Thursday, May 17, 2012

Protests in a democracy do not need to turn into bloody battles - The example of "Occupy Frankfurt"

By Patrick

The Occupy-movement has moved out of the headlines these days, which they "occupied" several month ago in the wake of their extensive protests, mainly in the USA. At these protests, we witnessed a lot of vicious police actions which predominantly happened in several US-cities, as well as in other countries. We saw clip after clip of shockingly brutal, unnecessary, unwarranted police actions at OWS-protests (see for example this shocking compilation of incidents here), and it was incredibly depressing to realize that this is apparently what "democracy now looks like" in parts of the Western world. It was simply unbelievable what we saw during these OWS-protests.

If peaceful protests are being violently crushed in such a way on a routine basis, then there is not much which distinguishes the Western world from autocratic regimes. The disregard that members of the police showed for free speech in particular is still hard to believe. It is a sad state of affairs if for example the police actions against demonstraters in Russia are quite hard to distinguish from the police actions against the Occupy movement, with Russia being a country which currently could be called at least "partly-autocratic."

So this is a hot, controversial topic, and while it's not my goal to "lecture" anyone, I also don't want to miss the opportunity to show that it "doesn't necessarily have to be like that." I am very concerned about the state of democracy in the Western world, and in the US in particular, and as far as brutal police actions are concerned, I believe that a general agressive attitude, most likely combined with massive prejudices against protesters and a growing militarization of the police are to blame. In addition it is apparent to me, from what I have seen in countless video clips, that the level of training of the police forces seems to be very poor. "Beat them, crush them, punish them" appears far too often to be the preferred method of "problem solving" by cops when they are being put into difficult situations, like (left-wing) mass protests. This is not the type of behaviour which should be acceptable in modern democracies.

I am not saying that everything is perfect over here in Europe. Over the years, we have had a fair share of violent police actions on numerous occasions, in many countries. Just recently, in September 2010, a disastrous police action took place in Stuttgart, Germany, when foolish conservative politicians ordered the police to forcefully clear a piece of land full of protesters, many of them teenagers, with one pensioner getting permantly blinded after he got hit in the face by a stream from a police water cannon. The protests were directed against the construcation of a new main train station in Stuttgart, as the project is hideously "over-engineered", far too expensive and also very damaging to the environment.

Back to Occupy: My point is that, right now, there are profound differences of how the Occupy-movement is being treated in Germany by the authorities, compared to what we have seen for example in the USA. This, I believe, is noteworthy. Granted, the Occupy-movement in Germany is rather small, which is not surprising as the economic pressures in Germany are not very significant right now. Unemployment is on a 20-year low, and in contrast to some of the Southern European countries, Germany's economic growth is going strong.

However, that doesn't mean that German Occupy-movement has been invisible. After protests in October 2011, a large permanent OWS-camp developed right in front of the European Central Bank (ECB) in the center of Frankfurt, the city which is the German "banking capital", with the headquarters of many of the largest German banks in walking distance from the ECB.

There the camp still remains, and right from the start the behaviour of the occupants of this camp has been described as "examplary" by the local authorities, who in turn quickly legalized the camp, with no final "end date" determined yet. So far, it has been a very peaceful "co-existence" between the protesters and the surrounding banks and businesses.

But Occupy-Frankfurt came into the headlines today: A larger coalition of mainly far left-wing groups had the idea to stage a "four-day event" in the center of Frankfurt, where the headquarters of Germany's biggest banks as well as the ECB are located, effectively trying to shut down business in the city center from today till Saturday, May 19 - called "Blockupy", the "European days of action". Interestingly, Occupy Frankfurt, the camp itself, does not seem to play a significant part in all this, despite the "Occupy" label, as established far left-wing groups seem to be the main organizers.

The local authorities did not agree with a chaotic shutdown of the city which was supposed to last for several days, and therefore partially banned the planned proceedings, in a very controversial decision which nevertheless has now mainly been confirmed by the courts. It also did not help the organizers that just several weeks ago, on March 31 this year, an anti-capitalist demonstration which included a larger militant "black block" group in Frankfurt got violent and gave the authorities reason to believe that there could be even more violence during the "Blockupy" events (see also the slideshow on this page). In order to learn more about the mindset of the militants, watch this video in which the "black block" people explain how they view themselves and how they justify their actions. They basically regard their militant actions as "theatre" in order to get larger exposure for their cause - but completely ignore that fact that mindless violence only helps to discredit any legitimate cause, as it gives the "other side" the chance to lump the peaceful protesters together with the idiotic actions of the militants (see here for a particularly nasty example of the actions of the "black block" during the OWS-protest in Oakland).

Some pictures from March 31, 2012 in Frankfurt:

From news reports, we know that the occupant of the Frankfurt camp were deeply unhappy with the violence during the protests on March 31, and strongly condemned it. This is interesting, as the people in the camp were apparently irritated that their peaceful cause was somehow "co-opted" by militant protesters. They stressed afterwards that peacefulness is the main element of their political philosophy.

Part of this (partial) ban concerning the "Blockupy" protests from May 16 to May 19 is the provision that the occupants of the Frankfurt camp are obliged to leave the camp for the next days and can only return after "Blockupy", due to security reasons. So the police went into action today and removed the occupants - temporarily. The occupants of the camp were not happy, of course, but I still found it interesting to see that even such a hostile police action did not result in ugly scenes, as both sides showed a large amount of respect, civility and tolerance towards each other - virtues which sadly have been missing in so many OWS-police actions we have seen in the past. Today, the police in Frankfurt could have used a heavy-handed approach, but they chose a different path and promised the occupants right from the start that there will be no charges if they let themselves get carried away by the police peacefully. As it turns out, there were only relatively minor disturbances, for example when quite a lot of paint was used by the protesters, but the policemen and policewomen were rather unfazed and consequently started to wear protective "white overalls."

Below is an excellent clip from an Italian website which shows precisely what went on today during this police action in Frankfurt:

Here are some pictures from the Occupy Frankfurt facebook page regarding the events from today - click on pictures to enlarge:

More very good pictures of the police action against Occupy Frankfurt from yesterday can be found at this website from Seattle.

Here are some of my own pictures I took today (I wasn't there when the occupants were removed, but I was there before and afterwards) - click to enlarge:

Some shopowners as well as some banks are boarding up their windows, as violence is expected to take place during the next days:

Some of the streets surrounding the ECB have already been closed by the police:

During the next days, about 30.000 people are expected to turn up for the protests in Frankfurt, and the police expect about 2.000 militant protesters to take part. Let's hope that ugly scenes can be avoided. In any case, it's refreshing to see that the occupants of the Frankfurt OWS-camp as well as the police today displayed civility and reason. Bloody battles help nobody - and intelligent police forces and intelligent politicians will try to avoid them, whenever possible. Let's hope that wisdom will prevail.



I would like to point out that the Occupy-movement in the USA and the militant anarchist were also at odds with each other - as shown in the following clips during the Occupy Oakland protests, and there were certainly many more examples:

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