Johannes Lauterbach and Carol Bergin: "Get out of the way if you can´t lend a hand [1]" - Eight rulers and the unruly lot

report from G8 2007

The tension has broken - even the police have taken off their helmets and are relaxing. In front of them, clowns are miming the story of a certain world leader who is choking on a Brezel, a group of drummers is filling the air with their rhythms, while thousands of people are enjoying this sunny Thursday afternoon in front of the barbedwire tipped fence. An 8 mile long, 12 1/2 million Euro fence, built to keep as much distance as possible between "us and them". We are in the middle of a no-demonstration zone, blocking the main access road to what supposedly is the the main political event of the year - the G8 summit in Heiligendamm.
The peaceful, joyful outcome of today wasn't at all to be expected after what had happened in the days before. The blockades of Heiligendamm were successful in more than one way.
Not only did we demonstrate against the self mandated "world-government" of the eight largest industrialised countries, their devastating policies and for our right to protest in front of the meeting to which we objected.
It was first and foremost a demonstration of peoples capacity to transform a violent and repressive setting into a peaceful and free space, a demonstration of the movements capacity to co-operate and keep alliances across a wide spectrum of beliefs, a demonstration of courage, determination and creativity. If there had been any doubts about the reasoning behind the massive mobilisation-efforts against what after all was just one of many government conferences - the people in Heilgendamm have given meaning to it through their actions.

Money rules - G8 in a nutshell

But why all that fuss about the G8?
It began in the mid-seventies of last century as a meeting of the finance ministers of the six, later seven largest economies. Since 1975 the heads of government of the G7 - US, Canada, Japan, UK, France, Germany and Italy (Russia joined in the late nineties, making it G8, but is not fully integrated yet) - meet regularly in a supposedly "informal setting", which nevertheless adopted the title of "world economic summit" - 7 governments, representing just over 10% of the world population ruling over the world´s economy.
At that time, western economy was in crisis: oil prices were soaring, the boom after the second world war was over and economic output was declining, the global financial system faced instability. In 1971 the US had unilaterally dropped their obligation to exchange Dollars for gold at a fixed rate - the "Bretton-Woods-System", in which currencies kept a fixed exchange rate against a gold-backed Dollar, aiming at a stable global finance-system, had collapsed. At the same time, new social movements raised their voices: the environmental movement questioned the sustainability of western consumerism, the north-south-solidarity movement raised the question of global social justice, peace movements protested against capitalist wars and the arms race, freedom movements and socialist governments in the south had begun to deviate from western hegemony.

In that situation the cooperation of the G7 governments enabled a " crisis management", which then together with other institutions and actors such as the World Bank and the IMF, in the 80´s and 90´s became instrumental in driving and implementing economic policies which led to what later was called "neoliberal globalisation".Which in its essence follows the call of "deregulation, liberalisation, privatisation" turning away from a politics of stability and social equality and serving instead unrestricted trading and profit maximisation for big companies and capital investors? [2]
It began with the opening of the international finance markets, including the exposure of national currencies to speculative transactions, which led to a series of devastating financial crises [3] and to a speculative bubble, which is today about to burst, with 1,5 trillion Dollars in high-risk "hedge funds" alone. The free trade agenda, aiming basically at opening markets for northern corporations, led to the multilateral trade-regime under the World Trade Organisation [4] and other free trade agreements, exposing the global economy to a competitive "race to the bottom" for the lowest wages and the lowest social, labour, human-rights and environmental standards. "Structural adjustment programs" of the IMF and the World Bank - with G8 governments having the majority of votes in both institutions - enforced the privatisation of public services and public assets and the dismantling of social policies in the south, while similar policies of privatisation and the destruction of the wellfare state were directly implemented by G8 governments in the north - whatever party they came from.
Open war and covert action were used to achieve economic goals, secure resources and to keep deviating countries in line - including the CIA backed coup´s in Chile and Argentina, the destruction of Jugoslawia´s "third way" and the military occupation of large parts of the oil rich middle east by the US and NATO, the latter developing into the military arm of the G7.

The global economic instabilites of today are far worse than those of the seventies, yet the G8 summit in Heiligendamm failed to adress these even in rhetoric. The failure to put any restrictions on hedge-funds is symptomatic of the G7/G8´s lack of will and strength to control the devastating forces, which they had set free. The G7/G8´s feeble attempts to counter the environmental disaster of global warming are another example of lack of will and are in line with the G7´s approach of "solving" homemade problems by exporting them to the rest of the world - the G8 have been the primary source of greenhouse gas emmissions for decades, yet they try to blame emerging countries, or promote "carbon offset schemes" and so called "bio-fuels"-production in countries in the south, both leading to counterproductive monocultures, land-theft and hunger [5].
Today, the crisis management of the former G7 - which had aimed at maintaining the hegemony of the industrialised, capitalist west - has created a social and environmental nightmare for most of the people on earth, while a small corporate and capital-owning elite is benefitting. Although one cannot hold the G8 summit solely responsible - a complex mixture of players and institutions work together - it is here that the unjust world order is most visible.

It is the unchecked power of the G8-governments to determine the global economic system and even the economic policies inside most countries in the world, together with an unjust, socially and environmentally destructive agenda favouring only the G8´s corporations and capital owners, which is driving people - from outside and inside the G8 countries - to protest and to demand an end to this global economic dictatorship calling for them to "Get out of the way if you can´t lend a hand".

A short history of anti G8 protest

The protest against the G8 had for a long time come mainly from NGO´s within the "environmental and north-south-solidarity community" and was often expressed in counter-conferences. Belying the mass media´s claim that protesters have no analysis and no alternative concept - analysis and alternative concepts were there from the beginning and have been feeding the protests.
The G8 became a target for mass mobilisation after the rise of the global movement against corporate globalisation. In the wake of the massive protests against the WTO in Seattle 1999, against the EU summits in Nice 2000 and in Gothenburg 2001, the mobilisation against the G8 meeting in Genua 2001 brought over 200.000 people to the streets. Violence erupted, whole streets got ravaged, cars burned, demonstrators got arbitrarily teargased, police bashed up people lying in sleeping bags in the convergence centre, others were beaten up in police detention. A young protester was killed by a young policeman. A series of court cases found later, what many people had claimed already during the protests - police had agents provocateur amongst the protesters, carrying out some of the violent actions themselves, while some of the incidents (i.e. tools for weapons "found" in the convergence center) were staged by "Berlusconi´s" police.
Genua became the almost mythical crystalisation-point for the movement against corporate globalisation in Europe - within a few weeks, thousands joined the Attac movement in Germany alone.
Since then, governments held the meetings in more remote places, preferably on easily controllable waterfronts, outside the big cities. They succeeded in some places, but 2003 in Evian 100.000 marched the streets again. The "intergalactic village", a large self-organised camp close to Evian became a major training field for practice in grass roots democracy and civil disobedience for thousands, who also tried to blockade the summit.
2005 in Glen Eagles a new element came in, when a couple of rockstars drew massive media-attention by joining the Global Campaign Against Poverty (GCAP), " demanding from the G8 to "make poverty history" in a huge benefit concert. G8 leaders were thankful for that opportunity to get a positive publicity boost, smiling and nodding benignly as they agreed on additional billions of Dollars aid for the poor - only to "forget" their promise immediately after the summit. In the same year at the WTO ministerial in Hong Kong, G8 governments showed their real face when they failed to do what would help the poor more than any aid-money: the demand to cancel their export-subisidies on agricultural-products, which are destroying local markets in the south and thereby destroy small farmers ability to sustain themselves, fell on deaf ears, as did the ongoing demands to change the notorious agreement on intellectual property rights [6] in order to stop biopiracy [7] and to allow people in poor countries to produce affordable medicine. In 2006 the summit was held for the first time in St. Petersburg, Russia. Protests were almost completely suppressed by the police. The Russian president Putin "demonstrated" instead on the inside with sharp criticism of the US.

A "cuddle" demonstration turning nasty

Preparation of activities against the G8-summit in Heiligendamm had already begun two years ago, leading to probably the largest alliance-building process amongst german civil society groups so far. In a series of open action conferences, people from a wide spectrum had prepared just as wide a range of activities, from the main international demonstration, through a series of action-days, smaller demonstrations, festivals, a large international Alternative-Summit, to the blockades. Early in the process, a large alliance of activists (Block G8) had decided to put an emphasis on civil disobedience, to effectively cut off the summit from the infrastructure by blocking the roads - a project supported unvoluntarily by the police-decision to protect the summit against any protest with a 12 kilometre long fence and very few entrance-points.

On Saturday, June 2nd, protesters walked through a deserted Rostock - a picturesque harbour city at the baltic sea, a few miles from the actual G8 summit location - to the starting points for the major demonstration. Several shop owners, believing the police- and mass-media-propaganda about "terrorists coming to ravage the city", had barred their windows.
However, the mood amongst protesters and police was quite different, people were convinced that nothing would happen that day, anticipating difficulties would first start with the blockades, and some police officers even spoke about expecting a "cuddle-demonstration". We were all wrong.
The march of the 60.000 - 80.000 was peaceful, colourful, creative - it was almost carneval.
Then things turned. It still remains unclear what started the violence, but towards the end of the march, with demonstrators filling the harbour plaza for the closing rally, some people - hooded and clothed in black - attacked a lonely police-car, which had been parked with only a small crew on the place of the closing rally. A battle between police and the so called "black block" raged: stones got ripped out of the pavement and thrown against the storm troopers, another lonely car was burned. Police began storming into the peaceful part of the demonstration, supposedly to catch suspects, while water tanks were deliberately spraying violent and peaceful demonstrators alike with pepper-spray-"enriched" water, causing panic. Many peacful demonstrators, who tried to move between the battling groups got injured by pepper spray, police clubs or stones. The closing rally couldn't start for some time because of the noise from a police helicopter, hovering low over the crowd. After an hour or two things calmed down, the rally-programme commenced, followed by an evening-concert with 20.000 remaining peacefully on the square.

The following days saw a dramatic increase in the already heavy handed police activities. Controls in the overcrowded train-station, arrests with people being held for days in cages under 24 hour observation and permanent light, some without access to their lawyer. The demonstration for migrants-rights was delayed several times and finally closed down by an overwhelming police-presence, saying that there were too many participants to be allowed into town. The three camps, where thousands of protesters were practising a self-organised and democratic living during the week, were constantly observed and sometimes blocked by a large police contingency. Even military aircraft were flying low over the camps to shoot photos, an act, which will occupy parliament and constitutional court in the coming weeks. The planned marches towards the fence were forbidden on the basis of "security-requirements".

But despite the bad start, the harrassement and the tension, the vast majoritiy of people remained peaceful and most activities took place. - Intense discussions in the camps led to a consolidation of the alliances and of the consensus for non-violence during the blockades.

The Alternative Summit in Rostock.

Around 2000 participants from 40 different countries took part in a 2 day Alternative Summit with 130 Workshops tackling burning questions of the day including global justice, environment, climate change and sustainable energy, the so called "european partnership agreements" (EPAS), education, war + militarisation, migration and racisim, labour, social and gender issues.
A coalition of 39 different organisations who initiated the summit, spanned the global grassroots movement Via Campesina, Focus on the Global South, Attac Germany, Medico International, through to the more traditional NGO´s such as Greenpeace and Misereor, and thus offered a wide spectrum of speakers and expertise on all these topics.
Nontheless the mainstream media, continuing to speak of an amorphous mass of non-articulate, anti-everything protestors, managed to avoid giving any report on the summit, its concerns, arguments, or suggestions.
One central theme was the climate question, including a podium with several top speakers on the subject organised by the Our World is not for Sale Network (OWINFS). The discussion was concrned with alternatives and a critique, rather than a re-animation, of the Kyoto process, which was clearly identified as a failed market-oriented attempt to solve the problem. In another OWINFS-workshop on "Alternatives to corporate ruled globalisation", the top-down "one hat fits all" model of neoliberal globalisation was compared to the diverse, democratically organised cooperation and regional models.
Unfortunately the organisers of the Alternative summit had chosen the dates to coincide with the official G8 in the hope of gaining media presence. This backfired on two counts, firstly the clear lack of media interest and secondly, perhaps even more importantly, the clash of events as the main blockades took place on the same 2 days, which meant people had to choose either to be at the summit or out on the streets.

A battle for truth and civil rights

While Genua had seen battles in the streets, the "battle of Rostock" was primarily one for truth and civil rights. It began months before the summit, when police and politicians alike heated up the discussions about security-measures, talking about ominous threats, while the organisers of the protest had to struggle with delayed police-decisions on applications for public activities. This left hardly enough time to take legal action against unjustified and unconstitutional police-measures, such as the decision to keep an additional security perimeter around the already huge fence, which created an area where citizens rights were suspended for hundreds of square-kilometers and which left no space at all to carry the protest to those who should hear it.
A few weeks before the event, police raided offices and meeting places of some of the organising groups, justifying this with an "acute danger of terrorist assaults" - however, one police-speaker later admitted that there had been no imminent danger and the raids had been performed to get a picture of "who was organising what".
During the protest week, an "unholy" alliance of police-spokespersons and mass media cooperated in issuing biased information, with the media often not giving the source of their information.
The media also took over the police count, of 25.000 participants at the main demonstration, and of 2000 - 3000 violent protesters. Observers at the location however saw 60.000 - 80.000 peaceful demonstrators and roughly 500 involved in violence against the police (which makes it a ratio of less than 1% violent people rather than the over 10% in the police picture). On Saturday evening a figure of 1000 injured, with 30 or 40 severely injured police, made the online-media headlines, to be reported on a mass scale in print on Monday morning - it turned out that two police officers were hospitalised (the normal criterium for "severely injured") one of whom was already out of hospital on Monday. Most of the injuries were caused by tear gas and pepper spray.
Nevertheless, the false figures turned the Constitutional Courts decision to uphold the security perimeter around Heiligendamm and to abolish the marches to the fence, despite their own argument that this was unconstitutional.
The mass media´s hunger to denounce the more radical parts of the protesters as violent became obvious, when a reporter of the dpa (German Press Agency) misquoted one of the speakers during the opening rally, reporting he had called to "carry the war into the demonstration, because with peaceful means we achieve nothing". In reality - confirmed through documented on video-footage, which was available online the same evening - he had spoken about the war in Irak and Afghanistan asking to "to bring the [theme of] war into the meeting, because without peace there can be no justice". The false quote made the headlines of major newspapers on Monday. It took dpa until Tuesday to send a correction and an apology, and the major weekly Die Zeit still brought the false quote the following Thursday.
False or exaggerated reports about violence continued and were used to justify water-tank- and baton-attacks against some of the peaceful blockades. A climax was police-claims, that some of the clowns - who were constantly on the spot to take the mickey out of the rambo-posturing police lines or simply trying to de-escalate by making people laugh - had sprayed dangerous acid out of their water-pistols. It turned out that some had put dishwashing liquid into the water to make bubbles. None of the close circuit camera teams could provide any footage of stone-throwers or other violence during the blockades and by Thursday media became more positive about the protesters.
The suspicions that there were "civilian observers" from the police amongst the black block have now been confirmed by the "Kavala" ( the special police unit responsible for the G8 security). However, there are witnesses claiming they saw some of those "observers" acting as "agent provocateur", trying to gear up protesters to throw stones during the otherwise totally peaceful blockades. A large group ("legal team") of voluntary lawyers were available, on the streets, round the clock to support the international protests and jumped in wherever necessary to help. In a press conference after the summit the lawyers presented a report in which they confirmed that the police and State, had violated citizens rights on a number of occasions. In addition to the parliamentary investigations, there will also be a legal follow-up in court, in particular with respect to the cages used for impounding demonstrators.

The State makes declarations, the Citizens act

While the judges and politicians fight over legality questions, citizens have long since created realities. In front of the fence at Heiligendamm the most important truths became visible: our rights are not given to us by the State, they belong to the strength of our being human and only when we practice them in the face of State- and police violence do they have substance. We thank all those who engaged in the peaceful protests and blockades. After Heiligendamm civil society in Germany will be different. The solidarity showed by the, mostly young, "blockaders" gives us hope for a more intensive future co-operation. "The times they are [truly] a´ changing..."

1 From Bob Dylan's song "The times they are a changin`"
2 see also Peter Wahl, G8: PR-Show oder Weltregierung, VSA Verlag, 2006, + www.attac.de/heiligendamm07/media/text_dl/texte/Bretton-Woods.pdf

3 During the so-called Asian-crisis 1998 millions of people sank below the poverty line in a matter of months. The rise of the "Tiger states" was abruptly ended. This crisis was one of the factors in the rise of the globalisation critical movement.
4 Began in 1995
5 see also Kevin Smith, "The carbon neutral myth", Transnational Institute 2007, or www.carbontradewatch.org
6 Trade related intellectual property rights, (TRIPS under the WTO agreements)
7 Patenting indigenous knowledge for instance, or natural plant substances, enabling companies to have a monopoly on their use.