Submitted to Fightback (Aotearoa/NZ) by reader Jojo (based in Germany).
On march 18, the opening ceremony of the new building of the European Central Bank (ECB) was held in Frankfurt (Germany). About 25.000 activists not only from Germany, but also many from Italy and other European countries came to protest against this symbol of austerity and the European crisis regime. Riots brought the protests to the headlines of the German news.
The ECB’s new tower is 185m high and 1,3 billion Euro was spent to build it, while at the same time, the ECB as part of the Troika is forcing austerity laws (which lead to the dismantling of health and social security systems) on countries effected by the Euro-crisis. When Blockupy, a broad left alliance that has already organized protests against the Troika in recent years1, announced to blockade the opening ceremony, the ECB changed its plans. Instead of a big opening party with many heads of governments, it held a much smaller ceremony with ECB-president Mario Draghi, Hesse’s2 minister for economy Tarek Al-Wazir (Green Party) and Frankfurt’s mayor Peter Feldmann (Social Democratic Party, the German Labour-equivalent). It also gave its employees a day off. So, already before the protests started, Blockupy had its first success.
In the morning of march 18, about 6000 activists set off towards the ECB in several fingers. While some hold blockades around the ECB, others started to attack the police and also other targets associated with the European crisis regime and capitalism as a whole, such as advertisements and windows of banks and big companies. Several police cars were set on fire and a petrol station was plundered. Activists built partially burning blockades out of rubbish bins and other stuff they found in the streets to stop the police. While some destruction might have been inappropriate, most actions were clearly political and had legitimate targets. The police’s response to the riots was teargas, clubs and water cannons. More than 200 protesters were injured, and more than 500 detained. One activist, Italian Federico „Fede“ Annibale, is still in prison. On the side of the police, there were 150 injured, 80 out of them were however injured by their own teargas.
In the afternoon, a protest march went through Frankfurt with about 25.000 participants. Famous supporters of Blockupy such as Naomi Klein, comedian Urban Priol, Sarah Wagenknecht (from the German party Die Linke, „The Left“) and Giorgos Chondros (Syriza), but also representatives of other leftist groups hold speeches. Naomi Klein put the riots (which were condemned by big parts of the media and the public, but also by parts of the Blockupy alliance) into a global context when she addressed the ECB with the words „You are the true vandals. You don’t set fire to cars, you are setting the world on fire!“.
March 18 was seen as a success by the Blockupy alliance and its supporters. Although it was a week-day, 25.000 people took part in the protests, a success of the mobilization that called for people to skive off work, university or school in order to come to Frankfurt (which is also a kind of strike action).
Nevertheless, there have been debates about militancy and the riots in the aftermath of the protests. In a press conference and a press release the Blockupy alliance criticized the actions that were outside of the action consensus (which included only peaceful blockades and stated that there should be no escalation from the activists).
“That was not all as we planned it in Blockupy, as we have agreed it”, said Ulrich Wilken from Die Linke. “I saw some things with dismay”. Other spokespeople found different words, that were not that harsh towards the militant actions and put them into a context of the violence of police and the structural violence carried out by the Troika, but still criticized them.
However, the alliance made clear that there would be no distancing from activists but instead more communication within the network.
On indymedia, some articles have been published that justified the riots as an expression of anger and as a political action against banks, big companies and the state.
While it should be clear to radical leftists that destruction or damage of police or corporate property is legitimate and not immoral, the question is when does it make sense strategically and when not. Some activists criticized that militant actions were carried out right next to peaceful blockades and thus threatened protesters who were not prepared for escalation. Hopefully, there will be a constructive debate within Blockupy and the left about all these points. This might also be the chance to make militant tactics more understandable for the moderate parts of the alliance.
To whatever this debate might lead, march 18 clearly showed that people in Europe are angry about the authoritarian and neoliberal responses towards the crisis and that social injustice leads to uprisings and riots.
There has also been some confusion about Neonazis taking part in the protests and about an alleged attack on an accommodating for under-age refugees owned by the catholic NGO “Kolpingswerk”. The latter was a fake report. A commercial hotel from the “Kolpingswerk” was attacked and not the accommodation of the refugees that was close to it. This still might not have been a very smart action, but it does make a huge difference. Neonazis had announced to take part in the protest march, but they were chased away as soon as they were discovered. Blockupy has a clear anti-fascist and anti-racist stance.
Blockupy will continue to fight austerity, neoliberalism and capitalism, and announced that it may target other institutions responsible for these politics like the EU commission in Brussels or the German government in Berlin in future action days.
As the Syriza government is struggling to fulfill its promises, a European left movement becomes increasingly important. It needs to support Syriza’s claims, e.g. the claim that Germany should pay back its debts from World War 2, but on the other hand it also needs to put pressure on Syriza to fulfill its promises and it needs to promote self-organization from below because only then can we build an alternative to capitalism. The last point is not shared by all participants of Blockupy, but the anti-authoritarian network “Beyond Europe” that also mobilized for M18 is strongly promoting it.
The situation of the European left might be strengthened again in December with the elections in Spain where Podemos has good chances.
The Blockupy homepage (also available in English): http://blockupy.org/
The campaign page “Free Fede” (the comerade imprisoned during the protests) on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Free-Fede/1522560364631427?fref=ts
1For more info on Blockupy see https://fightback.org.nz/2014/12/11/germany-blockupy-resistance-in-the-heart-of-the-european-crisis-regime/
2Hesse is the German regional state in which Frankfurt is located