German police raid climate activists who blocked traffic

May 24, 2023
Police officers work to free a Letzte Generation (Last Generation) climate activist after he glued himself to the asphalt during a climate protest in Berlin, Germany. — courtesy Hannibal Hanschke/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock
Police officers work to free a Letzte Generation (Last Generation) climate activist after he glued himself to the asphalt during a climate protest in Berlin, Germany. — courtesy Hannibal Hanschke/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

BERLIN — German police have carried out raids in seven states in a probe into climate campaigners suspected of forming or backing a criminal group because of their controversial activities.

Among those raided was Last Generation spokeswoman Carla Hinrichs, whose door was broken down by armed police while she was in bed, the group said.

For months Last Generation has disrupted traffic in German cities. Chancellor Olaf Scholz has condemned their campaign as “completely crazy”.

For weeks in Germany there has been a ferocious culture war about whether Last Generation can be legally defined as a criminal organization.

Conservative MPs have demanded tougher penalties including jail sentences, while left-wingers have warned of a dangerous authoritarian clampdown.

Some 170 police took part in Wednesday’s raids on flats and other buildings in Berlin, Bavaria, Dresden, Hamburg and elsewhere, shutting down the group’s website and freezing two accounts.

Hinrichs’s flat in the Berlin district of Kreuzberg was targeted at 07:00 on Wednesday by 25 police officers carrying guns, her colleagues said.

No arrests have been reported but seven people aged 22 to 38 are suspected of organizing a campaign to collect at least €1.4 million (£1.2 million) in funding mainly to finance “further criminal acts”.

Police and prosecutors said the raids were aimed at establishing Last Generation’s membership structure.

Two of the activists under investigation are suspected of trying to sabotage an oil pipeline running across the Alps from the Italian coast at Trieste to Ingolstadt last year.

In Berlin, Last Generation activists are making an impact. Roads blocked by activists have become a regular feature in radio traffic reports. Households have been getting leaflets inviting locals to Last Generation information or training events.

Last week,12 streets were blocked in the city as activists glued themselves to the road or to cars. But these street sit-ins have resulted in some drivers lashing out. Countless social media videos show outraged drivers screaming at campaigners.

In polls, most Germans disagree with the group’s tactics. In a survey carried out by left-leaning magazine Der Spiegel this month, 79% of respondents said the group’s actions were wrong, with only 16% agreeing with the activists.

But that doesn’t mean all Germans support a clampdown either.

Many left-wing and Green politicians as well as commentators say they disagree with the group’s tactics because they enrage people rather than win them over to environmentalism. But they argue activists should still have the right to campaign peacefully.

Last Generation criticized Wednesday’s raids using the chancellor’s “completely crazy” quote, VölligBekloppt, as a hashtag, asking when the authorities would instead search “lobby structures and confiscate government fossil funds”.

Another climate action group, Ende Gelände, complained that the raids were targeting people seeking to “raise the alarm about the climate crisis rather those responsible for it”.

Last Generation said it would continue its activities and some supporters online suggested the raids would galvanize support for their campaign.

The police response has been welcomed by conservatives, as well as some politicians from two ruling parties, the FDP and center-left SPD.

Some Green politicians said while they disagreed with the group’s radical actions, they suggested the raids may have been too heavy-handed.

Left-wing and environmental groups announced a march in Berlin on Wednesday afternoon with further demonstrations in Leipzig, Munich and Potsdam.

Greenpeace and politicians from the left-wing Linke party called the raids a “new level of escalation” from police that undermined the basic democratic right to protest.

Last Generation is campaigning for a speed limit on motorways of 100km/h (62mph).

It played a key role in protests against the expansion of an open coal mine in the village of Lützerath in January, where campaigner Greta Thunberg was briefly detained.

Last October two activists threw mashed potato at a Claude Monet painting at a museum in Potsdam near Berlin and then glued themselves to a wall, an action that mirrored similar protests in the UK by the climate action group Just Stop Oil.

Last Generation is not limited to Germany. Two activists glued themselves to an area in front of the Austrian parliament in Vienna on Wednesday, defying a ban on protests outside the building.

In Italy, three Italian activists were due in court on Wednesday for gluing themselves to a Vatican museum sculpture dating back to Roman times last August.

Activists belonging to the group had also colored the Trevi fountain in Rome black as a statement against fossil fuels. — BBC

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