Ville Fermée

Apr 14, 2009

A report from the NATO protests Strasbourg April 2-5 2009

Thursday April 2 evening

We left London with the sound of Police helicopters in humming in our ears, we arrived in Strasbourg to find the the same sound coming from scores of French Police helicopters swopping over the city as it got locked down by thousands of CRS riot police and huge metal barriers cutting the City into impassable zones.

The tense times obviously made the warmongers feel they had to put on another impressive show for Capitalist ‘democracy’, and so just like the G20 protest, denial of the right to protest, intimidation, and blatant whipping up of tensions by Police and the Corporate Media made it as difficult as possible for people to express their opposition to NATO.

Friday April 3

We started out in the morning checking out the convergence centre near the Station, this had a few, mainly autonomist and anarchist activists at it, and heavy police presence outside, so much so that as we came out what we thought might be a raid, because it looked like riot police making there way to the centre was in fact about 50 activists who’d just come off transport at the station getting escorted to the centre by a ring of CRS, totally heavy handed and unneccessary policing. Reports had also come in of numerous battles between Police and acitvists at the camp the night before with the CRS already deploying considerable use of tear gas.

We then went to the Counter conference on the edge of the city, the trams were shut down so we had to get a taxi as it was a considerable distance. Here there were a number of meetings discussing aspects of war, capitalism, imperialism and the crisis, there were about 300/400 people there when we were there and all the while reports were coming in of the difficulties the buses were having coming from the UK and the possibilities of the border with Germany getting shut down to block access to the protest for German activists, which eventually came to pass so the demonstration was weakened by their inability to get into France. The repression even meant that residents in Strasbourg who had been hanging rainbow coloured peace flags from their windows were getting visitors from undercover cops telling them to take them down.

Because of the lack of public transport we had another long walk into Neuhorf to catch the rally of the Anti-Capitalist left that was hosted by France’s New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA), on the way we were stopped and checked by plain clothes Police officers, armed with guns and teargas guns, they were happy to let us continue when we made it clear that we were non-violent and we were off to a meeting.

The meeting had an impressive amount of people at it, around 400 and we had contributions from representatives from about 8 different countries across Europe with the final word going to NPA leader Oliver Bescaneot, whose speech ridiculed Sarkozy’s call for a ‘moral Capitalism’ and was full of impressive energy.

Unfortunately whilst the NPA were impressive, the French organisation of the protests itself was appalling, despite the size of the protest movement in France, the anti-war movement has always been weak, and it seemed we paid the price. It was said that none of the groups involved worked effectively together, the camp for activists was miles out of town, as was the counter conference, there were no plans to deal with the difficulty of moving around a city with no public transport and disastrously the organisers had agreed to a meeting point for the demo in a piece of waste ground on the outskirts of the city, there was even a plan, until activists from Stop the War and others were able to argue against it, to march off away from Strasbourg into the woodland! No attempt had been made, it seemed to bring pressure to bear on the authorities to allow our protest in the city where it could be visible, and of course protesting off in the outskirts was a situation that the NATO leaders would be more than happy with.

Anyway plans were afoot the meet in the Pont Du Le Europe road on Friday morning, the closest the authorities had agreed we could get to the city. Several other groups like the BLOCK Nato activists planned other actions but nothing came forward as a coherent plan considering the difficulties of the Police operation.

Saturday April 4

Come Saturday morning there was again no public transport so for those of us in the city, we had a long walk out to the meeting point hampered by numerous road blocks and various ‘red zones’ to which there were no access. Despite agreement with the police the way to the meeting point was also blocked, one on the road we walking down was lifted near mid-day so we could pass, but as we walked through we could see and smell teargas clouds coming from the next junction where a large part of the demo was having to fight it’s way across what should have been an open bridge, again CRS fired a number of teargas rounds but eventually pulled back after being beaten back by activists defending the demo.

We then joined with this far bigger block of protestors, who included a sizeable contigent of Revolutionary Socialists from Greece, Turkish communists, Black Bloc kids and the French NPA, to march to the rallying spot.

Speeches began in the field, the most impressive of which I heard was from Andrew Murray from the Stop the War coalition, we gorged on some fine French Saussion and baguette and had a rest. In the near distance a huge plume of black smoke rose into the sky, intrigued by what was going on we went to check it out. Behind the field was the bridge over to Germany, the smoke was coming from a border control that had been set alight by the Black Bloc, a barricade had been bulit on the bridge and a line of German military police and water cannons awaited on the German side. We moved back behind the burning border control worried it might explode, at a small intersection of what looked like an immigrant/working class neighbourhood Black Bloc were smashing bus stands, a hotel and a chemist. It wasn’t long before the Hotel and Chemist were set alight, the atmosphere became tense and scores of CRS, some in plain clothes entered the surrounding area in small groups firing tear gas and percussion grenades at will. We decided it was best to get back into the field where the rally was which we did only to find the crowds leaving as the Police were now teargassing the field and the buzz of helicopters above us got louder as they flew low stirring up the dust and gravel in the field.

As we left the field we caught up with the end of the NPA contingent, as we passed under a narrow causeway under a bridge on the slip road out of the field, the CRS decided to drive a number of vans full of police through our march, people parted and were squeezed between the steep sides of the bridge underpass and the passing vans, it was at this moment the Black Bloc decided to pelt the police vans with rocks an extremely dangerous and foolish thing to do as the vans were surrounded on all sides by protestors! The police left off more teargas in this situation causing a huge panic as people tried to scramble out from the underpass to avoid both the rocks and gas, incredibly it seems no one was seriously hurt, but it could have easily been worse.

It was then that the lack of organisation for the protests became apparent, for now we were trapped on a slip road with nowhere to go, one way, our way into town was blocked by fences backed up with water cannons, any attempt to challenge this was met with teargas and a turning on of the water cannons, at the other end, close to the burning hotel riot police blocked our exit out to Germany. Along this strip of road about a mile long was the main demo now numbering around 30,000 and about 300/400 Black Bloc who would lead sporadic attacks against the cops then come back into the main demo bringing with them teargas volleys that would land in the centre of the mass of people causing injuries and panic. By now people could clearly see the Bloc had been infiltrated with CRS agent provocatuers and went on to smash a post office and factory on the road side.

Another long walk then back into town, and finally a chance to rest, eat and take stock of the days events. So like London the demo was a mixed affair, the authorities terrified that organised dissent will attract the masses of people suffering from the recession and collapse of the system, are making it harder and harder to protest and hampered us at every turn. The organisation of the demonstration was poor and there needs to be urgent work done to get various sections of the movement talking and working together constructively, we must have larger social forces on our side to have any chance of both getting what we want and drawing the younger kids who make up the majority of the black bloc into puposeful militancy that is combatative when it needs to be to stop the pointless fighting with the police which only brings the repression down heavier on our heads.

That said, 30/40,000 demonstrated, a significant achievement considering the repression and the closure of the German border, a few activists managed to cause some disruption to the NATO schedules in the morning and yet again our glorious democratic leaders had to meet behind walls of steel and with the protection of robocops, NATO maybe celebrating it’s 60th birthday but the social war between the priorities of Neo-Liberal Capitalism and the needs of the people of the world could mean they don’t have many more anniversaries left to celebrate

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