NATO summit 2009: A democracy free zone

When the alliance of democracies meets, there is no space for democracy on the streets

When NATO celebrates its 60th birthday in Baden-Baden, Kehl and Strasbourg on 3 and 4 April 2009, there will be a lot of nice speeches about the values of democracy, and the need to defend democracy against a multitude of threats. But while NATO might talk about democracy, democracy will be temporarily suspended in huge areas of Baden-Baden, Kehl and Strasbourg.

Security zones and “no-go areas”

The complete picture of “security zones” and controlled areas is not yet clear, but it is clear that the scale of this security operation and the restriction to freedom of movement, freedom of assembly and democratic protest will be unprecedented.

What is know so far is that in Strasbourg access to the old town will only be possible with special access passes. All street markets, schools, kindergardens, historic sights and more will be closed on 4 April. In addition, public transport will be severely effected, with trams not being able to enter the security zones, and the train line from Strasbourg to Germany will suspended from Friday afternoon until Saturday morning. Strasbourg's mayor Robert Herrmann did not rule out police searches of houses in the old city, and adviced tourists not to visit Strasbourg on 4 April.

In Kehl, 700 people who live near the Passerelle, a pedestrian bridge over the Rhine which will be the site of a symbolic handshake and photo opportunity for the heads of states and governments, will be severely effected. From Friday evening until Saturday morning (when all is over) they will not be able to leave their houses without prior consent from the police, and only accompanied by police. In addition, access to the Europa bridge, the main road connection over the Rhine, will be closed for several hours, and even traffic on the Rhine will be halted.

A similar concept will be in force in Baden-Baden, where German chancellor Angela Merkel will receive the heads of states and governments on 3 April at 17.30hrs, before they dine at the Kurhaus Casino in Baden-Baden. Details for Baden-Baden are not yet known, but it is expected that in Baden-Baden too there will be no-go areas.

Democracy suspended

All this security leaves little room for democratic protest. At the time of going to press, the authorities of Strasbourg halted the negotiations with the International Coordination Committee No-to-NATO 2009 about the route for the international demonstration, planned for 4 April 2009. While the organisers of the demonstration want a route which will bring the protest close to the summit itself, the authorities do not want to allow any demonstration in the centre of Strasbourg, and want to divert the demonstration to the outskirts, where it cannot be seen or heard by the presidents and prime ministers of the NATO countries. This in fact is contrary to the French constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights, as it will deny the citizenry to voice their protest close to the object of their protest. Thus, the way the NATO summit is organised turns all speeches and declarations of democracy that might be made at the summit into a farce.

Block-NATO

Nevertheless, preparations are well under way to confront NATO with our protest. War Resisters' International is part of a coalition of groups that plan to blockade the NATO summit. Within the framework of this coalition called “Block-NATO”, and founded at the Activist Conference in Strasbourg on 14/15 February, War Resisters' International works closely with its Belgian affiliates Vredesactie and a range of German nonviolent groups in organising a blockading point (see the call on page 1 and 2).

We will meet in the protest camp in Strasbourg-Neudorf (La Ganzau), to finalise the preparations for the action and to provide a last opportunity to take part in a nonviolence training. To make this blockade a success, we need your support. Come to Strasbourg from 1-5 April 2009, to reclaim democracy!

Andreas Speck