The protesters, who have come from different parts of the world, hold world leaders responsible for a range of global problems.
Hamburg: Even as leaders of global industrialised economies began to descend upon Hamburg on the eve of the G20 summit, thousands of people took to the streets on Thursday to protest against everything that they said the event symbolises – militarisation, war, first world imperialism, capitalism.
‘Welcome to Hell,’ a demonstration organised by Left organisations on Thursday evening turned violent minutes after it began, with protesters pelting stones, torching cars and throwing bottles at policemen dressed in riot gear. Police personnel in their turn used water cannons to disperse the people, mainly those activists belonging to the far left “Black Bloc” organisation, dressed in black hoodies with their faces covered. Colourful protest ideas, including marchers wearing masks of world leaders and zombies were part of the crowds.
Throughout the day, the port city – the second largest in Germany – was in preparation mode for the protest, which had been feared to take a violent turn – shops and offices were closed, and roads were blocked. People trickled to the fish market in the city centre, the venue of the protest, with placards in their hands and slogans on their lips.
‘Welcome to Hell’ was touted as the biggest of the 30 anti-G20 protests registered, some of which started as early as two weeks ago. The protests cover a range of topics: climate change, social security, environment protection, capitalism, opposition to free trade and white supremacy. US President Donald Trump’s brand of racist, sexist and ‘America First’ populism, as well as his withdrawal from the Paris Accord, has taken centre stage. Other leaders attending the summit include Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“After Trump was elected in the US, we started planning demonstrations. These didn’t end after the women’s march but sustained over time. When Trump imposed the immigration ban, we stormed airports, which caused a judge to intervene against it. Grassroots movements help and this is why I am here,” an American activist told The Wire.
He was not the only one to show up from abroad. Protesters from across Europe have come to Hamburg, as have 20,000 police from all over Germany and the continent. Special forces have been deployed at various places over the weekend: the Austrian police, for instance, are at the airport; police from the Netherlands are manning the harbour.
Hamburg has had a long tradition of left politics, and a summit like G20 was not expected to be fully peaceful. At the heart of these protests is Sternschanze, an anarchist quarter about two kilometres away from the G20 summit venue, Hamburg Messe, a massive convention centre.
To walk down the streets of this area, also known as Shanzenviertel, is to understand the core essence of the protests. Walls full of anti-G20 graffiti catch the eye; the obvious villains are Trump, Putin and Erdogan, portrayed as the bad guys out to destroy the world, all of whom will attend the summit.
Further down in the neighbourhood, Rote Flora, a big red building, calls for your attention with lit up sign boards atop that read: “Capitalism will end anyway, you decide when”. Originally a theatre, the buildinh occupied by squatters since 1989 amidst demonstrations and street battles has long been a hotbed of revolt and dissent against the establishment. This is where the idea for the ‘Welcome to Hell’ protest was born.
“Welcome to Hell is a combative message … but it’s also meant to symbolise that G20 policies worldwide are responsible for hellish conditions like hunger, war and the climate disaster,” veteran Rote Flora activist Andreas Blechschmidt recently told AFP.
For the last couple of weeks now, Hamburg has been in a “state of emergency” with a strong police presence; drills have been in progress and helicopters have been hovering over the city, leaving Hamburg residents exasperated.
The summit being held smack in the middle of the city has caused not only inconvenience, but has also led to fears over security. “It is simply ridiculous that an event of this proportion is held here. Global politics at the moment are so tense and to bring controversial leaders together in a city causes inconvenience and is very dangerous. Anything can happen,” said Jan Jungclaus, a 27-year old architect who left the city on Thursday to stay with his grandparents on the outskirts.
Several protests will be held across the city on Friday and Saturday.
Jan van Evan, a member of parliament from the left Die Linke party of Germany, has organised a demonstration on July 8 and expects a turnout of 50,000 people. “We are demonstrating for international solidarity, poor people and pensioners. The benefits of globalisation should be felt by all, and for that to happen, capitalism must end,” he told The Wire. He also criticised the German government, whom he accused of being autocratic in trying to snuff out protests. “This would not send a good message to Trump, Erdogan and Putin.”
Kurdish organisations will also be a part of this protest on Saturday as they stand pitted against Erdogan’s Turkish nationalist supporters. In a joint statement, Kurdish institutions have said: “the states are responsible for exploiting the people and severe rights violations in Turkey will continue as the G20 convenes in Hamburg”.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel had earlier this year pledged to increase Germany’s military spending by 2% of its gross domestic product to meet NATO targets to face security threats and Russia’s perceived “aggression”. At a protest last weekend, the first big one in the city, Gerd Schneidereit of the Forum for Peace said military spending needed to stop, wars had to end. “We want Germany to spend more on social security than on defence. We want the atomic and nuclear power to end in Germany,” he said.
Not a single topic of social relevance seemed undeserving of being highlighted. On a warm evening in June two weeks ago, hundreds of people, mostly young ones, gathered outside the town hall of Harburg in the south of Hamburg. Dressed in black hoodies, some with skulls etched on their t-shirts, they shouted slogans. Rock music blared from big speakers. A posse of policemen, white helmets in hand, stood guard. The demonstration was against a prison set up for protesters.
When recently asked why she had chosen Hamburg, her birthplace, as a venue for G20 amid all the concerns, Merkel made it very clear that this was how democracy played out.
Sukhada Tatke is a freelance writer. She tweets @ASuitableGirl.