzglyad. Dmitry Vilensky came up with his own authorisation, “totally forged, of course.” It did the trick.
Since all this was happening in Germany, no revolutionary struggle could disturb the traditional pattern of life. After taking part in the latest skirmishes with the police, the punks dutifully lined up in a queue in front of a sausage-stall, or to use the toilets. In the mornings, the residents of the antiglobalist camp received coffee and fresh newspapers. True, the coffee was vile, and the newspapers only of a left-wing persuasion. But then, the Germans have never learnt to brew good coffee even in expensive hotels, and in the camp, the bourgeois press would not have been popular.
The population of the camp was continually changing. People would arrive and set up their tents, while others would take their leave of Rostock. A sort of generational shift took place. Numerous middle-aged people arrived for the Saturday demonstration on June 2, but by the Monday many of them had left; they had to goo back to work. The camp became noticeably younger.
Test of Strength
From June 2 to June 5, daily demonstrations took place in Rostock. Each of them had its own theme; one day would be devoted to agriculture, another to the rights of immigrants, and yet another to the struggle against militarism. But as one of the participants observed, everything was highly likely to finish up in the same manner: in a fight between punks and police. Meanwhile, the serious opposition was set to begin only on June 5, when George Bush was to arrive. By this time the punks and anarchists, who made up the core of the violence-prone “black bloc”, had submitted to the prevailing order, so that everything now went ahead in exclusively peaceful fashion.
In the morning several thousand people marched to a village next to which an American military base was to be set up, and held a protest meeting. The column was strung out over an extraordinary distance, not so much because of its size, as because it needed to cross a railway bridge, and then to proceed through the narrow laneways of a resort settlement.
The bridge presented a serious obstacle. The police formed up in a huge line, blocking off the exit. Surprisingly, there was no serious patrolling underneath the bridge. Jammed onto the bridge, the Russians and Poles were puzzled: “Can it really be that the anarchists from the ‘black bloc’ haven’t thought of simply going along the tracks?” Hearing this idea, Thomas Seibert, one of the experienced organisers of the protest, was genuinely surprised. “That really didn’t enter our heads. It’s forbidden to walk along the tracks!” The Britons from the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), once they had gone onto the bridge, began chanting “One solution – revolution!”, while jumping up and down in time. “What’s wrong with them? Haven’t they studied mechanics?” Ilya Budraitskis from the group Vpered asked indignantly. “They’ll make the bridge collapse!” I promised that when I next met with the leadership of the SWP I would convey our protest, and request that they conduct educational work among party members on the topic of political agitation on bridges.
The demonstration that morning, however, was merely a warm-up. Bush was expected after lunch, and a mass of demonstrators set off for Rostock-Laage airport, where the American president was to land. “They won’t land here!” a leaflet distributed in the camp declared proudly. Everyone understood that this was an exaggeration. No demonstration can stop an aircraft. But it was necessary to go to the airport; this was the first of the planned blockades.
From the nearest railway station open to the public, at Schwaan, the distance to the airport is some fifteen kilometers. Buses were supposed to go from the antiglobalist camp in Rostock, but no-one knew where they were to stop and pick up passengers. By the time we found the designated place, the buses had already left, and in any case they had too little room for all the people who wanted to go. A group of people from somewhere in the Mediterranean climbed into their own minibus and left, ignoring the pleas of the activists who had been left without transport to take at least someone else. People set off gloomily to catch the train. I was lucky; a group of Berlin antifascists, who had two cars, took Vasily Tereshchuk and me with them.
The first car, an old red Volkswagen, was almost immediately stopped by the police. Once again, luck was with us; we were in a solid Audi which they did not check at all. Taking detours along country roads, and trying to avoid police roadblocks, we reached the airport. Along the way we saw one of the buses. It was standing on the side of the road, its progress blocked by the police. The driver of the Audi immediately contacted the blockade organisers by mobile phone, and reported what he had seen.
The bus and the people on it remained blocked for six hours. Thank goodness we hadn’t got on board!
From time to time we encountered a column of police microbuses. On the bridges there were no longer police, but Bundeswehr soldiers. The machine-guns on the armoured cars had been replaced, humanely, with water cannon. In the sky were helicopters.
About a kilometer from the airport we got out of the car onto a village street. Several houses were adorned with GDR flags. A peasant, chewing on a sausage and bread, reported phlegmatically: “You can’t go straight ahead. The police are there. But there’s a way round.”
For partisan operations, the most important thing is the support of the local population.
Marching along pathways and accepting into our little contingent a Spaniard who had become separated from his companions, we found before us a vast field of potatoes, beyond which there arose the airport building. The police posts were now behind us, but we could not go forward either, unless we wanted to spend the day in the warmth and comfort of a police station. A cold rain was falling. If any of the residents of the camp yearned for three meals a day, hot showers and clean sheets, the question was quite easy to decide. There would even be a free ticket for them to their homeland.
We turned back abruptly and went out to the road. Here by this time there was an improvised stage, set up on a trailer attached to a huge tractor belonging to one of the local farmers. A young man appeared on the stage and spoke into a microphone. “Please be careful not to trample our field! We support the protest, but we need our potatoes too!” Peasant practicality.
Then our numbers were gradually swollen by people arriving from Schwaan. Some had hitched rides, and the Poles had managed to cover the fourteen kilometers on foot. Miraculously, the Russians and Ukrainians all made it. You won’t stop our lot!
The landing of the American president’s aircraft was met by the demonstrators with shouts and jeers. This caterwaul was broadcast direct to the entire world. The airport was indeed blockaded, but for the US leader this was not a particular problem. He was airlifted out by helicopter.
Considering their mission complete, people started to disperse. Then it was the turn of the police to get more active. They unloaded dogs in muzzles from special vehicles. Shouts rang out. “Halt! Stehen bleiben! Weiter gehen! Schnell!”
“Germans in helmets, dogs… There’s a real sense of the concentration camp,” one of the Russian women confided in me. Russians, Ukrainians and Israelis were moved on together. The feelings among all of us were much the same.
Getting out of the airport proved even more difficult than reaching it. The police directed us to another railway station, supposed to be some four or five kilometers to the north. In fact, we covered more than nine kilometers, only to find that the station was shut. A car caught up with us; at the wheel was Martin, one of the blockade organisers. “The police deliberately deceived you,” he explained.
“Why?” I enquired.
“Tomorrow is the decisive day. They want our people to be exhausted.”
If that was true, then the police were mistaken. Blockading Heiligendamm would be other people, quite different from the ones who had been at the airport. Martin knew this very well, but did not discuss the details. To the question of what would happen tomorrow, he answered simply and smoothly that the final plans were being drawn up.
While crowds of young people were organising demonstrations in Rostock and laying siege to the airport, a heated discussion was taking place in the main camp of the antiglobalists. The moderate wing headed by the leaders of the ATTAC movement was urging that the blockade be called off, and reduced to a series of symbolic actions such as the one that had been mounted at the airport. The radicals demanded that the initial plan be adhered to, and were supported in this by rank and file members of ATTAC. A decision was taken. On the morning of June 6, the operation began.
The first actions were not in fact mounted by the protesters but by the police. During the night of June 6 large forces of police blockaded the advance camp of the antiglobalists next to the airport. About 500 people were in the camp; against them were sent several thousand guardians of law and order, with the obligatory armoured personnel carriers and water cannon. At the gates of the camp, half-hearted battles began.
Meanwhile, acting on instructions given to them the previous day, detachments of protesters left their camps and set out for various concentration points. Still earlier, the “Black bloc” had left the Rostock camp. Gathering at one o’clock in the morning, the autonomists drew themselves up into columns and departed. No-one saw any more of them that day. Either they had dispersed en route, or they had got lost.
By morning, the main forces of the antiglobalists had united in two columns of five thousand people each, with approximately two thousand people in reserve. One column, leaving the township of Bad Doberan and moving along the wall, was supposed to block the western gates of Heiligendamm. The second column was to set out from the village of Rabenhorst and to blockade the eastern gates. The leaders of each detachment had first-rate maps which and combatant in the Second World War would have envied. Everyone knew their place and carried out orders to the letter.
By the time the columns left, the activists had already marched about twelve kilometers, but now they would have to cover at least the same distance as they sought to overcome the resistance of the police.
Advancing to the north, the western column immediately cut off the railway branch line to Heiligendamm along which the authorities had intended to send a train full of journalists. The resistance from the police was half-hearted; they had clearly been caught unawares by the number of demonstrators and by their degree of organization.
Meanwhile the other column, executing a flanking movement around the police, approached the eastern gates. The narrow country road was hurriedly closed off with a barricade of dry branches, along which were arrayed half a dozen barefoot young men and women. Stopping before the barricade, drivers asked its defenders what was going on; then, learning that this was a protest action against the G8 summit, they turned back meekly, as if it had been the police stopping them. Clearing away such a barricade would not have presented any special difficulty, but the authorities were no longer up to the task.
At the eastern gates, an astonishing and colourful action unfolded. Coming down from a hill and spreading out into a broad line, five thousand young people with rainbow flags went out onto the field. With them they carried waterproof tarpaulins as defence against the water cannon, and sacks full of straw, which served simultaneously as defence against blows from clubs, as material for building barricades, and simply as cushions. At the other end of the field the police were strung out in a thin black line, contrasting with the many-hued ranks of the antiglobalists. Completing the picture were a number of huge windmills, happily swinging their blades along the edges of the field.
Advancing a few dozen meters, the attackers drew themselves up into “five fingers” formation. Before long the line of police was broken in two places, and a mêlée had begun at the other three. The police laid about themselves furiously with their clubs, but no-one fled. Present in superior numbers, the antiglobalists did not answer the blows, but forced their adversaries from the field. In the open space, the tear gas proved ineffective. The water cannon could not be used once the demonstrators became mixed with the police. Moreover, significant police forces had been diverted into a pointless blockade of the camp alongside the airport.
By a quarter past twelve everything was over. The forces of law and order were evacuated. A few police vehicles were stuck in the space occupied by the demonstrators, and could not get out. Across the road the young people propped placards calling for a struggle against capitalism, and settled down to rest.
The local farmers greeted the antiglobalists by telling them, surprisingly, “We were expecting you yesterday!” From nearby houses, people brought the young protesters food and water. Incensed, the police shut off the water supply to houses that were on “enemy territory.” This, of course, did not add to the popularity of the authorities.
At the western gates the blockade did not unfold so successfully, but the cause was aided by the police themselves. Shifting up a large number of vehicles to confront the attackers, they blocked the road themselves. Armoured cars with water cannon were assembled so tightly that not only was it impossible to drive through, but even to walk. Meanwhile, the crews were operating ineffectively. One of my acquaintances saw how nine water cannon spent twenty minutes trying to wash five anarchists off the street.
By one o’clock on June 6, Heiligendamm was in effect cut off completely from the rest of the world. Journalists who did not enjoy the right to fly with the world leaders in their helicopters could not get to the summit. The same fate also befell some of the official delegations that had been staying in Rostock. Getting through by road was impossible. The only cars allowed through were those of local residents, who were allowed to proceed after a few minutes of consultations. The drivers waited patiently, especially since they were offered cold drinks. “Only not beer, please,” one of them laughed as his fate was being decided by blockade officials. “I’m driving!”
In parallel with the actions on the roads, an alternative summit had opened in Rostock. The goal was to draw public attention to the social and environmental problems on account of which, properly speaking, the protest had been mounted. Here there were speakers on the war in Iraq, on global warming and on the inaction of the West (with special attention paid to the US). There were also discussions on the workers’ movement and education. A decision was taken not to expose prominent people to danger, and the counter-summit was therefore held a good way from the main events. Nevertheless, the participants in the discussions were concerned above all with how things were going near Heiligendamm. The Austrian trade union leader Hermann Dworczak outlined the movements of the detachments on a map. From time to time someone would bring in the latest news, received by mobile telephone. The crowd of people filling the vast halls of the Gothic churches would erupt in shouts of delight or indignation.
The fact that the discussions were taking place in church halls was no accident. The German evangelical church strongly supported the protest, not only offering its premises to the antiglobalists, but also helping to mobilise the faithful to participate in the events. It was not least for this reason that the antiglobalist actions could not be presented as hooligan escapades. Germany is not the most religious of countries, but the authority of the church is sufficiently great that its position cannot simply be ignored. Representatives of the church had joined with environmental organisations in demanding that the G8 take decisive measures to protect the climate; had criticised the war in Iraq; and had called for the withdrawal of German soldiers from Afghanistan.
In the heat of the discussion of the problems of war and police violence that were occurring within the walls of the Petrikirche came the news that the police had blockaded the Rostock camp and were conducting searches there. According to the authorities, two thousand autonomists in the camp were engaged in manufacturing Molotov cocktails. Leaping up from their seats, those present began calling for buses. “Where’s the sense in discussing? We have to go to our comrades in the camp!” Soon, however, the news arrived that the police had quit the camp, after finding nothing and arresting no-one. The discussions resumed.
The searches in the Rostock camp were part of a counteroffensive which the authorities mounted on the evening of June 6. The police moved out to the positions of the “eastern blockade”, trying to force people from the road, but without success. The ranks of protesters pressed up so closely against the police lines that using water cannon was impossible. Dmitry Vilensky, who made use of his forged authorisation to go through the police cordon, heard officers saying over the radio, “We can’t do a thing! There are too many of them! We need an army!”
If harsh measures were to be used, a pretext was needed. Meanwhile, the blockades were completely peaceful. The blows from police clubs were met with jokes, and the demands of the authorities, with silence or with singing.
In the crowd, the young people from Bremen recognised five police agents, also from their home town, who were dressed as activists of the “black bloc”, and who were inciting people to throw stones. Once unmasked, the agents tried to flee. Four made it through the police lines, but one was captured and handed over to journalists. Next day the newspaper Die TAZ published a photograph in which activists of the “black bloc” were marching, all of them similar in appearance, in dark jackets and sunglasses, concealing their faces with handkerchiefs and hoods. The caption beneath the photo read: “Find the policeman.”
By the evening of June 6 the participants in the demonstrations were feeling a sense of triumph. It was as though their happiness were pouring forth into the atmosphere. The jubilation could be read on the faces of the people arriving from the blockade site, and could be sensed almost physically in the press center of the counter-summit, on the streets, and in the official tent at the camp.
The usually imperturbable Martin could not restrain himself. “That was marvellous! On the one hand everything went off like a military operation, and on the other, there was no violence.” The only thing the police could now hope for was that the blockade participants would weaken or grow tired. By morning, however, it was clear how wrong the authorities were. Several groups left their positions, but new ones arrived. From Rostock came food and water, coffee and newspapers. A youth organisation close to the Left Party sent a strange red car to the eastern gates. The vehicle was equipped with a loudspeaker bearing the inscription “Socialist Fire Brigade”; those inside, it followed, were “red firefighters”.
The organisation of the blockade showed a striking combination of discipline and democracy. During a confrontation each person knew their place and carried out their tasks precisely. But during peaceful moments questions were decided at plenum meetings, to which each of the groups present sent a representative. When I was at the eastern gates, the question was actively discussed of what to do with the police who had been cut off on the blockaded territory. The authorities asked that they be let out, promising that in return vehicles carrying portable toilets, water and food supplies for the activists would be let through; these vehicles had been stopped about a kilometer to the south. But the compromise did not happen. The blockaders could get by without the toilets, since around them was a huge field of maize.
Somewhere in the region of the eastern gates a group of Young Communists from the Siberian city of Barnaul got lost. Not knowing German, and with little understanding of what was going on, the group mounted something like their own guerrilla war. Their main achievement they considered to have been the destroying of a fence, topped with barbed wire, which they considered to be the first line of police fortifications. Next day the evening news showed an elderly farmer asking, with various bitter curses, “what idiots smashed the fence around my orchard?” The farmer’s wife blamed the police for everything. Whatever the case, the victims intended to extract compensation for the damage from the federal authorities.
The Final Blow
The clashes at the western gates continued until the middle of June 7, when the police worked out that it was better to retreat. But irrespective of who held the upper hand on the road, vehicles could not pass along it.
The main development on the second day of the blockade was a daring sortie by Greenpeace, who blockaded Heiligendamm from the sea. Giving up hope of unblocking the railway, the authorities decided to send the journalists by boat. When it became known that a boat had set out to sea, Greenpeace vessels moored in Rostock got under way as well. Learning of this, the police directed water patrols to Rostock. At the same time, twelve fast vessels rushed toward Rostock from the direction of Sweden. The Greenpeace flotilla was attacked by police and navy launches. Two boats were rammed, and people fell overboard. Six people were injured, though no-one seriously. The boat with the journalists turned back.
“The only thing we didn’t think to blockade was the air,” complained one of the organisers of the action.
“Can you really blockade the air space?” I wondered.
“Of course. With balloons. With dirigibles.”
The success was complete. The newspapers reported the blockade as front-page news, while mentioning the sittings of the G8 only in passing. President Bush was suffering from an ulcer, perhaps as a result of his unpleasant talks with Putin, perhaps from bad news, and perhaps from everything at once. Official representatives of the Western states argued about the need to address the question of climate change more seriously. It was only on the final day of the summit that the press, as if it had suddenly remembered something, began to feature political commentaries about the course of the discussions.
The blockade had begun to weaken by the evening of June 7, but the police had finished up so demoralised that they did not move against it. Even if they had, this would not have been of any significance. It was only on the morning of June 8 that the blockade was finally lifted. The journalists who had been accredited to the summit rushed to Heiligendamm, rejoicing that they would at least make it to the closing sessions. The person who gained most from their presence was Putin; an unusually large crowd gathered to attend his final press conference.
Abandoning their positions, the young people returned to Rostock, where something like a victory parade was to take place on the square by the city port. The people who had been in the camp made their way to this site. Thousands of people were waiting there, waving flags and chanting slogans. Even the mayor of Rostock was in the crowd, standing with a confused smile on his face, surrounded by young people in torn jeans and in T-shirts adorned with revolutionary slogans.
A demonstration that had assembled spontaneously at the main railway station turned into a slow march. The police persistently blocked its path, halting progress, pulling people out of the crowd and searching them, hoping to provoke a clash that would cast a pall over the celebrations. This time, however, not a single stone was thrown at the police. People smiled at them, wishing them a quick trip home and a pleasant weekend. The young people were happy and confident, discussing the details of the previous two days, proudly showing one another the bruises and abrasions they had received from police batons. The demonstrators took an hour and a half to cover the relatively short distance from the station to the port. Finally, the head of the march appeared on the waterfront, to be greeted with exultant shouts and anti-fascist resistance songs. The demonstrators walked with banners unfurled, deadly tired but triumphant.
Rostock had transformed the image of radical leftists in the European press. Now, no-one tried any more to depict them as a mindless crowd of hooligans who themselves did not know what they wanted, and who only knew how to smash windows and fight police. Even the violence of the first days was far less than the press had reported. Of the hundreds of police who were supposed to have been hurt, only one was hospitalised with serious injuries. Only one car was burnt, though photographs of it appeared in newspapers throughout the world. As for other property damage, the shop-owners who covered their windows with plywood were wasting their money. The windows that had remained uncovered were left untouched. On the whole, nothing was damaged, apart from the unfortunate orchard fence.
A success of such magnitude would have been impossible without painstaking organisation. The protests were prepared over a period of two years. To this end, the “G8 Bloc” was set up; the decisive role within it was played by a group called the Interventionist Left. This body is made up of leftists who are actually involved in life, unlike intellectuals holding seminars, and politicians who think only of elections. Two years ago few people even in Germany knew about this group, but it has now grown to include several thousand people, who have their own periodical publications, as well as membership cells in all the German provinces. People I talked to who were acting as field commanders for the demonstrations told me proudly that they were members of the IL. Many had only joined quite recently.
These people worked out plans, reconnoitred various localities, held talks with parties and social organisations, and conducted propaganda work. For several weeks on end, the activists had conducted exercises and refined their tactics and methods in the spacious parks of Berlin and other large cities.
All this bore fruit. “Rostock will be remembered like Seattle in 1999 and Prague in 2000,” a young woman activist of the movement told me proudly. “We’ll take pride in having been here.”
The G8 summit, however, is now behind us. “The most important taks is now beginning,” sighs the IL ideologue Thomas Seibert. “For two years we lived and breathed the preparations for Rostock. What’s starting now is a political struggle that isn’t tied to dates or to events declared in advance…”