The debate in Germany over how to deal with violent anti-G-8 protesters heats up, with politicians calling for the use of rubber bullets and the deployment of the elite anti-terrorism unit the GSG-9.
As security forces in Heiligendamm prepare for the arrival of US President George W. Bush and the start of the G-8 summit, bracing themselves for further violence like Saturday’s riot in Rostock where around 1,000 people were injured, the debate over how best to deal with violent protesters continues to heat up in Germany.
After earlier calls for a crackdown on the anarchists of the so-called Black Bloc, politicians Tuesday were calling for more specific — and tougher — measures, namely the use of rubber bullets by police forces and the deployment of Germany’s elite GSG-9 anti-terrorism unit.
In an interview with the tabloid Bild published Tuesday, Sebastian Edathy, a Social Democratic member of parliament and chairman of the Bundestag’s domestic affairs committee, suggested rubber bullets could be used. “We should examine if we should allow the use of rubber bullets for the self-defense of police officers in especially dangerous situations,” he told the newspaper. Representatives of the police union DPolG had earlier asked on Monday for police to be equipped with rubber bullets.
However the proposal was criticized by other voices in the police. Another police union, the GdP, rejected the suggestion Tuesday, saying that experiences in other countries show that rubber bullets entail a high risk of injury for innocent bystanders and that their use would only have aggravated the situation in Rostock.
The special G-8 security police unit Kavala also rejected the idea. “This kind of discussion is absolute stupidity,” said Kavala spokesman Axel Falkenberg dismissively.
Wolfgang Bosbach, a senior politician in Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), also rejected the suggestion of rubber bullets. “In that respect I would be very reluctant,” he said Tuesday.
Conservative politicians also called for Germany’s secretive elite anti-terrorist unit, the GSG-9, to be deployed to stop the violence. CDU politician Ole Schröder told Bild that the police were overwhelmed and were not able to control the violent protesters of the Black Bloc. “The federal interior minister should therefore offer assistance by offering to deploy the GSG-9,” he told the newspaper.
This suggestion, too, met with widespread criticism. “The GSG-9 has completely different tasks,” explained Interior Ministry spokesman Christian Sachs in a statement given to the German news agency DDP Tuesday. Sachs stressed that the GSG-9 was being deployed “around the summit,” but declined to give details.
Bosbach also rejected the suggestion that the GSG-9 be deployed around Heiligendamm, saying it was an “anti-terror unit,” not an “anti-demo unit.” According to sources in security circles, the GSG-9 is exclusively for fighting terrorism and serious crime — it has never been used against demonstrators.
Meanwhile German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her support for the police Tuesday. “It was confirmed in Rostock, in a sad way, that strict security measures are necessary,” she said in an interview with the German news agency DPA. “The police have in this respect my complete confidence. … Last Saturday made it clear once again — also for the peaceful demonstrators — that tolerance for those who perpetrate violence is completely misplaced.”
Commentators writing in Germany’s newspapers Tuesday were consistent in their condemnation of the violence but divided about how best to proceed.
The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
“The opponents of the G-8 summit prove their strength if they reject violence. They prove their credibility if they not only denounce suffering in the big wide world, but also reject the anger of anarchists on the Mecklenburg coast. They show their humanity if they have compassion not only with the distant victims of hunger and war, but also with the severely wounded policemen, whose worried families sat in front of their televisions watching the riots in Rostock.”
“Violence weakens the critics of globalization. It frightens off the many respectable school pupils, university students, trade unionists and church members who doubt the policies and legitimacy of the G-8, but who do not, however, doubt the value of a state founded on the rule of law and its monopoly on violence. They are people who hope and pray that people in Africa, Afghanistan or Iraq will one day live in the same freedom and safety as Germans currently do.”
“The protest movement must consistently distance itself from the street fighters for whom a policeman is always an enemy and the state is always unjust. Too many demo hooligans and wannabe revolutionaries attach themselves to organizations such as the anti-globalization group Attac, in which people of integrity work. Attac must show the bruisers of the Black Bloc the cold shoulder, once and for all.”
The center-right Frankfurt Allgemeine Zeitung writes:
“Certain protest groups have to address the question of how large their share of the responsibility for the riots is. … If an Attac spokesperson now suddenly tells the Black Bloc: ‘We don’t want to see you any more,’ then this seems like a new twist. Up until now, the different groups somehow seemed to belong together. … The streetfighting in Rostock acts like a kind of late confirmation of the raids (of the offices of G-8 opponents in May) and the suspicions of terrorism, and it disproves the claims that the police caused the escalation.”
“It would certainly be wrong to react now with demands for a tough crackdown on protesters, because the Black Bloc want to provoke exactly such knee-jerk reactions — assuming they actually have any further goals apart from violence itself. But tactics and equipment certainly need to be discussed after such a fiasco. In the coming days, the police must ensure that everyone can demonstrate peacefully — and at the same time take energetic measures against those who use violence. It must be made clear to them, as well as to law-abiding citizens, that there will be no repeat of the Rostock riots.”
The Financial Times Deutschland writes:
“Get tough! No, more de-escalation! After the paving stones of far-left riot tourists, now trite demands are raining down on the police units responsible for security at the G-8 summit. While the anarchists in Rostock continue to satisfy their lust for violence, anyone and everyone who is involved with security politics insist they know better than the state government of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, which is responsible for security.”
“But the fact that it came to streetfighting with many injuries in Rostock, and that the Black Bloc continued to riot on Monday, cannot be regarded as proof that the police approach was completely wrong. Because, to put it the other way around, nobody can provide any evidence that things would have been any better if the police strategy had been different.”
“Certainly, each injured policeman is one too many, and each broken pane of glass is a crime which could have been prevented with perfect police tactics. The only thing is, there is no such thing as perfect police tactics.”
The left-leaning Berliner Zeitung writes:
“Those who are shouting the loudest now (about how to deal with violent protests) knew it all along: The only things which work against the Black Bloc are Billy clubs and water cannon. But it is not so simple. For one thing, there is no such thing as a homogenous group of ‘anarchists.’ Not everyone who puts on a black hooded top and sunglasses and joins the Black Bloc likes to take every opportunity to beat up policemen.”
“The police leadership in Rostock managed successfully to get this nuanced view across to its officers. That approach was able to succeed because the police were able to find a common basis for negotiation and confidence building in the preceding months in countless discussions with the demo organizers. … A security partnership between protesters and police in which both sides put the focus on de-escalation is the sensible approach. The fact that things went wrong in Rostock on Saturday is regrettable. It is not, however, a reason to abandon the current approach.”
— David Gordon Smith