Global Policy Forum

15 Police Officers Against 5,000 Demonstrators


By Ingo Arzt and Florian Gathmann

Der Spiegel
June 7, 2007

By the end of the first day of the G-8 summit in Heiligendamm, many demonstrators were proud of themselves and convinced that they are "better organized than the police." Around noon, thousands managed to push past the police and break through the security fence. By 11:30 a.m., it must have been clear to police what they were up against. To their right, along the central access road to the G-8 summit's conference zone in Heiligendamm, a vast oat field was filled with an endless sea of people, singing songs and waving flags. The police officers from the German state of Saxony-Anhalt gripped their shields more tightly and pulled down the visors on their helmets. By then the 15 officers, in their green combat uniforms, were facing 5,000 G-8 protestors. Only a few kilometers separated the masses from the suite occupied by US President George W. Bush at the Hotel Kempinski.

"It's a great success for us," said a spokesman from the group "Block G-8." The police could be making precisely the opposite statement. "I don't understand how this could have happened," one officer said. Of course, the official police take on the incident sounds a little different from the protestors' version. According to a spokesman of the Kavala special unit, the authorities were not taken by surprise and were "deployed with significant forces." But the protestors were never meant to get this close to the site of the summit meeting of the leaders of the world's most powerful countries. German authorities had set up a six-kilometer security zone around the hotel where the summit is taking place. But that effort was apparently in vain.

Protestors had already blocked the A19 autobahn, which passes the airport in Rostock, the city closest to the G-8 conference hotel in Heiligendamm. "We wanted to pull apart the forces of the police and tie up as many officers as possible in the area near the airport," said a spokesman of the protestors. By 10 a.m., what was about to happen must have been obvious to the police. Almost the entire camp of about 8,000 G-8 protestors at Reddelich -- a village located between Krí¶pelin and Bad Doberan near Heiligendamm -- were on the move. The march began along a stretch of road heading east, suddenly veered to the left into a forest and then continued through fields and meadows in the direction of Heiligendamm. The crowd quickly acquired a helicopter escort, but otherwise there was no sign of police -- for the space of two hours.

It was an odd mix of people. Some walked alongside bicycles, while others carried straw bales wrapped in red netting to help them set up barriers at night. Some carried flags and banners. The march had the air of a modern-day mass migration. "This is craziness," said a young man with long, blonde hair, standing in the middle of a large rapeseed field, surrounded by red poppies.

'We Are Better Organized than the Police'

The protestors marched in five groups, organized by colors and identified by small flags. There were also smaller, named subgroups. "Stoiber, where is Stoiber?" a young woman yelled, looking for her group. "We are better organized than the police," people kept repeating. "Well, after all, we did spend three days practicing this blockade in our camp," said a spokesman of a union youth group known as IG Metall Jugend. The protestors had developed something they called the "five-finger system" -- referring to their ability to fan out and then come together again. The concept, the spokesman said, is called "back and forth, thousands of times," and was tested at protests conducted against transports in Germany of radioactive waste from nuclear power plants.

The closer it came to its destination, the faster the group moved. "This adrenaline is unbelievable," said one marcher. The crowd suddenly began to cheer when the fence became visible in the distance, but then nothing happened for hours. The leaders of the march had contacted the police to ensure that everything remained peaceful. During the course of the day, more and more police units arrived on the scene, but the effort seemed highly uncoordinated. A group of police officers from the southern German state of Baden-Württemberg was dispatched to the area from the airport, located on the other side of Rostock. "We had to drive across all these paths through the fields; it was totally chaotic," one officer said. The situation remained calm, even when the police announced, at about 2 p.m., that it planned to shift the protestors back a few hundred meters. And even the arrival of three water canons a short time later was met with relative calm, although it was unclear why the police had brought in the water canons at that juncture. "There are apparently some stone throwers among the protestors," one officer said.

As a result of the protest march, all access points were blocked, so that journalists and summit attendees alike had to be brought to the site by boat. This was Block G-8's biggest achievement on this first day of the summit. When the group's spokesman announced, using a loudspeaker, "You did it!" the crowd cheered. By evening, it was announced that the police would be bringing in reinforcements, including some police units from Berlin. But the G-8 opponents were hardly impressed by such announcements on this first day of the summit. "As long as the summit continues, we'll be blocking it here," said Sven Giegold, the coordinator of Attac, a network critical of globalization.

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