European youth have their riot of the week
The battle of Brokdorf seems to have ended slightly in favor of the police. In Western Europe's largest antinuclear power demonstration thus far, "only" 128 policemen and an unknown number of demonstrators were injured. Seven policemen were seriously injured.
Only about 20 protesters suspected of spearheading the violence were detained after the Feb. 28 encounter. There was no property destruction or looting. And afterwards Young Socialists chairman Willi Piecyk condemned the violence of militant demonstrators rather than the police.
The last item is the key. What is at stake is perhaps less the future of nuclear energy than society's integration of a youth culture that is able to gather 50,000 demonstrators at the Brokdorf nuclear plant construction site, northwest of Hamburg.
In the struggle of the hearts and minds of West Germany's -- and Western Europe's -- youth, the focus is now on protests that are rapidly become a weekly event. The issues vary: antinuclear power, anti-eviction of squatters, anti-American support for the junta in El Salvador, (potentially) anti-NATO nuclear weapons. Whatever the specific issue, however, the demonstrations frequently turn into a confrontation between police and a hard core of "chaotics" and "politrockers" who police think migrate from demonstration to demonstration with the aim of bashing the police.
The problem for the police and elected politicians is how to restrain the "chaotic" without indiscriminately truncheoning peaceful demonstrators.
The syndrome is the same throughout Western Europe, whether the demonstrators are squatters in Amsterdam or Berlin or young people in Zurich who want a youth center that is off limits to police and drug inspectors. The issues are especially sensitive in West Germany.
Any police excesses or bans on demonstrations in West Germany immediately raise the specter of the fascist repression of the 1930s. And everyone remembers that the killing of an anti-Shah demonstrator by a plainclothesman's bullet in West Berlin in 1967 became the rallying cry for the initially chic terrorist movement of the early 1970s.
West German police tactics were revised after the 1967 incident in West Berlin, and after the Social Democratic-Liberal coalition came to power in 1969. The police stopped using guns and armed themselves instead with less lethal sticks, tear gas, and water cannon for controlling demonstrations.
These means were especially effective at Brokdorf, an isolated construction site on marshy, treeless land just above the Elbe delta. The largest police force in West German history -- 10,500, gathered from all over West Germany and West Berlin -- was able to cordon off the area and frisk the 50,000 individual protestors for weapons as they filed through checkpoints.
Despite the searches, a hard core of radicals that the police estimated at 3, 000 (some of them masked) did manage to smuggle Molotov cocktails and hunting slingshots with steel pellets past the police checks. Farther away demonstrators lofted aluminum kites to endanger and hinder the flight of police helicopters.
When the militants attacked the police, though, under the direction of an illegal "Radio Brokdorf," the police were quickly able to push all demonstrators past the outer police cordon. Reinforcements of police and federal border guards, landing by helicopter, completed the evacuation begun by the tear gas and water barrages, and that was the end of the demonstration.
In the marshes, the militants couldn't pick up bricks and paving stones to throw at the police, as they have done in Hamburg, West Berlin, and Amsterdam. There were no alleys for demonstrators to hide in, no bank and shop windows to shatter and loot.
Moreover, in the open fields the sequence of violence and reaction was much more visible than it usually is in cluttered urban streets, both to the antinuclear marchers and to viewers of the evening TV news. This time the police had clearly allowed the original demonstration to proceed, even though the march had been banned by the local council out of fear of violence.
Of itself the Brokdorf outcome is unlikely to persuade young demonstrators that the West German state is not repressive. For many of those young people who think of nuclear power as an unalloyed evil, the very fact of the resumption of Brokdorf construction after a year's moratorium for legal challenges i s proof itself of state repression.