On Wednesday, a demonstration against the new European Central Bank building in Frankfurt resulted in the arrests of about 350 people, injuries to policemen and burning of police cars. Around 10,000 people came out to express opposition to the building, which cost over a billion euros.
The demonstrators call themselves Blockupy, after Occupy Wall Street. On their website, Blockupy styles themselves as a pan-European network that wants to end the rule of austerity policies in Europe. They also oppose capitalism in general.
Blockupy is well-organized, as indicated by its website, which provides all manner of assistance at the time of a demonstration. For example, counselling is available during the protests. Blockupy has set up a special bus to ferry those arrested back from the precinct house. It is indeed a large operation.
Yet it appears the system does not function completely seamlessly. Nowhere on the Blockupy website does it suggest that attacking the police and torching squad cars. It talks only about peaceful demonstrations.
I myself have witnessed similar demonstrations. One was at the European Council meeting in Nice in 2000; another in the Brussels suburb of Laeken in 2001. The demonstrators are old hands; they ride the subway with slogans and banners that they unfurl upon reaching the scene. For many, the demonstrations are also a chance to reunite with old friends.
The problem is that there’s always someone who turns the demonstration violent. How to keep the 100,000 people who marched in Laeken under control? The Gothenburg European Council summit of 2001 again saw a small group of demonstrators charge the Swedish mounted police; the demonstrators got their orders remotely by radio transmitters. The turnout of 10,000 in Frankfurt is also sizeable.
Violence always meets with a public backlash. Swedes were shocked over Gothenburg, but in Frankfurt a few days ago, too, some local residents criticized spiralling violence in their home city. As Blockupy would have it, of course, it was the police who instigated the violence.
Naturally, opposition to capitalism can be used as a justification for just about any demonstrations. But it must be said that opposition to a one-billion-euro building for the European Central Bank at a time that many have to tighten their belts in the name of austerity policies can be understood on the human level. What is questionable is when the demonstrations turn against the ECB as an institution.
“The main reason for the protest is that the ECB is in the troika,” Reuters quoted one of the organizers, Ulrich Wilken, as saying. “They are not democratically elected, (yet) they made the terms harsher for Greece to get finance after the election.” Wilken went on to call for an end to austerity policies.
Blockupy doesn’t appear to be interested in the fact that Greece itself signed the obligation to fulfil the troika’s recommendations to follow a strict monetary policy. Besides, it was the ECB that had a decisive role in the euro crisis when Mario Draghi as its president pledged to do all he could to save the euro.
As said, the protests against the European Central Bank’s new building can be understood on a human level. Still, why doesn’t Blockupy picket in front of the home of Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis? The minister’s not so modest digs were recently the subject of a photo spread in Paris Match, and had the Acropolis in the background. Yet it’s a safe bet that the putatively anti-capitalist Blockupy won’t make it there.