G8 Summit versus Article 8 of the German Constitution

During the past ten years, the G8 Summit meeting has become more than another meeting of world leaders. Particularly since Genoa, Italy in 2001, where a protester was killed by police, the meeting has become a symbol of all that is wrong with the trend toward an unrestricted, globalized capitalist economy, and evidence of how far we have moved away from democratic systems in favor of ones which are dominated by corporate interests. This year’s summit, from June 6-8, in Heiligendamm, near Rostock, Germany is proving to be a showcase of encroaching neo-liberal imperialism while politicians insist on maintaining an ever-thinner facade of democracy.

Much like during Bush’s visit to Mainz in 2006, where the entire city was essentially locked down like a US prison, much to the horror of its inhabitants, even German police complain about the American “security” demands, which they said were both unrealistic and did not allow them to fulfill their duties and respect the German constitution .

Funnily enough, it is article 8 of the German constitution which guarantees freedom of assembly to the German people, and exactly this freedom was trampled upon when the self-proclaimed defender of world liberty came to visit and demanded that no demonstrations be allowed within 5km of the meeting place. Actually this is not true: demonstrations are forbidden within 5 km of a 3-meter-tall barbed-wire fence which surrounds the village — built at a cost of 12 million Euro to German tax payers. It certainly makes a splendid monument to American-style liberty and democracy.

In keeping with this new, American style of democracy, only certain journalists are allowed access to the meetings. Those who have “reported critically” in the past have been black listed and barred from attending, according to German TV ARD and news magazine Der Spiegel. In keeping with a modern, American-style nomenclature, then, I recommend giving this new style of democracy a Rumsfeld-esque descriptive name: confidential, non-consensual democracy. It is, after all, taking place behind closed and locked doors, without freedom of the press and surrounded by the largest contingent of armoured police that the German Republic has ever seen.

As if the event were not already enough of a mockery, George Bush, leader of the American regime, has brought with him his own plan to confront global warming, an issue which, at home, he has either ignored or dismissed as non-existent. While his European counterparts argue for strict and concrete goals for CO2 emissions, Bush prefers each country to set its own, voluntary goals for CO2 reduction. Most Europeans, meanwhile, seem to be of the opinion that this voluntary plan will work about as well as the American system of gun control.

Those who do not agree with the decisions being made in this new fortress of bogus democracy, or those who merely would like to ask that certain issues are addressed adequately — action against global warming, relief for third world debt, more aid for Africa, an end to the unrestricted flow of capital which moves jobs out of a country without warning, or cheaper AIDS medication — would have little if any chance to express their opinion, which is clearly neither wanted nor of any consequence.

Despite all of this, nearly 100,000 people gathered in Rostock on Saturday to voice their opinions. This meeting unfortunately took place not where the participants of the summit might see it, but some 20 km away in Rostock. The true distance between the people and the government seems so much greater, though.

I had wanted to take part in the protests from the time I learned that the summit would be taking place in Germany. Despite this long-term goal, I found myself quite unprepared and poorly informed shortly before the actual demo was to take place in Rostock. While already a convoy of bike riders had left from my hometown, as well as other cities in Germany, Sweden, Italy and elsewhere, to draw attention to global warming and the need for environmentally friendly transport, I was only able to arrange a journey by train.

I had no idea what to expect: a peaceful protest march? Attacks from the police? Full-blown 1968 streets of fire? I quickly packed a jacket in case of rain, a warm hat, some sandwiches, my camera, a bandanna and glacier glasses in case of gas attacks.

I woke up at 4 am reminded of mountain climbing — getting up in darkness and wondering if I really wanted to do this, but knowing that an early start is essential. Riding through the dawn mist to the train station, I quickly found my prospective travel partners — a group of four 19-year-olds. I made the fifth person and we bought our special weekend family ticket for a price which has gone up sharply since the last time I used one. Furthermore, recent news had stated that the railway personnel had now been recruited by the police, in an echo back to the East German “Stasi” secret police, and would be informing the police ahead of time if there were any suspicious passengers in the trains. The train journey lasted over 6 hours, and by the time we got there I was just about ready to go back home.

Despite dreary weather, we were greeted by a train station that was overflowing with people. Outside even more were awaiting us, although the bicycle riders had not yet arrived. There must have been some flat tires in the Alps, I reckon. All in all there are nearly 100,000 demonstrators from many countries, from nearly every age group, and from all walks of life. These are, apparently, the “extremists” or “terrorists” that the G8 leaders are afraid of, though a better word for them would be “citizens” or maybe “people from the countries you claim to represent.” I was surprised that the first speakers were from Italy and Spain, and a short translation followed each speech. Among the speakers were a local politician, the father of the protester murdered by the police in Genoa, and an environmentalist from China. Certain themes emerged: global warming needed action ten years ago, not ten years from now, George Bush and Tony Blair are war criminals, large companies moving their factories to the country with the lowest wages and environmental standards is not good for the workers or the environment, and George Bush is not a very popular person (you know what I want to mention here), though, in fact, no one wanted to place all of the blame on him alone. The American folk singer David Rovics sent us off with an excellent but perhaps too hopeful song, claiming “We will shut them down.”

The march met at the harbor and we were asked to form blocks– the Italian group, some various trade unions, people for environmental action, people against various free trade pacts, something which seems to lump all females together — independent women, women against war, lesbians and transsexuals… I walked on the outskirts and took photos. Along the route, there were giant puppets fighting over pieces of the world, impersonators of the 8 leaders scrambling for resources from the developing world, flags of hundreds of organizations flying, hundreds of banners and signs, and clowns who entertained the the walkers, watchers, and police. There was one block of marchers with a slightly different take on the event; the black-clad Autonomen, mainly from Berlin, setting off firecrackers as they walked past the police, who until this time had shown restraint and posed no threat to the protesters.

This all changed when we arrived at the harbor. For reasons I still do not know, a phalanx of black-clad armored police, carrying sticks and shields, suddenly stormed in behind the last protesters, in a move that can only be seen as threatening, and were met by another group dressed in black. After a short spat of stone-throwing and general boisterousness, the protest organizers radioed to the police and convinced them to back off, and their sudden retreat is met with cheers from the crowd now assembled.

The band starts playing a song titled “Relax,” and for a while, it looked as if we would indeed have our peaceful demonstration. Tall sailing ships are anchored and adorned with banners from Greenpeace urging action on climate change, as well as from Doctors without Borders, asking for more medical aid for Africa. I board a ship which offers vegan food and drinks, while police helicopters circled above, reminding us of the splendid new democracy this G8 meeting has given us.

Some hours later, a huge truck rebuilt into a sort of two-storey techno van begins leading the protesters out pied piper style, as they dance along behind it. It is a scene that one would more likely expect from a very lame music video or an American TV commercial for Mountain Dew. But as we were dancing into the sunset, we heard fire engines and turned to see smoke behind us. Cars set ablaze, rocks flying, pepper spray and flailing batons, it was everything most of us had hoped to avoid. It seems that our friends dressed in black– the police and their lesser-armed but equally angry rivals — had started to fight after all. I would later be surprised to read that the German press was careful to point out that only a small group of those assembled had taken part in any violence, and that the police were also partly blameworthy.

Thinking of these clashes, disturbing though they may be, I can only wonder; a few burning cars and thrown stones? Is this the awesome danger that required the complete recall of democracy, the total secrecy in place of transparency, the gagging of the press in place of open information, the 12 million Euro fence that did more to provoke than to protect? Is this what European democracy has come to? But the answer is already known; just as the G8 has trumped article 8 of the German Constitution (freedom of assembly), our European democracy has been trumped by a new, American style “democracy,” also called authoritarianism and government by the corporate “elite.”

Daniel Vallin is a writer who lives in Europe. Read other articles by Daniel, or visit Daniel's website.

2 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Michael Kenny said on June 4th, 2007 at 4:34pm #

    I don’t think our European democracy has been “trumped”. On the contrary, it will come out of this looking very good, because all this will put distance between us and Bush. He hasn’ t dared come on a state visit since Mainz and since he was practically chased out of Ireland by a retired army colonel and I would guess that he’s here now only because he has to attend the G8. And I doubt very much if any locality in Europe will willingly accept a visit from him ever again. As I write, he is getting a hot (rather than warm!) reception in Prague. Basically, the US has a lame duck president and is virtually impotent until at least 20 January 2009. That’s a huge step forward.

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