Activists have warned that Hamburg is in danger of becoming a “democracy-free zone” in the face of an attempted clamp-down on this Summer’s massive anti-G20 mobilisation.
The G20 – an informal economic forum of the leaders of 20 major economies – comes together in Germany’s second-largest city from 7-8 July. It is the first time the Summit, typically the target of anti-globalisation protests, has met in Western Europe since 2011.
Early this month, police announced new measures to protect the Summit from disruption: as well as the “red zone” around the Summit, protected with water cannons and tear gas, peaceful protesters would be banned from a new “blue zone” encapsulating most of Hamburg’s inner city.
But the outcry – both from the grassroots and from Die Linke’s parliamentary bloc – has forced Hamburg’s justice minister Till Steffen to overrule the police.
Days before the Voice reached publication, Steffen announced: “We agree in the Cabinet that there will be no demonstration ban.”
It’s not the end of the matter. Steffen is a minister from the Green Party, junior partners in coalition with the Social Democratic Party in Hamburg. The concession was forced by the strength of local opposition, but there’s no guarantee the Cabinet will remain united.
Already, the decision to allow demonstrations has been fiercely criticised by senior police figures, opposition parties and right-wing newspapers, who claim the decision is an invitation to “violent protesters” to destroy the city.
Critically, Hamburg mayor Olaf Scholz – nicknamed “King Olaf” (favourably or unfavourably, depending on who you speak to) – will not want to see his coalition partners compromise his hard-won reputation as a strong defender of ‘law and order’. According to reports, Scholz was not present at the Cabinet meeting that discussed the demonstration ban.
The SPD and Greens are stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Hamburg’s vibrant left is united in purpose for the first time since the successful NOlympia campaign two years ago, when anti-gentrification and anti-capitalist activists won a No vote in the referendum on Hamburg’s bid to host the 2024 Olympics – despite the major parties either endorsing the bid or taking no stance.
When the G20 meets here, they will be a short walking distance from the city’s traditionally autonomist and progressive Schanzenviertel and St Pauli districts.
The decision to host the Summit here has been described by some activists as a “provocation”. They suspect it will provide the police and the press with a useful opportunity to undermine local social movements.
The propaganda war has already begun. Above the Rote Flora, an iconic cultural centre squatted since 1989, the words “NO G20” burn in blue neon, wrapped in barbed wire. Bild, Germany’s answer to The Sun and the most widely-sold newspaper in the Western world, derided the new installation with the caption: “Is it meant to be art?”
Meanwhile, around 50 pubs in Hamburg are offering patrons a ‘Soli-Mexikaner’. A shot made from tequila, sangrita, tomato juice, salt and pepper, the Mexikaner has been a staple of St Pauli bars for 30 years. Now, as a tongue-in-cheek gesture of solidarity with Mexicans against US President Donald Trump, proceeds from the ‘Soli-Mexikaner’ go towards the costs of the anti-G20 mobilisation.
It is impossible to walk through Hamburg, let alone speak to local activists, without a sense that something big is bubbling under the surface.
Various groups are deep into plans for the ‘compact week’ around the G20 Summit.
From 5-6 July, around 1,500 are expected to attend the Summit for Global Solidarity, a major counter-summit with ten plenaries on subjects from feminism to war, while also incorporating workshops hosted by autonomous groups from across Europe.
On 7 July, up to 20,000 people are expected to respond to the call to “Colour the Red Zone” – to disrupt or delay the Summit through direct action and confrontation. Their bold call declares: “We will be there. Where the red zone is. Where we are not supposed to be. Where the powerful are. The G20 Summit in Hamburg will make history. It will be our time. Will it also be yours?”
To round it all off, more than 100,000 people are expected to participate in a major demonstration on 8 July, supported by 130 different organisations, including trade union youths, political parties and NGOs. They will march from three points across the city into one rally against globalisation, austerity and the status quo.
Each action aims to powerfully illustrate a progressive and sustainable alternative to Europe’s turn to nationalism and right-populism: the possibility of an inclusive, emancipatory and empowering system that can exist only by tearing down the one we have now.
While world leaders meet to defend and develop their own world order, socialists are rising to the challenge to do the same.