Securing the G-8 A Taste of the Coming Showdown
Part 2: The Usual Suspects
Around this time of year, normally, the German Baltic coast begins to brim with summer tourism. But the atmosphere this May is different, at least for anyone belonging to an anti-G-8 group. Dissenters can count on being watched for hours at a time -- as one female activist from the anti-globalization group Attac recently learned. Several men in leather jackets tailed her for more than an hour until she took refuge in a police station in Rostock, the largest city near Heiligendamm. The police checked out the men and learned they belonged to Germany's domestic intelligence service.
Two other young leftists, known in Rostock as globalization critics, were stopped by police on the autobahn for two hours -- for a thorough but fruitless search of their car.
Still, last Wednesday's nationwide crackdown was less hard on young militant activists than it was on the scene's usual suspects from the past twenty years, including leftists like 68-year-old Fritz S. from Hamburg, 56-year-old Hauke B. from Berlin and the 65-year-old Armin M. from Brandenburg.
They're veterans of Germany's radical left. Fritz S., a physicist who taught regularly at a college in the northern city of Bremen, spent a year in jail in 1989 for supporting a terrorist group. All three men have been investigated over the years in several cases involving militants.
But proof that any of them have committed acts of violence is lacking. Germany's equivalent of the FBI, the Bundeskriminalamt, had to close a recent major investigation for lack of evidence. Fritz S. stood accused with 11 other suspects of sabotaging a number of German trains with metal hooks to protest the transport of nuclear waste from a processing center in France back to a depot in Germany. After phone taps, video surveillance and a number of apartment searches, federal prosecutors quietly dropped the case in 2003.
Still, prosecutors consider the three men masterminds of a clandestine network in northern Germany that has waged a militant campaign against the Heiligendamm summit since August 2005. Not even Germany's top federal prosecutor, Monika Harms, believes they were personally involved in certain nightly activities -- firebombing a Foreign Ministry guesthouse in October 2005, or torching a deputy finance minister's car in December 2006 -- but Harms does believe the old men might "at least have been involved in writing the self-incriminating messages" left at the scenes, or in recruiting young activists to commit the attacks.
Armin M., who lives in a small Brandenburg village and works against genetically modified crops, rejects the accusations. "It's all a propaganda show," he says, "that you just can't go on taking seriously."
A total of 21 suspects have been charged in the prelude to the G-8 summit. The most important piece of evidence against the three old men is a book published in 2004 called "Leftists in Motion." Its authors -- using the pseudonym "Graywacke INC" -- detail arson attacks against meetings of the International Monetary Fund in Berlin in 1988. The old leftists have now supposedly started a campaign against the G-8 summit "following this example." But Andreas Beuth, attorney for Fritz S., rejects his client's involvement in both the book and all the other charges.
In spite of such thinly-substantiated accusations, Konrad Freiberg, chairman of Germany's police union, justifies last Wednesday's raids as a pre-emptive attempt "to prevent future violence." But he admits federal prosecutors must "quickly put their evidence on the table," especially since the authorities have made several mistakes in the course of their investigations.
Consolidating the left
In 2003, a man named Jonas F. learned that federal investigators suspected him of belonging to a "militant group" after a billing mistake by his mobile provider O2 showed that his phone was being tapped. Awhile later, his name and the names of three other suspects appeared in the newspaper -- a warning the authorities tried to prevent. Another suspected G-8 opponent received an inadvertent letter from his local registry office that said federal police were investigating him for being part of a terrorist group.
These cock-ups have hurt the government's "zero tolerance for extremists" strategy -- at least politically. No sooner had federal prosecutors admitted their raids last week were aimed at "clearing up the structures" of various outfits than mainstream groups, like Attac -- which tries to distance itself from the extreme left -- showed solidarity with those being investigated. "The authorities are trying to divide the movement," says Attac co-founder Sven Giegold. "But the first indications are that they've done just the opposite."
Volker Ratzmann, an attorney and Green Party member in Berlin's city assembly, is incensed by "the thinnest search warrant I've ever seen." He says the authorities "are apparently trying to intimidate and collect more information." Even Berlin's interior minister, Erhart Körting, warns against "putting democratic protesters in the same category as a handful of criminals. That would be disastrous."
But the main result of last week's raids has been to push various factions of the left closer together. Claudia Roth, a Green Party leader who refused to back a general call to protest the summit because she couldn't support "one-sided blame" of the G-8, vehemently defended the protesters last week. She said it was "really shocking to put opponents of the G-8 summit and people critical of globalization in the same corner as terrorists" -- and marched in a protest on Wednesday in Berlin.
For her part, Merkel has tried to talk to critics. She met with Bono last week and will meet trade unionists and NGO groups on Monday. And for the last day of the summit Germany has invited the leaders of Egypt, Algeria, Nigeria, Senegal and Ghana to discuss the future of Africa. Representatives from China, India, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa will also come for talks about new rules for the global economy. Merkel's G-8 coordinator Bernd Pfaffenbach had hoped these events would soothe the anti-globalization crowd. The program in Heiligendamm, he said, is "not an agenda of topics that would fit the image of a club for the rich. Opponents of the summit just don't have an issue."
Maybe they didn't. Until last week.
- Part 1: A Taste of the Coming Showdown
- Part 2: The Usual Suspects