NATO security conference protests quashed by police
01 March 2002
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.
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