NATO security conference protests quashed by police
In the first weekend of February, NATO held its annual security meeting in Munich. The focus of the meeting was "international terrorism" and NATO's future strategy. All protests were banned across Munich for the duration of the conference and almost 1,000 arrests and "preventative detentions" were made. People were also stopped at the German borders.
From the outset, it was clear that participants in the protests against the NATO security meeting would be targeted and "criminalised". The extent of it even surprised members of the "Coalition against the NATO security meeting", a group incorporating student and youth organisations, anti-nuclear groups and anti-fascists, refugee, church and peace organisations. "Munich threatened with chaos", "Fear of a second Genoa", "Violent anarchists planning disruption of security conference", Munich headlines warned before a single protestor had set foot in the city. Weeks before the conference, Christoph Hillenbrand, from the Interior Ministry declared that "a broad coalition of left-wing extremists, including violent anarchists (Autonome), has called for participation in actions". Josef Straßer, operational planner for the police force said: "Against the background of the military intervention in Afghanistan, radical anti-globalisation activists can now use the security meeting for riots such as those in Genoa."
Even the local Green party was tarnished with the violent protestor label when they called for protests against the demonstration ban. Günther Beckstein, the conservative Bavarian interior minister, told the Green faction in the city council that it would be responsible for any riots. The Green party commented:
"This is a dark day for liberal, cosmopolitan Munich. The regional administration, and in particular Mayor Ude, have contributed to the escalation of the situation before the security meeting has started, in order to justify a complete demonstration ban. They have missed the chance to call for a peaceful protest against violence"
Once the planned actions had been criminalised before they even started, it was a small step to ban them. The city council banned all demonstration in inner Munich, and the administrative court and later the regional high court rejected an appeal which the coalition had lodged at short notice. The high court extended the ban to the whole of Munich, including the outer city areas. Their justification was the risk of an "uncontrollable number of groups prepared to use violence". The extension of the ban was probably due to police warnings of the so-called "Genoa tactic", the alleged practice of demonstrators to "swarm out to different city districts and create chaos". Before the actual meeting however, the city also used other means to stifle protest.
On the Thursday before the conference, a book shop was searched and computers and fax machines confiscated on the grounds of the "suspicion of incitement to take part in criminal offences". Georg Ebel, a spokesperson for the Coalition, who is also active in refugee support work, was arrested on the Thursday and was held in "preventative detention" until the end of the conference. A dozen cultural organisations, cafes, church and refugee groups complained in an open letter to Christian Ude (Social Democrats), the mayor of Munich, of having been threatened with having their funding cut if they offered any kind of support to protests in the city. Ude said on 17 January that "if public institutions, such as youth clubs or projects for foreigners, support the demonstrators in organising or planning disturbances, it will have consequences" (Süddeutsche Zeitung 17.1.02). That providing information was included within his definition of "organising or planning disturbances" became clear when the Eine-Welt-Haus (Third World Group) was ordered to cancel information evenings and a preparatory meeting organised by the Coalition.
On 17 January, the police phoned the kafe kult and warned them that there would be "serious consequences" if they went ahead with a solidarity concert for the Coalition on 25 January. In an open letter to the mayor, the groups commented:
"We call this form of communication blackmail...We believe that these forced measures used by yourself and the council violate, in a frightening manner, basic civil rights: the right to freedom of speech and the right of assembly. We believe that the funding of independent cultural, inter-cultural, social and other non-commercial projects is one of the main tasks of communal politics as well as being an enrichment for the whole city. It should not be used as a lever with which those in power can either shut or open political spaces according to their will and pleasure."
Around 1,000 people demonstrated in Munich against the ban after the court announced its decision. During the weekend of the NATO conference, over 5,000 people ignored the ruling and a press conference was held on the Marienplatz in the city. Another Coalition representative, Claus Schreer, was arrested on his way to the rally. The whole square was filled with police - over the weekend demonstrators were confronted by a 3,500 strong police force. During the next two days, police "rounded up" groups of protestors, a method which splits-up demonstrators before holding them in separate groups for hours on end.
On 6 February, the legal support team in Munich published their report of the weekend: around 850 people were arrested, 350 on Friday, 1 February alone. Over 99% of those arrested were released within three days. Of the arrests on Saturday, only 29 people were charged with criminal offences. Due to the legal ban, police could in effect take as many people into "preventative detention" as they wanted, on grounds of "participation in a banned assembly", which is a civil offence. Despite the low number of criminal charges, those arrested complained of abuse and illegal police conduct: several people were injured in police operations. Once arrested, many were denied telephone calls and contact with lawyers. Youths below the legal age were kept in police detention without their parents being informed and some parents who phoned police stations to find out about their children were refused information about their arrests. The legal support team and their lawyers are now planning to initiate proceedings against the police for their conduct and have called on participants to give information on their treatment, (see below for details).
A meeting at the trade union Deutsche Gewerkschaftsbund was also disrupted. Police surrounded the building and demanded that people leave the building in small groups. Although the legal representatives of the Coalition agreed with police to let people leave in order to avoid harassment, participants reported arrests as well as beatings when leaving the building. Hundreds of people were checked and identified by police.
The summit was also marked by the harassment of people crossing borders. This time, the reintroduction of border controls under Article 2.2 of the Schengen Agreement affected an unknown number of people, some of whom were taken into "preventative detention" at the border between Austria and Germany. This seems to have particularly affected many Italians, two of whom were arrested in Kaufheim at the border, three other Italians were held in preventative detention. In Milan and Florence, demonstrations took place in front of the German consulates in protests at the detentions. The legal team estimated that without the far-reaching repression, around 10,000 people would have been expected to demonstrate in Munich.
One of the aspects highlighted by the Coalition against the NATO security meeting was that due to the heavy-handed police tactics before and during the protests, the arguments of the protestors, and the aims of the NATO security summit, were ignored by the media. Rather than triggering a discussion on the changing role of NATO, the danger of increased military activity without parliamentary control under NATO auspices or the US planned (and UK supported) military intervention in Iraq, newspapers reported on chaotic protests and protestors. Bavarian minister and CSU chairman Edmund Stoiber declared at the NATO conference that:
"We need modern and armed rapid reaction forces with better technical equipment, which, together with our allies, can operate in those areas where dangers and risks demand it. The dimension of the threat has to be the crucial criterion in deciding on the size, structure and equipment for the forces."
The events in Munich demonstrated that threats will be created, even when they do not exist.
The legal defence team is appealing for information from participants of the demonstration about arrests, and treatment whilst imprisoned. Contact Rote Hilfe e.V., OG München/Ermittlungsausschuss, Schwanthalerstr. 139, 80339 München, firstname.lastname@example.org, Tel: 0049(0)89-4489638 (Wed. 6-7 pm), fax: 0049(0)89-4802006 (FAO Rote Hilfe).
Sources: telepolis 1-3.2.2002; jungle World 16.1.2002, 6.2.2002. Filed 5.3.02.
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