An interview and analysis about the ongoing repression in the wake of last year’s G20 summit and how it relates to what is happening in the US and beyond.
The ongoing repression linked to last year’s G20 summit in Hamburg has not been much discussed outside of Europe. Mobilizations against global bodies like the G20 are international traditions (whether or not we consider them to be wise), beyond the sense of international that exists in Europe where borders are less stark. These summits exist as heightened moments of repression that shift around globally, providing local police forces and their masters with enormously enhanced resources to crush anarchists, non-electoral leftists, and others who persistently oppose them locally. The G20 as a policing operation is carried out by different police forces around the world, but the phenomenon is international in scope and recognizing it is a necessary first step in linking our struggle through solidarity.
In North America, a similar insistence on crushing protests that the state considers to have gone too far is visible in the ongoing J20 repression in the United States and on a smaller scale in the use of G7 policing resources to go after anarchists in Hamilton, Ontario and other Canadian cities. The scale of the hunt initiated by the Hamburg police is beyond either of these and in fact the only recent reference point I’m aware of in North America are other summit protests where the state was humiliated in the streets, notably in Toronto in 2010, where international warrants were still being carried out over a year after the demonstrations took place.
I don’t always agree with the analysis of repression the comrade from Hamburg is putting forward in this piece, but I still think what they have to say is extremely valuable. I won’t pick out every point, but the narrative of “the German state managed the summit badly” is strange to me, since the good management of a summit’s security isn’t something I think we should care about. I changed the title for this reason, but the original title is translated literally below and it might just refer to the state needing to save face.
However, the person interviewed remains strongly in solidarity with the courageous acts that took place in the streets during the summit and continues to centre them in their analysis, which to me is a sufficient basis for translating and republishing their words. They also offer specific reference points for solidarity that we can make use of on the other side of the Atlantic. As well, the urgency of the issue of censorship raised in the final paragraphs is largely missing from our conversation in North America.
[All translator notes are in [square brackets], all italics outside brackets are the author’s, and all footnotes are from the original text. More updates in English on G20 repression are available here: https://unitedwestand.blackblogs.org/en/]
The Hamburg Police Failed So Badly to Maintain Order that They Must Now Succeed in their Hunt
Translated from Indymedia Nantes
A year after the mobilization against the Hamburg G20, a Europe-wide hunt has been launched against people accused of having participated in these actions that showed the weakness of the German state. A member of the counter summit’s legal team looks back on a year of repression and analyzes how this European coordination was carried out.
Orel, a German activist and member of the legal team of the demonstrations against the G20, was passing through Dijon. We asked him a few questions about the post-G20 repression that has come in successive waves up to the present. In fact, this Thursday [June 21], the German press announced that at least 2 of the people arrested around Bure this Wednesday June 20 were charged in connection to the G20 investigation [Bure is a town in eastern France where a land defense struggle against a nuclear waste site has been facing fierce repression since the fall of 2017].
Can you give us a recap of what has been happening in Hamburg?
So last July [in 2017], there was a G20 summit in Hamburg, with a pretty impressive mobilization by movements we could call post-alter-globalization. It was one of the biggest anticapitalist mobilizations of recent years. Around July 7, several tens of thousands of people gathered while the G20 leaders were in the heart of Hamburg. The choice of location in the centre of this emerging “metropolitan” city, a label all big capitalist cities in the Western world seek to give themselves, was with the hope of using such an event to give their city the image of being under control.
In reality, the summit was heavily disrupted by this opposition and Hamburg utterly failed to show it could maintain order, in spite of the fierce repression.
Searches had already been carried out in the weeks before the summit and a few days before, the police prevented people from setting up a camp, even though it had been permitted by the courts. From the beginning of the summit, the police acted very violently even though no demonstration had yet occurred, and by the night of July 6, things had reached a boiling point… There followed two days and three nights of rioting. There was lots of smashing and people increasingly confronted the police. Today we know that the city of Hamburg mobilized 31 000 police officers.
The demonstrators were never able to approach the summit and were confronted by a level of police violence that we had never seen before, with cops trying to run people down with their cars and demonstrators who fell four metres from a wall and broke bones. Lots of people ended up in the hospital during the summit and on two occasions plain clothes cops who had been identified pulled their guns and aimed them at the crowd.
One of the main players in this repression was Hatrmutt Dudde, a retired police chief who was brought back specifically for this occasion. He is known for policing operations that were judged illegal after the fact, notably in regards to anti-nuclear actions in Wendland, where this guy did some truly outrageous stuff. He broke from all the court decisions declaring those protests legal. His return was like an annoucement: “Take note, the police will be led by a hardliner, a real tough guy who will be the tool of Capital and who doesn’t give a damn about so-called civil rights.” And that’s more or less what we saw during those days.
The media narrative was at first very critical of the police’s actions, but this changed completely once the riots broke out in the evening of July 6. The propaganda only increased as the media denounced the protestors’ violence during what was in effect an orgy of police violence. The summit ended on July 8 with a big demonstration of hundreds of thousands of people. In spite of this terrible repression, I think that in terms of political contestation, the mobilization was a success for the radical left.
Following the summit, you faced some serious repression.
Yes, the repression only increased in the days following thesummit. Indymedia Linksunten, an alternative media website, was banned and this was followed up with a raid in August. More and more searches continued throughout the autumn, accompanied by intense communication from the police, always talking about left-wing terrorist extremists who supposedly pulled Hamburg into a civil war .
In December, the police launched a public manhunt by publishing a hundred photos of demonstrators accused of various crimes ofroffenses during the summit. Since there had not been many ID checks or arrests during the summit itself, the cops had very few names at their disposal, but they had lots of pictures and video. Many journalists also handed over their photos. Overall, the press really acted as the right arm of the police, by first giving over and then publishing these pictures.
This hunt was a real first. In the 70s, the German police was hunting armed groups and there was talk of 20 or 30 people sought publicly for armed political action, involving political assassinations using bombs. And now we’re talking about people who might have, at one time, thrown a stone or a bottle.
The searches continued, totaling about 60 at present. The police say there are about 3500 ongoing investigations. The cops are gathering and analyzing tons of material and data and are trying to frighten their opponents and to control the discourse through intensive collaboration with the press, using very uncritical journalists.
With the closing of Indymedia Linksunten by administrative means, the radical left and anarchist opposition lost one of its main platforms. We lost one of our main means of communicating, of organizing, of analyzing what had happened, and also of countering the prevailing propaganda.
The media’s coverage has been similar to what happens in France: demonstrations with monstrous police violence are accompanied by a discourse about how the nasty black block caused order to break down. We’re dealing with a terrible capitalist violence tht is countered by the occasional riot, and then the neoliberal order defends itself by denouncing the extremists who supposedly threaten democracy… It’s clear the G20 leaders and their justice and administrative systems are at the root of the demise of democracy.
Can you look back on the series of raids that took place across Europe on May 29?
At the start of May, the “SoKo Black Block” – that’s the special commission of the Hamburg police dealing with data related to the G20 – launched a second public manhunt by publishing another hundred pictures and announcing that they would now look internationally. On May 29 of this year, prosecutors in Hamburg ordered international searches in France, Spain, Italy, and Switzerland. I believe there were 8 or 9 locations searched by the Guardia Civile, the carabinieri, and the French and Swiss police.
This offensive was accompanied by the release of a documentary on the most popular German station called “Black Violence” investigating the activities of the evil Black Block that it claims burned half the city of Hamburg. In this documentary, we see the cops from “SoKo Black Block” retracing the activities of demonstrators and activists on the morning of July 7 in the Altona neighbourhood ,where a number of cars were burned and stores attacked. The cops present the international coordination of their work and especially their innovative techniques, such as biometrics. They discuss how their research has relied on computers capable of recognizing faces by pointing lasers at their different parts. The goal of all this propaganda was to create a psychological effect, because it was very scary. Their message: “We will get you all.”
To my knowledge, it’s the first time there have been raids on this scale, carried out internationally. The German prosecution has managed to legitimize a search in five European countries for people accused of simply participating in a riot.
This repression is on a different level, in terms of its duration, its technological innovation, and its harshness. In the courts, we saw clearly that they too are far from impartial. Many rulings go far beyond what has been seen in the past. People have been sentenced to two or three years in prison for simply having thrown cans of beer, which were no real danger to anyone. I think they didn’t have enough proof to arrest anyone for the more major incidents. But they say they’re looking for the people who set fire to the barricades, threatening them with five or ten years of prison, and we’re worried that new sentences will be handed down in the coming months.
There is a lot of pressure on their international manhunt, since I believe most people don’t agree with how the summit took place. In Hamburg, the mood was really against the police, and the citizens of the city weren’t happy that the summit took place there, right downtown and next to counter-culture neighbourhoods. The Hamburg police failed at maintaining order to such a degree that they now need a succesful hunt to show that their work is still effective, even if after the fact. This is why we’re scared for the people they’re after, since the Hamburg prosecutor will have to prove that they’ve finally caught the wicked terrorists they’ve been talking about for months.
In France, there has been little talk of these raids, because the police didn’t find the people they were looking for, even though they still went ahead with the searches. We learned a few days ago that one of the people is on the run and hasn’t been found as of today [more on this person in the footnotes]. This is really a failure for the French police, we’re talking about an international case and the cops weren’t even able to arrest a protestor, it’s shameful for them. They show up with the army and they fail. Interior Ministor Collomb and the politicians gain nothing by talking about it.
But we still need to expect that this hunt will continue. We hope that our friends will get through it and we won’t forget how powerful the defeat of the German state and its police during the G20 was.
Can you briefly explain to us how this European manhunt is organized?
In its press conferences, the “SoKo Black Block” has divided the various “elements” of the summit into sections. This recent wave of international raids is dealing with the “Elbchaussee” section, that is the actions of the morning of July 7 on Elbchausee St in the Altona neighbourhood . They mention various crimes, like a building that was set on fire or molotov cocktails thrown at an Ikea – the Swedish brand that exploits the forced labour of prisoners to make its furniture. No person was in any danger, but because the crimes alleged are much more serious than those at other moments of the summit, the Hamburg prosecutors are exerting political pressure to get other nations involved in their hunt.
This second series of photos was shared with Spanish and Italien journalists, and in Spain the photos of those wanted were published in the paper. In the documentary that I already mentioned, we see the SoKo Black Block and the Hamburg prosecutor coordonating the Zurich police to carry out a raid against a self-managed space in Bremgarten and they also communicate directly with the carabinieri and the Spanish and Italien police. In Bremgarten, 150 cops armed to the teeth showed up to arrest a person who might have been present at one of the demonstrations targeted by their hunt. There is a Europe-wide warrant out for the person sought in France.
Evidently, the states involved are very committed. Enormous means were made available by the Swiss, Spanish, and French states, though I think this is only out of solidarity with the pathetic German state that totally failed in its management of the summit.
Does this international manhunt play into a narrative about “the savage outsiders”?
Of course, how the riots were covered was extremely xenophobic, even in very small towns, and the nasty hooligans always come from elsewhere. These are old communication strategies that seek to scare people using the ambient xenophobia. When the threat comes from outside, many more repressive measures become acceptable. In Hamburg, during and after the summit, there was talk of thousands of autonomists come from all across Europe, especially from the south.
Of course people will come from all over to participate in struggles that are in practice international, but the powerful play on the stereotype of the wicked, foreign stranger who doesn’t speak the language and who wants to trash the city. They use fear to avoid talking about the substance.
There is little talk of police violence, which is also an international phenomena, because it’s more and more common that cops come from elsewhere too. Austrian cops brought their machine guns to Hamburg. German cops were deployed in Switzerland and France for the raids. On September 20, the European security summit will take place in Salzbourg, Austria, and it seems like it will be a follow-up performance for certain Bavarian cops who will travel there.
Personally, I’m not scared of international activists who support each other between countries, but I am truly afraid of a European police state that allows for cooperation at all levels – administrative, judicial, repressive, executive – and where cops will move around from Stockholm to Athens. If an insurrection was to occur in one country, there would be thousands of police ready to come from other countries, never mind the border, in full legality and already legitimized in coming from elsewhere to crush a riot .
In one move, the authoritarian state embraces internationalism and opens its doors to anyone equipped with a machine gun, a helmet, and a uniform.
You mentioned the support you’d like to see for those facing repression, what specifically do you have in mind?
Political support can have many facets and I’ve become aware through the experience of repression that even small acts can be quite precious. It’s important to act, and it’s much better to hand out a few handbills, to hold a banner, or to host an info night or radio show than it is to do nothing. Of course, it would be great to see everyone in the streets, but never doubt that those impacted by repression are touched by small acts. We also need to fundraise to support those in jail and there are structures supporting them, like anti-repression groups. If you have some cash, make sure to send it along, but any other action is good too.
On August 25, it will have been one year since the big raids were carried out. That can be a reference point for showing solidarity, even symbolically, with those who took part in street actions.
And next week, there will also be a trial for “Praising Crime” against people accused of producing media supportive of the riots, and that’s also a moment to show solidarity [similar charges only exist in connection to terrorism here, sometimes using the language of “support” or “apology” for terrorism. It looks like the trial may have been pushed back, but I could be wrong – leave a comment if you have a clarification].
The issue of censorship is more and more worrying all across Europe. Many new laws are being passed that will also allow for attacks on divergent opinions, like the censorship of large social networks in Germany and around fake news in France. Our societies believe strongly in the democratic lie they are presented and don’t see that there is censorship. The banning of Indymedia Linksunten and the trial for Praising Crime are prime current examples. We will have to struggle around these issues if we don’t want all we hear to be the police on the evening news. And this begins by continuing to express ourselves using all the media we have access to.
1] It’s important to note that the army was called in; special forces armed with machine guns blocked a demonstration on the evening of July 7
2] Some of those arrested in December were charged with the Rodenbarg actions, another section that refers to an action during which some youth were beat up by the police. But it seems to us there is nothing to these charges, since the action was far from downtown, it wasn’t a riot, and it was defined by police violence. To have dared carry out an international action over this situation would have been absurd, and the European prosecutors would not have supported charges against people who were beaten up for no reason.
3] In their account, the person wanted in France explains that the German police were accompanied by French cops in charge of investigations tied to the anti-nuclear struggle in Bure and who took advantage of the raid to collect evidence for their own ends. [The link to the wanted person’s account is only in French, but announces that the person in question is dealing with charges from several other struggles, including cyber actions, and announces that they are going underground and will refuse any amnesty tied to Bure. Here is an except:
“In light of the current wave of strikes and revolts against the policies of the Macron government, if a revolution were to happen, it might make possible an amnesty for political prisoners [and only political prisoners, unfortunately] and the removal of their convictions. And who know, the unrest might end up spreading to Germany!
“Gendarmes, police, judges, and legislators, I hope to see you abandon your oppressive and dominating positions. I hope to see you quit them by your own choice, without being forced out by a revolution. Please accept this modest offering, these few words that I toss to the jaws of the powerful. You might find me, or you might have the wisdom to abandon these useless charges and to let me come to you.
“May the light of truth win out over the darkness of prejudice. May the insurrection come. Strength to the six people still locked up in Germany in connection to the G20 demonstrations. Strength to victims of police violence, so often made invisible or stigmatized. Death to state propaganda, death to oppression, death to privileges. Long live freedom, long live anarchy.”]