Monday, 6 April 2009
Strasbourg Demo Report from the Americans Against War Mailing List
Tear Gas, Rubber Bullets, Shock Grenades and the mysterious Black Bloc Again.
On the morning of April 4th, there was a successful blockade of about 300 protesters against NATO in the inner city of Strasbourg. However, in the afternoon, the peaceful demonstration of ca. 10,000 in Strasbourg was completely broken up and ended in disarray as a result of the activities of black-masked young men and of paramilitary police attacks. In addition, ca. 5,000 to 7,000 peaceful protesters were not allowed across the border from Germany into France to join the main demonstration.
I participated in the main demonstration in Strasbourg in the afternoon. The peace activists were still in the process of gathering to set off on the main demonstration; we were waiting for the demonstrators held up at the German-French border to be allowed to join us. We were listening to speeches and music -- that's all. Suddenly the field in which we were standing was filled was massive amounts of tear gas. As a result of the tear gas attack, many of the main speakers (such as Malalai Joya from Afghanistan and IVAW member Matthis Chiroux) never got a chance to speak. Instead, the demonstration was forced to set off prematurely because of the tear gas attack. (I and others I have spoken with have never before experienced such a tear gas attack, completely without warning or announcement, on a peaceful assembly here in Europe, from the 1960s to the present.)
After the demonstration was thus forced set off prematurely, on at least two occasions I experienced how groups of ca. thirty black-masked young men suddenly appeared from nowhere and began actually throwing stones at us demonstrators so that we had to run away from them and duck behind cars, etc. To me they were even more frightening than the police. The appearance of the black-masked young men was always followed by another police tear-gas attack on the entire demonstration.
Yes, these black-masked young men (whoever they were) were throwing rocks at police cars and the like, but they also seemed totally unconcerned about any "collateral damage" they might cause to the main demonstration of peace and justice activists of all ages. Nor did they seem concerned that they were bringing police attacks onto the main demonstration.
In my mind there is a serious question as to whether the people who attacked the demonstrators were even members of the real Black Block (mostly young anarchists who wear black and cover their faces with black scarfs). The real Black Block did their thing very early in the morning of April 4th on the other side of the city from the main demonstration (as per agreement with the organizers of the main demonstration). There had been extensive discussion and agreement in the planning meetings that civil disobedience, blockades, and any activity that might lead to arrests or other police intervention would be kept away from the main demonstration.
There are also questions as to who really set or caused the fires that burned down some buildings and also questions as to why the fire fighters appeared to make so little attempt to put out the fires. Some of the buildings set on fire were already planned for demolition.
However, the European peace movement, as well as the real Black Block, need to seriously address the fact that the latter -- with its loose coordination and covering of faces by black scarves -- is very easily subject to police agent infiltration. Possibly even whole units of police could operate disguised in the "costume" of Black Block. (It was already known following the investigations of incidents at the G8 Summit demonstration in Heiligendamm in 2007 that some of the Black Block were police agents.)
In Strasbourg on April 4th, the physical and chemical weapons used by police and military against demonstrators included not only extensive tear-gassing of the main, peaceful march on at least four occasions, but also rubber bullets that even hit journalists. The police/military also used shock grenades which left extensive aluminum shrapnel wounds in the legs and backs of a number of demonstrators. This is the first time these types of wounds have been seen by members of the experienced medical team, including several doctors, some of whom had previously served in Seattle at the WTO demo or in Heiligendamm at the G8 Summit.
Prior to the demonstration on April 4th, the police had as early as April 2nd made attacked the tent camp where many protesters were staying with tear gas and shock grenades.
It is essential that peace activists avoid jumping to conclusions regarding who did what on April 4th in Strasbourg until after a full investigation of the events can be completed. Information, including eye-witness reports, photographs, and other evidence should be sent to info@....
Yes, there were no doubt some irresponsible young people who allowed themselves to be provoked, but I personally suspect that there is much more behind this: a government attempt to silence our voices and to cover up the growing rejection of NATO and the war and occupation of Afghanistan with disinformation and a media campaign involving many, many photo-ops designed by the agents of the ruling elites. The fact that the demonstration could be broken up and ended in disarray, without the key speakers even being able to speak, is also due to a certain amount of naivité by the organizers of the demonstration, who were not prepared for the kinds of attacks that were experienced -- but then much of what happened was a first for them and so could not be anticipated.
Divide and conquer - yes, we can? An empire in decline using ever more brutal and ever more sophisticated methods to hold onto power? We know of the extensive undercover police programs to divide the movement that were used by the FBI and CIA during the Vietnam War -- programs like COINTELPRO that destroyed the Black Panther Party -- and is there any reason to think that these same methods are not being used again now under the aegis of Homeland Security?