So Angela Merkel has finally condemned the Turkish government for its violent crackdown on peaceful protesters. In fact, she claims to be “appalled” by Erdogan’s handling of the protests and “shocked” by the images of police brutality coming out of the country. That is a perfectly ordinary English sentence right there. And yet it seems a bit odd. In fact, I don’t think I have ever heard such hypocritical words rolling from the lips of a European policy-maker. “I would like to see those who have a different opinion and a different idea of society having some space in a Turkey that moves into the 21st century,” the unofficial Empress of Europe apparently told RTL on Monday. “What’s happening in Turkey at the moment is not in line with our idea of the freedom to demonstrate or freedom of speech.”
That’s funny. I was in Frankfurt in May last year for the Blockupy actions. I very clearly remember being detained along with three friends and fellow PhD researchers as we walked through the city center to pick up another friend from the station. Our passports were taken away, and our freedom to demonstrate and our freedom of speech temporarily suspended as police threatened us with arrest and imprisonment if we were spotted within the city again. Not for throwing stones or fire-bombing riot police; not even for desecrating shop windows or threatening to decapitate the director of the ECB — no, simply for existing at the wrong place at the wrong time. You read that right. As a bunch of bearded foreigners with leftist overtones in our facial expressions, we were not even allowed to enter Frankfurt’s city center. And that was that.
In fact, during the weekend of May 18, 2012, over 5.000 police descended upon Frankfurt as the German government and constitutional court literally banned the protests from taking place and threatened to arrest anyone — anyone — who moved into the city center looking like a potential protester. Wearing a hoodie or carrying a sleeping bag had suddenly become evidence of “guilt”. One bus full of activists from Italy was stopped by police immediately upon its arrival in Frankfurt, its passengers summarily arrested. Three buses full of protesters from Berlin were stopped on the highway and sent back to the capital under police escort. Those arriving at the train station were kettled by riot police and thus kept from entering the city. Of those who did manage to enter the city center, hundreds more were arrested and dragged off in police vans simply for participating in a peaceful public action contesting the undemocratic hegemony of financial capital.
I have been to quite a few demonstrations over the past couple of years. I have witnessed first-hand the violence of Greek police as they cracked down on protesters in Syntagma Square and Exarchia; I have been chased down narrow alleyways by Spanish riot police in Madrid; I have been in a couple of stand-offs and outright confrontations with riot police in France, Italy, the UK and the Netherlands. But I have never, ever, in my entire life — and I mean this with the utmost sincerity I can muster — experienced such a coordinated, such a successful, and such a fundamentally exaggerated police crackdown as I witnessed in Frankfurt during the Blockupy actions of 2012.
In fact, the whole city simply went into lock-down. At night, as we tried to get a few hours of sleep in a godforsaken squat somewhere outside of the city center, I kept being woken up by the sounds of dozens of sirens. At one point, I went out onto the street and saw caravans of 20-30 riot police vans at a time patrolling the streets — up and down, and up again. Further down the road, easily another 40 vans were parked on the side-walk. There were so many of them I couldn’t even capture the entire line on camera. There must have been at least twice as many policemen as there were protesters. It was complete madness. As I wrote from a makeshift activist media center the next day, “in the financial capital of continental Europe, it feels like democracy has temporarily been put on halt … it truly looks like a police state here.”
I particularly vividly remember this one woman being violently arrested right in front of my camera. The mixed expression of fear, shock and pure indignation on her face has stuck with me ever since. Her crime? To resist arrest by calling the male cop who grabbed her by the waist a sexist. Why was she being arrested? Because she wanted to leave the police kettle. And why was she in the kettle? Because she was trying to enter the city. And why was she entering the city? God knows, perhaps she lived there. Perhaps she was an activist. The point is that none of this should matter. As Angela Merkel herself put it in today’s condemnation of the Turkish government, I too would like to see those who have a different opinion and a different idea of society having some space in a Europe that moves into the 21st century.
But in the great nation of Germany — Europe’s leading capitalist democracy — there was no space for dissent at all. At all. We were literally banned from even entering the city and voicing our opinion in front of a financial institution, namely the European Central Bank, that has been one of the most important and most controversial players in the ongoing European debt crisis. So much for the cherished freedom to demonstrate and the most basic freedom of speech. So much, in other words, for democracy. Of course, Merkel’s words on Turkey are all the more hypocritical because they come from the lips of a woman who through her dogmatic insistence upon dehumanizing austerity measures throughout the eurozone is largely responsible for the same type of social unrest in Spain and Greece — where police have cracked down on peaceful protesters with similarly epic amounts of tear gas, baton charges and water cannon raids.
But we could take the criticism of Merkel’s appalling hypocrisy even further. What about the institutionalized racism of the German state against Turkish migrants, for instance? Between 2000 and 2006, an underground neo-Nazi splinter cell summarily executed eight Turkish migrants — and one Greek whom they mistook for a Turk — in a series of murders that Germany’s populist press disgustingly referred to as the “Dönner murders”. But instead of going after the actual killers, police researchers lost valuable years in their investigation by blaming the victims, variously insisting that the prime suspects in the cases were the Turkish mafia, or that the murders were in fact honor killings, or Islamist terrorist acts, or acts of jealousy resulting from polygamy, or part of some vengeful plot exacted in a dramatic Turkish family vendetta, you name it. For years, the neo-Nazi splinter cell was allowed to run free because of a fundamentally racist presumption within the German police corps that such honour killings are widespread within Turkish circles.
The bottom-line of this rant is simple: the only difference between the German crackdown on #Blockupy and the Turkish crackdown on #OccupyGezi is one of degree and one of efficiency — not one of kind. Germany’s police force is simply so scarily efficient in carrying out its task of state repression that it generally does not need to resort to the severe degrees of violence currently observed in Turkey. But that doesn’t change anything about the nature of the German state or the function of the German police, which is still to repress popular dissent whenever and wherever it arises, as rapidly and as thoroughly as possible. In this respect, it is difficult to forget the shocking images coming from Stuttgart in 2010, when some 600 German policemen — using truncheons, tear gas, pepper spray and water cannon — brutally cracked down on 1.000 peaceful protesters who tried to stop the construction of a railway through Schlossgarten park. One man partially lost his sight after a water cannon blasted out one of his eyes. Meanwhile, as Deutsche Welle reported earlier this year, “Investigations into police brutality often come to nothing, in spite of the many cases reported every year.”
So I have a very simple message for our Turkish brothers and sisters: don’t let any European leader fool you into thinking that they are on your side in this struggle for real democracy. Your only real allies in Germany and Europe are those who take to the streets to fight for the same causes that you are fighting for: genuine freedom, social justice, and real democracy — or, in a word, human dignity. Those schmuck European liberals and hypocritical European politicians may try to convince you that they, too, stand on the side of democracy. They don’t. It doesn’t matter whether their names are Merkel, Mubarak or Erdogan; it’s the same scum occupying the same seats representing the same system. If there’s anyone in Germany who can rightfully express disgust at Erdogan’s actions in Turkey it’s the young German Turks who experience institutionalized racism every day at the hands of the German police force — for they, unlike Merkel, know what it is like to be repressed.
Finally, to anyone who still has any doubts about Merkel’s credibility on the question of democracy, just consider what happened when a small group of peaceful protesters tried to stop the destruction of a park in Stuttgart, Germany: