Terror laws hit German left

The past few months have seen a wave of repression unleashed in Germany. Houses, offices, social centres and bookshops have been raided by police and several people accused of 'membership of a terrorist organisation' - sometimes for as little as having written academic texts about 'gentrification'. Frank Meyer reports from Hamburg

September 24, 2007
7 min read

The mobilisation around the 2007 G8 summit in Heiligendamm, on Germany’s Baltic coast, marked a highpoint for the left and radical-left in Germany. Some have described the event as the return of the counter-globalisation movement as a social force in Europe.

The protests around the 2005 G8 summit at Gleneagles in Scotland saw the institution develop an almost unprecedented level of legitimacy in the world’s eyes. By asking it to ‘make poverty history’, an unlikely coalition of pop stars, politicians and parts of global civil society managed to obscure the fact that the G8 – and the system for which it stands – are in fact the root cause of poverty, not its eliminators.

This year’s summit was different. On 2 June, over 80,000 people demonstrated in Rostock against the G8, rejecting its claims to democratic and political legitimacy. A few days later, 15,000 people succeeded in blockading all the roads to the conference centre, cutting the G8 off from its vital infrastructure of translators, service providers, diplomatic advisors and journalists.

Delegitimation of protest

Despite Chancellor Merkel’s attempt to cast the summit (and herself in particular) as an effort to get serious on the issue of climate change, there was a relative failure to produce the kind of legitimacy that the Gleneagles summit had enjoyed. And this is where the other side of the same coin came into play: the delegitimation of the protests against the summit. Stories were fed to the press about Rebel Clowns using water pistols to spray the police with acid. Stones were reported as being thrown where nothing of the kind had taken place. References to the potential ‘return of left-wing terrorism’ were constant.

These efforts at delegitimation were not isolated events, taking place in a state of exception around the world leaders’ meeting. Over the past few months, there has been a steady attempt to intimidate and criminalise parts of the left and radical-left in Germany. The primary means by which this has been being done is through the construction of a ‘terror’ discourse. The notion of terror has – discursively, if not (yet!) legally – now been expanded so far as to even include the daubing of buildings with paint! Fear has constantly been stoked by a series of high profile and sensationalised raids and arrests.

Police raids

On 9 May, more than 40 properties, including social centres, offices, bookshops and private homes in Berlin, Hamburg and elsewhere were raided by police. This was part of an investigation into the ‘forming of a terrorist association to disrupt the G8 summit’ and, under paragraph 129a of Germany’s anti-terrorist law, the supposed ‘membership of a terrorist organisation’, namely the ‘militante gruppe’ (Militant Group or mg) said to have carried out a number of acts since 2001.

The raids backfired and had the perhaps surprising effect of galvanising the mobilisation against the summit. The same evening, more than 10,000 demonstrated against the wave of repression in different cities across Germany, and over the coming weeks many accused the federal prosecutors of having scored an own goal – consolidating rather than dividing the left.

On 13 and 19 June, shortly after the summit, however, another series of raids took place. Again they were justified as part of an investigation into the ‘formation of a terrorist organisation’ – this time said to have committed arson attacks in the German cities of Glinde, Bad Oldesloe and Berlin against military vehicles and a company said to be involved with the arms industry.

Further arrests

A further wave of arrests took place on 31 July and 1 August. During the night, three people, Axel, Florian and Oliver, were arrested for supposedly attempting to set fire to four German military vehicles on land owned by the company MAN in Brandenburg, near Berlin. They too were accused of membership of the mg.

Shortly after their arrests, the private flats and in some cases the places of work of a further four people were searched. One of those whose homes were raided, Andrej Holm, a sociologist based at Berlin’s Humboldt University, was also arrested under paragraph 129a. The reason given for the four’s suspected involvement with the mg was that during their time as students, or while working on their PhDs, they had developed the ‘intellectual capabilities’ to be able to write the group’s ‘relatively demanding’ texts. Free access to libraries was supposed to have allowed them to carry out the necessary research, and the use of phrases such as ‘gentrification’, ‘inequality’ and ‘precarity’ were said to have appeared in both the mg’s texts as well as the academic work of at least some of those accused.

The only material connection between Axel, Florian and Oliver and the other four were two allegedly ‘conspiratorial’ meetings between Florian and Andrej. The fact that Andrej is said not to have taken his mobile phone with him to the meetings is cited as indicating its suspicious nature.

Media frenzy

Upon arrest, Axel, Florian and Oliver were flown by helicopter, amidst a media frenzy, to the supreme court in Karlsruhe before being remanded in custody at Moabit prison, Berlin, where they currently remain awaiting trial. The police have since been accused of using excessive force while placing the three under arrest. Andrej Holm was also initially remanded in custody.

The prisoners have been held in solitary confinement in cells of six to eight square metres in size. At least one of them has had extremely restricted access to showers, on the basis that his isolation can not be guaranteed in the washroom. The accused have only been able to communicate with their lawyers through glass partitions. Severe restrictions have been placed on the number and frequency of visitors that they are allowed to receive.

Having received worldwide support from both social movements as well as hundreds of critical social scientists who have demanded his release, Andrej Holm was eventually freed from prison on 22 August. He continues to face serious restrictions on his movement and the prosecution is appealing against his release. The appeal will most likely be heard in October.

‘German Autumn’

This year sees the 30th anniversary of the so-called ‘German Autumn’, the climax of the cycle of violence and counter-violence between the German state and the leftwing urban guerrilla group, the Red Army Faction (RAF). It makes the climate rife for instilling a fear of the ‘resurgence of terror’ – with a widely expanded definition.

Fortunately, the collective memory of the left and liberal-left from this period is (mostly) strong enough to keep in mind the means by which the terror discourse can serve a ‘divide and rule’ function – encouraging splits between the movement’s ‘moderate’ and ‘extreme’ ends. The result of such splits, of course, always lead to a redefinition of what constitutes ‘legitimate’ dissent and what does not. More and more forms of resistance to the status quo begin falling within the single term: ‘terror’.

The broad and growing movement against the wave of repression has three principal demands: freedom for the three remaining prisoners, solidarity with all of those facing charges and the abolition of paragraph 129a.

For more information, in both German and English, see http://einstellung.so36.net


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