Ahead of this weekend’s G20 summit, as the number of police in the city increases, Hamburg’s cafes are also filling up with protesters readying their tactics.
Over the past week, in a squatted theater plastered in signs reading “no press, no cops,” more than one hundred activists have been preparing a radical leftist demo dubbed “Welcome to Hell.” According to local press, the demonstration could leave downtown Hamburg in ashes, although organizer Andreas Beuth, a lawyer, says all he wants is to “strongly express our uncompromising criticism.” Mr. Beuth laid down the rules: no alcohol, no drugs, and all protesters should link arms. He wants marchers to make it through to the Trade Fair Halls where the summit will take place.
In all, more than 100,000 anti-capitalist demonstrators are expected to clash with some 20,000 policemen, 150 police dogs and water cannon this weekend. A summary court has been set up for people who are arrested.
We want to stir things up. If that means something has to burn, so be it.
Dozens of marches, rallies and blockade attempts are planned. The past week has already seen several major demonstrations, from an 8,000-strong group marching downtown to a “wave of protest” of canoes, kayaks and paddle boats, and a “yes we camp” sleep-out.
The police, too, are gearing up and have been criticized for brutal suppression of protest, including the use of water cannons during the first demonstrations Tuesday night. There have also been various court battles over what demonstrators can and can’t do during the gathering. Spontaneous non-sanctioned protests have been restricted, and police have been given the power to disperse “tent cities” that have been set up in parks if necessary.
Protests will peak on Saturday at a demonstration planned by left wingers, NGOs and church groups and expected to draw anarchists, communists, left liberals, Social Democrats and environmentalists. For some, such as the Greens and Social Democrats from the city state’s government (who are therefore partly responsible for the G20), it is a test of loyalties. Generally, the demonstration’s organizers encouraged all attendees from across the political spectrum, excluding only Hamburg’s Stalinists, who tend to paralyze gatherings by arguing.
The activists’ hopes vary as much as their tactics. One participant, known by her assumed name Meike Seidel, expects violence and won’t name the group she is a member of, or describe its plans. While she said demonstrations won’t prevent the summit or close it down early, she hopes the G20 will never again try to meet in the middle of a large European city. She was reluctant to give an interview and asked this reporter to remove the battery from his smartphone before she would talk.
Ms. Seidel was nervous after two of her colleagues’ apartments were searched by armed police, but she outlined her position. During the two days of the summit, she said 49,000 people throughout the world would die of malnutrition, including 17,000 children, according to university statistics. Those deaths could be avoided if rich countries were serious about development, she said; and if the German government, for example, hadn’t broken its promise 46 years in a row to invest 0.7 percent of the country’s gross national income in aid.
For her, that justifies broken windows, barricades and burning cars. “We want to stir things up. If that means something has to burn, so be it,” Ms. Seidel said. She doesn’t expect most Germans to support her tactics but wants them to know, “we’re not bloodthirsty vandals but think seriously about these things.”
Other groups share Ms. Seidel’s stance. A pamphlet making the rounds in Hamburg mentions the American and British suffragettes who fought for women’s right to vote in the early twentieth century. According to its authors, protests that stick too closely to the rules don’t achieve anything.
Hamburg’s leftists are tense, angry and uncertain, and split over a number of issues – over strategy, over whether or not protesters should hide their identity, over whether to include refugees in protests, and whether it can ever be okay to use the term “predatory capitalism” (or whether that implies that capitalism can also be acceptable). Maps are also being passed around the city that apparently show potential blockade points, and then there are the two-euro plastic glasses that protect wearers from police tear gas.
Ms. Seidel said the G20 summit is an obscene display of wealth, and mentioned the luxury hotels where leaders will stay, as well as the three jets that are rumored to accompany Donald Trump. She noted the limousine that will bring the US president to town is fitted with steel plating ten inches thick, a grenade launcher and a tear gas cannon.
She has spent the last few weeks reviewing blurry films of past summits in Seattle, Prague, and Genoa. Back then, protesters wanted a financial transaction tax, to end speculation on food, and new fair trade laws to help developing countries. She blames the September 11 attacks for displacing these issues and pushing security to the fore. Worse, the situation has deteriorated since then, she said. Instead of better conditions, right-wing populists such as Donald Trump and Viktor Orbán are limiting globalization through protectionism. Ms. Seidel hopes Hamburg is a chance to bring these issues back to the table.
This article originally appeared in Der Tagesspiegel, a sister publication of Handelsblatt. To contact the author: email@example.com