The atmosphere here in Frankfurt is tense. The police is omnipresent. The sound of sirens permeates the city streets.
As I write this, some thousands of protesters are huddled together at the university, pitching tents or simply squatting a place on the ground to try and catch some sleep before tomorrow’s big actions. But as the activists here prepare to physically block the headquarters of the European Central Bank, the police already seems to have done the job for them.
The entire city is on lock-down. Roadblocks sever the main traffic arteries going into the city center. Everywhere, small squads of riot police patrol the streets looking for anyone who looks “suspicious” (i.e., like a potential Leftist). Shops and banks downtown have barricaded their windows with wooden planks, and at almost any random corner you will find a line of police vans, sometimes as many as 50 or 60 parked in a row. It feels like Frankfurt is preparing for civil war.
A few times today, small groups of people tried to make their voices heard by protesting or camping in one of the city’s squares. At some point, over 1,000 gathered in the central square, while later a small tent camp was set up elsewhere. Yet on every single occasion, the protesters were met with thousands of policemen who quickly cordoned off the squares, forced those present to identify themselves, and then continued by dragging them away one by one.
While German media report at least 150 arrests so far, the actual numbers are likely to be much higher. We have seen dozens of people arrested for “offenses” as simple as being in the wrong place at the wrong time; or carrying around a sleeping bag into the city center. The Italian newspaper Repubblica reports that 100 Italians alone have been arrested; leaving aside the Germans, Greeks, French, and countless other nationalities who have descended upon the city.
The Blockupy actions, scheduled to culminate in a large demonstration on Saturday, have already been banned by authorities (a ban that was, bizarrely enough, upheld by the country’s highest constitutional court). In an attempt to enforce this absurd ban, over 5.000 police have been drawn in from across the country. So far, it seems that there are at least 2.5 policemen to every protester in the city. The overreaction of the authorities is truly staggering.
This morning, as we walked towards the central station with four friends, we were stopped by a group of eight riot police who took our IDs, searched our bags and bodies and, after not finding anything suspicious, threatened us with immediate arrest if they found us in the city center again. In other words, not only does the state rudely violate the constitutional right to assembly; it also denies average citizens and independent journalists access to public spaces.
A caravan of three buses coming from Berlin was stopped before even arriving in Frankfurt, and directed straight back to Berlin under police escort. A kettling operation at the train station this morning ensured that those arriving by train could not join others gathering in the city center. Anywhere we tried to go, we literally had to keep an eye out not to run into more riot police and risk being arrested simply for walking in the street. It truly looks like a police state here.
Indeed, in Frankfurt, the financial capital of continental Europe, it feels like democracy has temporarily been put on halt. In the process, the state once again reveals its true nature. In an attempt to protect the city’s powerful banks, millions of euros are expended and basic constitutional rights suspended just to maintain a degree of control over the situation. Yet the intensity of the repression is only likely to further stir frustration among the protesters here.
In the most bizarre twist of all, the German and international media do not appear to be reporting on this extreme situation at all. When hundreds of peaceful protesters are arrested in Russia, our leaders and newspapers are quick to denounce Putin for being a dictator. Yet when it happens in a civilized society and advanced economy like Germany, the peaceful protesters are suddenly denounced as violent criminals — or simply not spoken about at all.
Tomorrow we will not only take the struggle to the ECB; we will also fight for our right to protest peacefully, publicly and passionately. We will not be intimidated. We will not be crushed. And most certainly, we will not back down. And even if they crack down on us again — which they will — let it be known that our aims have already been achieved: the financial epicenter of eurocapitalism is completely blocked. And the authorities were kind enough to do it for us.