A hot weekend and a chilly G7 summit

BERLIN – In Elmau, top leaders of seven top nations at the G7 Summit discuss “the global economy as well as… foreign, security and development policy.”

That doesn’t sound exciting. And since the big shots are sorting it all out in a five-star “luxury spa, retreat and cultural hideaway” a thousand meters high in the Alps, as far from the real world as possible, it could remain quite cool. To guarantee this, one possibly caustic trouble-maker, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, was shown a cold shoulder. Down-graded areas in controversial latitudes and longitudes like China, India, all Africa and Latin America were not even considered. If they wish to, let them have G20 meetings – or whatever – the seven seemed to think. “We know who really counts in this world!”

But counting, like chickens before they hatch, is a dubious exercise. A big crowd wants to intrude on their Alpine solitude – as loudly as possible. Recalling the excited G8 Heiligendamm summit of 2007 at the Baltic Sea, much closer to urban civilization and constantly bothered by angry citizens, Angela Merkel has seen to it that 17,000 police guard a wide security zone around the Elmau “retreat” and all routes leading to it. They have a close-knit video net, a fleet of helicopters and drones, “confinement” containers and quick-sentencing, rapid-fire judges at the ready. All hotel and pension rooms in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, the nearest town, were blocked well in advance and everything else done to frighten local farmers from renting free camping space for tents, trailers, meetings and facilities like the well-ordered tent colony in Heiligendamm. When one courageous property owner offered the protest campers a large meadow the agreement was first barred by the town because of possible “flood waters.” Another court decision reversed this, however, and the colony has been set up, though over fifteen miles from the summit palace.

Protesting G7

The first rally on June 4, almost a hundred miles away in Munich, the nearest city of any size, surprised everyone with up to 40,000 determined, non-violent demonstrators. They came from a wide range of groups like the teachers’ union (GEW), the LINKE (Left) party, Oxfam, the Green Youth, the Green Party of Bavaria, the anti-speculation organization attac (Association for the Taxation of financial Transactions and Citizen’s Action) and the left-leaning Nature Friends. They sent many demands up to the lofty mountainside: drop the “Austerity” policy so enduringly espoused by Angela Merkel, move convincingly against climate warming and ecological disaster, keep anti-biotic meat and gene-altered attacks on agriculture by firms like Monsanto out of Europe, and above all, cancel plans for US-European (TTIP) and Canadian-European trade agreements (CETA), companion pieces to Obama’s US-Pacific treaty (TPP), which would endanger ecological efforts, labor standards, cultural independence in films and books and hand key decisions to special courts and big business who could over-rule any progressive gains in the separate countries.

Since the demise of the USSR and its bloc twenty-five years ago the mighty companies and the governments they so strongly influence have used technological progress and global possibilities to push down standards of living in the poorest countries of the south and, aided by the resulting pressure, of working people in their richer countries as well, whose union movements and political Left almost everywhere have been weakened or de-clawed. Wage levels, job security, retirement age, women’s rights, public schools and higher education have all been under pressure.

The current demonstrations are another sign that people are fighting back. Rallies and marches are planned for each day, moving as close to Elmau as permitted, maybe even somewhat closer. The “black bloc” groups who like to burn cars or garbage cans and break windows have not been invited this time but, unlike Putin, they could show up uninvited, and many non-violent protesters are also in a defiant mood. As ever, the media predators will hunt big bold scare headlines.

What worries the G7?

The G7 men and two women (hostess Angela Merkel and World Monetary Fund head Christine Lagarde) will rely on the armed, uniformed, visored men in surrounding woods and meadows to keep the crowds unseen and unheard. But two burning themes can hardly be avoided. Present or menacing war, from Donetsk or Odessa to Ramadi and Palmyra is of bloody importance. Nor can they ignore their real worry; not only do protest rallies seem to be growing, but undesirable election results look like troublesome, rebellious omens, most recently in Spain, far more urgently in Greece. Such uppity presumption will surely be discussed as much up in Elmau as down below in the crowds.

Indeed, some may already be thinking up new slogans; on June 20th the World Social Forum will mark a week of solidarity for Greece. In its bitter tug of war against the Syriza government elected on January 25th the rulers of the European Union, headed by Germany and its tight-lipped, tight-fisted, tightwad Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, see it and movements like Podemos rather like Liberia saw Ebola or South Korea sees the new MERS epidemic. It must not spread! Syriza must be stopped, yes, wrecked! The rallies planned for Berlin, Rome, London, Brussels and elsewhere hope to prevent this; the victories in Greece and Spain, signs of a new spring of resistance, demand strong support. The slogan will be “Remake Europe – democratic, borderless, in solidarity”.

This development is more than embarrassing to the Social Democrats and their leader Sigmar Gabriel. To retain any claim to a leftward inclination and maintain vital ties with the labor movement, his party should be joining such protests and rallies. But Vice-Chancellor Gabriel is part of the government, and Merkel is hostess in Elmau. He has joined Schäuble in badgering poverty-stricken Greece to pay up all its debts to its wealthy debtors and has been a main supporter of TTIP. Due to growing opposition, even from fellow Democrats, to his friend Obama’s Asian treaty, but mostly due to general German rejection of signing away the country’s birthright for a Biblical mess of potage, consumed by big biz, Gabriel is making all kinds of claims as to the treaty’s basic innocence if not its outright blessings. Sadly for him, the U.S. negotiators are not backing him up in his assurances and his party is increasingly divided.

Greens, Social Democrats, DIE LINKE, AfD

The Greens are also showing signs of what, among amoebae, is called mitosis; when cells, or their nuclei, begin to divide. While left-leaning Greens – there are still some – are taking part in some of the protests, others, like co-chair Cem Özdemir, is so far to the right on some issues that he once joined the likes of Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz in an open letter violently attacking Russia. He speaks with deep respect for Angela Merkel and President Gauck and might perhaps be open to a coalition with their Christian Democratic Party. Or, to be fair, to any coalition, even with the Social Democrats and LEFT if it would get him a government cabinet seat. He currently hopes to end the double-chair rule in his party, with one man, one woman, and thus rule the roost alone.

This would be opposed but hardly lead to full mitosis, in contrast with the young Alternative for Germany (AfD), which now does seem to be splitting apart, with its present head, who is far to the right, opposed by the two vice-chairs, who are even further to the right. But then this is surely related less to amoebae than to the sphere of the e-coli.

The Left may also face a hot time on this hot weekend, hopefully no mitosis. At its party congress in West German Bielefeld the delegates will be debating desirable or undesirable coalitions with Greens and Social Democrats, their foreign non-intervention policy in the face of pressures from those other two parties, but hopefully also its new program of fighting hard on key issues affecting so many, here too: jobs, rent increases, pensions, environment. Perhaps this would help sooth inner wounds as well as possible and break the 8-10 percent status quo in the polls whose corset has confined its ribs for so long.

Photo: In Munich, Germany, June 4, demonstrators demand to stop the TTIP negotiations during a protest against the G-7 the summit.  |  Matthias Schrader/AP


Victor Grossman
Victor Grossman

Victor Grossman is a journalist from the U.S. now living in Berlin. He fled the U.S. in the 1950s in danger of reprisals for his left-wing activities at Harvard and in Buffalo, New York. He landed in the former German Democratic Republic (Socialist East Germany), studied journalism, founded a Paul Robeson Archive and became a freelance journalist and author. One of his books is available in English: “Crossing the River. A Memoir of the American Left, the Cold War, and Life in East Germany” (2003, University of Massachusetts Press).