Terror laws hit German left

[red pepper, Frank Meyer, 24.09.2007]

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

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

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.

[red pepper, Frank Meyer, 24.09.2007]