The Blockade of Heiligendamm
The Blockade of Heiligendamm
"God knows what's happening here! There are water cannons, there's tear gas, police, tanks!"
This was a phone call from
I felt a slight twinge of regret; the journalist in me was awakening. Here I was sitting in
The demonstration timed to coincide with the opening of the G8 summit in
Unfortunately, these subtleties were completely lost on the anarchists of the "Black Bloc", significant numbers of whom had come from different countries, including
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
There were, of course, no tanks in
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
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
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
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, and Get to Work!" 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
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 young German women 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
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
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
The clashes which had been initiated by the autonomists on June 2 had resumed by the evening of June 4, when news reached
"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
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
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
However, they did check documents, especially those of people in cars.
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
Since all this was happening in
The population of the camp was continually changing. People would arrive and set up their tents, while others would take their leave of
Test of Strength
From June 2 to June 5, daily demonstrations took place in
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
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 kilometre from the airport we got out of the car onto a village street. Several housese 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
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
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
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
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 metres, the attackers drew themselves up into "five fingers" formation. Before long the line of police was broken in two places, and a mÃªlée 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
In parallel with the actions on the roads, an alternative summit had opened in
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.
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
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
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
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 kilometre 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
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
"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
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.
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
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
All this bore fruit. "
The G8 summit, however, is now behind us. "The most important task is now beginning," sighs the IL ideologue Thomas Seibert. "For two years we lived and breathed the preparations for