[Marxism] Report from Strasbourg

Ivan D. Drury ivanddrury at yahoo.ca
Fri Apr 10 16:32:22 MDT 2009

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A Socialist Project e-bulletin .... No. 201 .... April 10, 2009

United Europe Represses the Right to Protest Against NATO

Ivan Drury

On April 4th the leaders of the NATO member countries met on the French-German border in Strasbourg France for the 60th anniversary of NATO. At this meeting the U.S. was to propose an escalation of the war in Afghanistan and ask for greater troop commitment from NATO countries. A major demonstration was organized to oppose this meeting, the occupation of Afghanistan, and to call for the dismantling of NATO. This demo also happened to coincide with the end of my time in Belarus, just days before my flight out of Germany back to Canada, so I was able to attend.

What Happened in Strasbourg

French President Nicolas Sarkozy had ordered every possible measure be used to put down the demonstration. But while he succeeded in stopping the protesters from setting foot in the streets of Strasbourg, the demonstration was all that was to be seen of the NATO summit in the news and the public imagination. In part, this can be seen as a victory of the demonstration: the state had pulled all the stops to suppress the voices of the street opposition to NATO, and the street had refused to be silenced. That the voice of this street appeared in the media stripped of criticism of NATO should not be surprising – it would not have been regardless of the specific behavior of some of the demonstrators.

Before the demo began its course was set. Nearly two thousand protesters, some Black Bloc, some Clowns, some independent activists, some organized socialists, had set up camp to the south of Strasbourg. This camp had been negotiated with the government by the International Coordinating Committee, because the government had refused better accommodations to the protesters. But from the beginning of the camp – on Wednesday night, four days before the demo – the police began to attack it, harassing and provoking the Black Bloc. From Wednesday night on, the police attacked the camp with tear gas, provoking fights with the Black Bloc, sealing the protesters in and harassing them in their temporary ghetto.

In official circles the International Coordinating Committee (ICC) also met with blocks from the state. Up until the night before the demonstration the government would not agree to a march route, a rallying point, or even to the legality of the demonstration. The state was maneuvering with the intention of shutting the demonstrators out of the NATO summit entirely.

The plan, which the ICC had set with the state months in advance, was that a German contingent would meet on the German side of the ‘Europe Bridge’ (the open German-French border bridge symbol of a united Europe) and a French contingent would meet on the French side. The demonstration would begin with the two sides meeting in the centre of the bridge and then marching back to the French side for a rally and continued march. The organizers wanted the march to lead into the city of Strasbourg from there to oppose the NATO meeting happening at the European parliament. Protest as usual. But no.

The day before the demonstration the police sealed off the centre of Strasbourg – which is ringed with canals and accessible by foot and car bridges – with armed guards in riot gear, gates, and high fences. The morning of the demo they intensified this blockade and completely cut off the rallying point from anyone staying on the north side of the city, where I was staying. After scouting numerous routes, I settled for a two hour walk around the long periphery of the city to get to the rallying point. But long before reaching the Europe bridge, the sound of tear gas cannons already filled the streets. I have been going to demonstrations for about fifteen years, and the police repression at this demo shocked me. They were not only attacking Black Bloc participants either. As example, after the police had broken up the organized rally and driven the protesters back onto a train bridge, a group of mostly older peace activists stood facing the advancing
 police with their hands over their heads. The Black Bloc was no where around us. Even I was surprised when the cops fired a volley
of a dozen tear gas canisters high up directly at this line of people with hands in the air. These people turned and scrambled, slid, ran down the steep bank, through the blackberry bushes and to the street below.

The police were working very hard to provoke the Black Bloc as rationale for attacking the protest as a whole. Two fires were set: a border office and a government visa building. The police – completely in control of the area around the visa office – waited two hours before calling the fire trucks in, letting the fire
take over the building and spread on to burn a pharmacy and a hotel. Of course, the cops, the government, and the media blamed the protesters for the burning of the pharmacy and the hotel in a working class part of town… but no one knows who started this particular fire. When I was asked by a media rep about the police claim that it was protesters, I said that I was very suspicious of such police claims.

The police were clearly herding the crowd. Firing gas from lockdown positions to drive the crowd down a certain street, easing off and letting the march go in the direction they'd driven it, firing gas again to stop us from moving down side streets, then easing off again. The march seemed completely out of the control of the organizers. My experience was that there were no organizers in sight, only the organization of some of the socialist groups who tried to hold together their contingents and the organization of the Black Bloc which rushed furiously around the periphery of the march in constant battle with the police. Finally the police herded us into their planned dead end: an industrial area with warehouses on each side with walls and fences bordering the street on each side.

A line of police cut us off at the front end, and the cops rolled a pair of freight train cars in to block the street behind us. They were so prepared for this trap that they had readied a train to barricade us into a blocked position in this street. They took position on top of and around this train and, with the crowd completely immobilized, began again to fire tear gas into the crowd from each end apparently with no other intention than to break the heart of the demonstration.

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