Uli Schmetzer: Reflections on Rostock

Future generations of propagandists will be offered the anti-G8 demonstrations this month as a text-book example how globalization crudely manipulated public opinion by demonizing demonstrators and labeling opponents terrorists.

On the other side future protesters will see Rostock as a symbol of civil disobedience, of determined resistance to the few power brokers who have usurped the democratic rights of the many and make decisions for all behind closed doors.
It is true stones were hurled. It is true black-clad masked youths, the Black Blocks, clashed with police. It is true cars burned and a number of windows shattered. But how puny were these incidents compared to the bloody, unprovoked wars and destruction the G8 members have launched or supported?

Did these incidents justify demonizing 80,000 protesters who had trekked to remote Rostock to oppose the way the world is run by members of the exclusive G8 club, a club whose main task has been likened to ‘ironing out inconveniences for the world’s major business corporations,’ a club whose political-economic strategies have made the rich richer, the poor poorer and caused death, destruction and misery across the world.
The lies and exaggerations ‘deployed’ to discredit protest at Rostock resembled the fake information strategy that led to war in Iraq. It also illustrated how desperate our power cliques have become.

As usual the orchestrated smear campaign was conducted by the mass media, the serfs of power, which regurgitated amazing statistics about mayhem the police and politicians pulled out of their magic hats.
It is true a few people were injured in the clashes. The original statement said a dozen before the dozen turned into a hundred, then five hundred and ended up a thousand. For those of us who were on the spot the battle should have left bodies scattered everywhere. It didn’t. For those of us present the infamous Black Block did not run amok, Rostock was not devastated. We saw two cars burning.
‘Four hundred and forty policemen wounded’ the headlines cried, ‘fifty of them seriously’. Yet no one saw wounded cops. Rostock hospital reported some forty people sought first aid treatment during June 2 for minor injuries, two thirds more then during an ordinary day. All were sent home after treatment, except one police woman kept for observation.
Four days later the Rostock fire brigade reported total damage to the city was ‘around 50,000 euros ($65,000) mostly in torn up pavements, damaged traffic and street lights, a pittance for a major demonstration, a pittance compared to the tens of million of euros the German Government spent to host and feed the G8.
The worst was yet to come. The mass media, quoting statements by ‘officials’ and ‘expert’ commentators (who apparently are more trustworthy then non-officials) demanded the ban on rubber bullets be lifted so they could be used by security forces against ‘radical elements.’

‘Officials’ clamored for special European laws to identify troublemakers. Others warned of the imminent use of police firearms and the deployment of troops after declaring a state of emergency. A minister called for a ban on all black clothing during demonstrations to neutralize the ‘Black Block’. Police claimed protesters had stuck razor blades into fruit they hurled and had launched, with the help of rubber catapults, stones ‘the size of baby heads.’
For the ordinary citizen the official hysteria conjured visions of a German State in the pangs of revolution by masked barbarians. Shopkeepers barricaded their show windows, residents locked their doors. Among protesters the official reaction rekindled memories of the Berufsverbot four decades ago when tens of thousands of German dissidents were placed on black lists –‘not to be employed.’
After a few days the more sober of he mass media admitted the tales of chaos and mayhem had been grossly exaggerated, there was even suspicion some of the trouble had been started by plainclothes police as part of a diabolical plot to alienate the population against ‘demonstrating rabble’ and pave the way for more repressive laws.
But who reads these row-backs on the back pages days later?
The whipped-up terror talk resulted in special courts rescinding already granted permits for demonstrations at Rostock and declaring off-limits the zone around Heiligendamm (Dam of the Saints) where the G8 met. Anyone entering could and was prosecuted.
And that is when the Rostock protests really took off.


Dr Vandana Shiva, a physicist, eco-feminist and one of the world’s leading anti-global activists summed up the sentiment that has made Rostock a watershed for future action: If laws are repressive they must be broken, she argued then added: “the fight for our future is the fight for human life on earth.”
By then nearly ten thousand had trekked knee-deep through hops-fields to outfox a police cordon around the G8 meeting site. The strategy was called the five-finger attack. The crowd advanced towards the police cordon in the form of a tight fist. Then a ‘middle finger’ column went face to face with police forcing security forces to close in from all sides to oppose the column. This police concentration allowed the four remaining ’fingers’ to spread and outflank the police chain, now weakened by the concentration towards the center.
Suddenly thousands of demonstrators appeared behind the outflanked police lines. The scheme was repeated again and again. Eventually some 400 of the ‘middle finger’ were sacrificed (arrested) before the protesters reached the barricade around Heiligendamm and camped there for three nights in defiance of the court rulings, a token victory for the right to say ‘no.’
When police used water cannons the drenched protesters moved further along the fence, blocking access roads to the G8 site, accompanied by musical bands and an army of clowns whose antics kept everyone entertained. When police ordered Black Bock protesters to take off their ski masks men and women stripped naked (a national German pastime known as FKK) and danced in front of the police contingent.
The tide was turning. In spite of the massive anti-protest propaganda the people of Rostock supplied demonstrators with water and food and generously ferried many back to their tent-and-van camps.
Rostock, despite the heavy presence of 33,000 police and a 12 km long security fence around the G8 site at Heiligendamm, is being hailed today as a symbol of civil disobedience, the essence of future protests.
Then there was the academic side.


The city simultaneously hosted the ‘Alternative Summit’ with 150 workshops held in stately city churches or the dinghy holds of moored ships. The organization was amazingly efficient, with maps, brochures, summaries and guides.
Once again (and surely not the last time) some of the world’s foremost experts warned time is running out on slowing down climatic changes, time is running out on a halt to environmental ravages, on rescuing an ailing war and corruption-riddled Africa before a massive exodus of African boat people floods Europe, on implementing fairer trade and on ending the brutal exploitation of developing nations by multinationals that have no intention to curb their vast profits even if it costs millions of lives.
While the G8 came up with an ineffective call for the U.N. to look at ways to stop carbon emissions and an even more ridiculous proposal to allow only a two degree temperature rise by 2050 environmental experts at the Alternate Summit warned that within ten to twenty years life on our planet will already be unbearable for the great majority of the human race unless we do something ‘now.’
“The G8 is a façade for democracy, an economic dictatorship by corporations,” Vandana Shiva told five thousand people gathered for the final declaration at the Church of St Nicholas: “Who gave seven to eight governments the right to decide about the world? This democracy is dead!”
Bologna professor and author Sandro Mazzadra argued the protesters are labeled ‘radicals because we question the capitalism of today.’ He advocated more alternative institutions to explain new ways of thinking to a public preconditioned by prejudices perpetuated by the mass media.
Like many others Mazzadra addressed the phenomenon of the African boat people trying to reach Europe across the Mediterranean, a sea he said had been turned into “a cemetery with a thousand drowned every day.” (7,000 alone drowned on the way from Africa to the Canary Islands)
While the G8 heralded its pledge of $60 billion aid for Africa cynics warned the pledge would remain on paper as happened on previous occasions. In the meantime corporations from the European Union and the U.S. would continue to strip Africa of its remaining resources, dump their surplus products on the black continent and negotiate one-sided deals like the European Union’s EPA (Economic Partnership Agreements) the near secret trade pacts which allow the EU to dump subsidized products on third world countries.
(In India many farmers have committed suicide, deprived of their livelihood because they could not compete against the flood of subsidized U.S. cotton on the world market.)
A workshop on immigration was told in Ghana subsidized European chicken (EPA) forced the once booming national poultry industry into bankruptcy as Europe undercut local prices by half. Once the local industry was forced off the market the price of the imported goods steadily rose.
In Mauritania (population three million) an EPA agreement allowed fifty European trawlers to fish in local waters in a country where 53 per cent of the nation’s income is derived from fishing. As usual the money for this sweetheart deal went into the pockets of the elite.
In Nigeria Ike Okorie reported oil spills have destroyed the most fertile parts of his country and exterminated coastal sea life. He said all oil is in the hands of foreign (U.S, Dutch and Italian) companies. Their foreign workers live in luxury, one reason why armed gangs now kidnap oil workers for ransom.
Okorie saw Africa’s main hope is an already fledgling regional commercial cooperation, trading each others goods, if necessary by barter trade, rather then relying on imports from industrialized nations.
African delegates said Pakistani U.N. soldiers sell weapons and gasoline for gold and diamonds while a continent where 80 per cent of the population worked as farmers can no longer feed itself because wars have ruined harvests, a phenomenon, so the Africans said, Palestinians can verify. The Palestinians lost their crucial olive groves when Israeli raids bulldozed them into oblivion as punishment.
At the root of Africa’s problems is the tragedy of a past that allowed no rival democratic movement to emerge after independence. This left African nations in the hands of greedy native elites that substituted the colonial masters and pocketed the money that should have been set aside for social services. In turn this led to the proliferation of diseases, among them AIDS, and the explosion of wars waged by those eager to grab power – and its spoils.
Flagellated by exploitation, then wars, greed, disease and hunger Africa today resembles a graveyard.
“But we are not going to lie down and die. Expect us to come to you in ever greater numbers,” Gyeke Tanoh, of the African Trade Work in Ghana told a cheering meeting on immigration from Africa, a meeting entitled: “We are here because you are there”.
Across town in the hold of a small cargo freighter a workshop on militarization by U.S. bases found a new phenomenon: Growing civil mobilization against base extensions. The most virulent are protests against the planned U.S. base at Dal Molin in Vicenza, Italy and in Japan against the planned Henoko base on already base-crowded Okinawa Island.
Tadaaki Kawata of Japan’s Peace Committee reported local anti-base protest movements had found support across Japan which now hosts 135 U.S. military bases with 54,000 soldiers, a network Washington intends to expand even further.
“We are being joined by trade unions, social organizations, resident committees, mayors and municipal councilors. We have protested against naval bases with canoes and formed human chains around other bases. One referendum around a proposed base near Tokyo showed 43,000 voters were against the base only 5,000 in favor,” Kawata reported.
He and others advocated pressure on governments to refuse financial contributions to U.S. bases, one of the anomalies of the U.S. global base networks which are partially paid for by the taxpayers of countries ‘occupied’ by Washington’s military installations.
Author and activist Walden Bello argued the U.S. military presence in South East Asia to contain China prevented an alliance for peace in the region in 1990 because Washington objected to a proposed multi-structure in South East Asia to resolve conflicts. The U.S. argued unilateral protection by the U.S. through its military bases was a superior solution. The U.S. argument obviously found converts among the region’s leaders.
“Normal relations between neighboring countries are impossible until we get rid of the U.S. military presence,” Bello argued.
The emphasis at the Alternate Summit was on change.
A much applauded prediction also came from Bello, an expert on global finances, who sees the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) institutions on their way out. He said the Bank has been discredited, bad loans have hurt the Fund and no country in their right mind wants to borrow from either.
Bello felt it was now obvious the economies of countries that had not pursued the neo-liberal policies of the Bank or the Fund, including China and Malaysia, did well while the economies crashed in those third world countries that loyally followed the American-spawned neo-liberalist policies of the Bank and the Fund, mainly the privatization of their resources.
Arguing that neo-liberalism has had its day he added on economic issues “I personally would rather go with (Hugo) Chavez’ instincts then even leftwing economists”.
Public indignation is growing over trade deals that favor the powerful and punish the weaker economies.
Mexico’s Anna Esther Cecena, Professor of sociology at Mexico’s Autonomous University, lamented the U.S.-Mexican Free Trade accord (1994) had ruined diversity and the economy in her country. But Bello pointed out the successful mass protests in Thailand recently not only led to the suspension of the Thai-US Free Trade talks but precipitated the demise of Thailand’s billionaire Prime Minister Thaksin, a fierce advocate of the trade accord.
“Globalization is in serious trouble,” Bello predicted: “The world is moving away from corporate globalization. We need something very different.”
In fact the motto of the Alternative Summit was: “Another World is possible!” But those who came to listen may well ask: “What kind of world will that be?
Obviously criticism is far easier then solutions and many of the ‘experts’ offered interesting ‘historic lectures’ for students of the past as well as articulate hindsight. But as some of them admitted it is time to promote the new ideas rather then dwell on the errors of the past.
One tentative suggestion tabled was based on regional cooperation between neighboring countries, small blocks or ‘unions’ trading with one another, if necessary by barter trade rather then cash.
This system has already been applied by Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. He bartered cows from Argentina for Venezuelan oil, imported Cuban doctors to boost his backward rural health institutions in return for oil, traded oil for Bolivian soybeans and instituted the first non-cash exchanges of goods, an idea beyond the logic of traditional capitalism.
The idea at Rostock has been to bring the market back into society, ensure diversity, ban genetically modified seeds (a multi-trillion dollar business for the U.S. seed giant Monsanto) ban monoculture and remain skeptical against all doctrinaire gurus preaching a one-way solution to problems.
Speakers argued the principles of alternatives to outdated neo-liberalist models already exist. And when neo-liberal gurus like Jeffrey Sachs and Joseph Stieglitz abandon their philosophies it means the legitimacy of neo-liberal economic models is in trouble.
There was also general consensus Latin America, once the problem child of the globe, had taken the lead in adopting some of these alternatives – Chavez in Venezuela, Kirchner in Argentina, Morales in Bolivia and the revolutionary indigenous Zapatista movement in Chiapas, Mexico.
As expected the official G8 summit was a dismal failure spun-off as a success story by the spin doctors.
At the G8 every member, especially the United States, tenaciously safeguarded their own interests. On the other side of the 12-kms long security fence the Alternative Summit also brought together people with diverse ideas but one common ambition – to create a more just world, one that will survive the ravages of G8-protected greed.