Tuesday, June 12, 2007

G8 Press Round-Up

Resistance to the Group of 8 meetings this year was quieter and smaller than expected. Rowdy kids stormed through farmland to approach the security fence around Heiligendamm, then did nothing, while Rostock saw a mere 25,000 protestors, a quarter of the expected number, according to police. (Protest organizers claim 80,000 showed up, but as with Heiligendamm, no official count exists.) And although black-clad rioters threw rocks and ignited autos one afternoon in Rostock, mass violence on the scale of the 2001 riots at Genoa was mainly averted.

That is, physical violence was minimal. The verbal assault of the German press against protestors, on the other hand, was substantial. Media outlets from conservative (weekly paper Die Zeit) to liberal (Berlin’s fabled Zitty) had little patience for so-called “G8-Gegner” (anti-G8-ers). Die Zeit published the scathingly sarcastic piece “They Just Want to Play,” mocking the self-involvement of Rostock protestors—including those dressed mysteriously as clowns—who seemed uninterested in packaging their radical slogans and claims in words understandable to the politically initiated onlooker.

In “Love Songs at the Rebel Camp,” the Berliner Zeitung went behind the scenes at one of the many activists’ camps thrown up in the agrarian pocket of Northern Germany. While finding the usually dumb-headed quotes about violence being necessary to attack a violent system, the reporter is careful to insist that many camp members reject Molotov cocktails. “Violence is total shit,” says a girl in the communal kitchen.

Meanwhile, a teen identified as “Micha,” who skipped school to camp out, “speaks, seemingly clueless, about globalization.” In other words, correspondent Martin Schumacher presents an entire camp of protestors without a single well-spoken, intelligent representative. He concludes that they are charmingly dumb hippies.

The story is pretty similar, minus the charm, when another Berliner Zeitung correspondent tails three young men from Berlin’s Kreuzberg on their way to Heiligendamm’s beleaguered security fence. One boy swills from a beer bottle before throwing it aside on the ground—so much for the environment—and when a farmer who tends the land they trespass through accosts them for not respecting his field, he answers, “Leave us…alone. Those [government leaders] behind us throw bombs.”

Are a lack of educated viewpoint and pass-the-buck attitude the only things needed to protest? Not according to Tadzio Müller, whose opinion formed Zitty’s lead-in to an article about protest. Mr. Müller couldn’t have provided better fodder for a journalist looking to skewer an innocently anti-globalization little lamb: “I don’t like this smug attitude when people say you need to read a couple good books before you form an opinion. You have to feel protest. That’s at least as important.”

In case you didn’t understand protestors, now you do. They feel something. Something more important than, uh, thought.

This is just a small selection, of course. There were more articles that made protestors seem, if not outright childish or dumb, at least a bit misinformed. In fact, the rock-throwing, police-attacking, black-clad mass at Rostock got the nicest treatment, as the media focused attention on their trendy clothing. The sleek black sweaters and stylish three-quarter-length pants were too tempting for journalists to resist commenting upon, while wrap-around reflective sunglasses garnered Matrix comparisons.

The strangest of all things G8, however, is the priceless tidbit picked up by Der Tagesspiegel. The NPD, Germany’s right-wing, xenophobic, neo-Nazi party succeeded in hoodwinking police in the capital and marching through the Brandenburg Gate several times last Monday, June 4th, before law enforcement got its act together and scared them off with arrests.

Merely days after this prank-like maneuver, Der Tagesspiegel reported on June 6th, the NPD attempted to get around the anti-Neo-Nazi demonstration ban up in Rostock by faxing Russian President Vladimir Putin a plea for democracy. Yes, go ahead, I’ll wait while you read that sentence again.

The NPD wrote what sounds like an earnest request for Putin to “politely try” to convince Chancellor Merkel, in the course of their private conversations, of the importance of “demonstration rights for the opposition” and of “democracy in the Federal Republic of Germany.” Perhaps they figured that Putin’s stint as a KGB agent in East Germany taught him the value of democratic free speech. Their fax, unsurprisingly, received no answer from the Russian Embassy in Berlin or representatives in Heiligendamm to whom it was sent.