July 08, 2006
Germans say "Not Welcome, Mr. President"

(Crossposted at the Daily Kos)

From July 12th to the 14th, Dubya and Condi Rice will stop over in Germany on their way to the G8 summit in St. Petersburg, by invitation of Chancellor Angela Merkel. They will be visiting the northeastern cities of Stralsund and Trinwillershagen, which are in the district that Merkel represents as a member of the Bundestag, in the northern state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, formerly a part of East Germany. The G7 summit in 2007, when Germany has the rotating presidency, is planned to take place in this area. According to preliminary plans, Bush and Merkel will visit the Stralsund Old City, which is on an island and is off-limits to protesters, where they will visit the Rathaus and the St. Nikolai Church, and will greet crowds. Then they take the autobahn over to Trinwillershagen (winner of awards under the East German regime for agricultural production, and a favorite destination of Communist dictator Erich Honecker, who led the building of the Berlin Wall), where Bush and Merkel will feast on grilled boar.

Protests under the banner "Not Welcome, Mr. President" are planned throughout Germany and have already begun. The largest protests are expected in Stralsund on July 13th, where some 12,000 to 15,000 police officers (including sharpshooters and divers) will provide security, at an estimated cost of about 20 million Euros (that's about $25 million).

Time for vacation in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania! Time for protest! 'NOT WELCOME'

The official call to protest published by peace activists in Germany reads, in part:

We will receive US President Bush on his visit on 13 July 2006 in Stralsund with appropriately broad protests. His arrogant power politics are by now rejected even by most of US society. And here, too, we must make it clear to him that he is not welcome. ...

We demand:

  • No war against Iran

  • Withdrawal of the occupation forces from Iraq and Afghanistan

  • An end to the participation by NATO, EU and Bundeswehr in worldwide wars

  • Punishment of all those responsible for torture and mistreatment of prisoners and attacks on civilians

  • A nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Near and Middle East region

  • A new international initiative for global systematic nuclear disarmament, as stipulated in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty

  • Establishment of a permanent conference on security and cooperation in the Middle and Near East

  • No wars for oil or other natural resources: giving up nuclear and fossil fuels, taking up renewable sources of energy

This is what we advocate:
In order to solve peacefully the urgent problems facing people globally, the world does not need any warmaking alliances, such as are forged at the G-8 summit meetings, but rather disarmament and cooperation based on solidarity. We want the law of nations and national sovereignty and borders to be respected, and a civilian and social Europe with a commitment to disarmament. Our priority needs are subsidized jobs and investments in childcare, education, healthcare, and environmental protection.

Numerous national peace activist organizations have called for demonstrations on the day of Bush's visit in Stralsund. Protesters will be be taking buses to Stralsund from Berlin, Duisburg, Hamburg, Jena and Rostock, and additional protests are planned that day in Bonn, Braunschweig, Bremen, D?sseldorf, Erfurt, Heidelberg, Kassel, Kiel, L?rrach, Munich, Stuttgart and Suhl. Even more protests, discussion and information meetings, vigils and artistic offerings before and after the visit are planned in Stralsund, Hamburg (one on the 10th and another on the 12th), Berlin (one on the 11th and two more on the 12th), D?sseldorf, Bochum, Dortmund, Duisburg, Karlsruhe, Nuremburg, Rostock, Waiblingen, Greifswald, K?ckenshagen, Mylau, Bremen, Castrop-Rauxel, Essen and Heidelberg.

To coincide with Bush's visit, a local theater group will be premiering their rendition of the musical "Hair" featuring a 12 meter high mockup of the Statue of Liberty extending a middle finger instead of a torch, much to the consternation of local leaders of the Christian Democrats (Merkel's party).

The little coastal town of Stralsund, population under 60,000, will be fairly overwhelmed next week, not only by protesters, but also by media and security personnel from both Germany and the United States, all because Merkel wanted to invite Bush to her home district (according to unconfirmed rumors, he has also invited her to Crawford next year). But the region is not really well-equipped to handle it. Over fifteen years after re-unification, the states of former East Germany still suffer from very high unemployment; statistics from April of this year put the unemployment rate in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania at about 20%, and Stralsund had the highest unemployment rate in the state.

The city will be under high strain due to Dubya's visit. Its economy depends to a large degree on the tourist industry and is presently in the high season, but will be more or less shut down while he's there. About half of the Old City island will be declared a "security zone", closed to the public, and not one wrong move will be tolerated there. All business in the area are required to close, and while Bush is there, residents of the area will only be able to leave their apartments with special permission, will be subjected to security checks, may not film the event, and are not allowed to look out of open windows. This affects about 4500 residents and 900 business, who have been approached by the police in about 1100 interviews.

Approximately 400 kilometers of the autobahn around Stralsund will be closed, as well as ship traffic in the harbor. Automobiles must be removed from all streets, garages and from behind buildings. All ships must have their hatches closed, and all trucks and train cars must be removed. The local utilities company is required to weld shut about 800 sewer covers, to ensure that they can't be lifted.

The extravagance of the whole event has come under sharp criticism from opposition politicans, and the police officers union. The state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania can only muster about 5800 police officers, so the other 10,000 or so will have to be brought in from around Germany. Many of these will have to cancel vacation plans, right after an exhausting four-week period when they were providing security for the World Cup. The head of the state's Social Democrats (Merkel's opposition) and minister of agriculture Till Backhaus has said that the whole operation would have been much less costly if Bush had just stayed in Rostock, where he lands, rather than come out to Merkel's home turf. (When Air Force One lands at Rostock Laage airport, it will be the first time a 747 has ever landed there.) He has said that he would have much rather used the 20 million Euros to invest in schools or fighting unemployment.

Bush's visit to Germany next week promises to be even more costly than his last one, in Mainz in February of 2005, when 7000 police offers were brought in at the cost of several million Euros, residents could only reach their homes after security checks, sewer covers were welded shut, autobahns were closed, the Rhine and the Main were partially closed for ship traffic, airspace was closed, Phantom fighter jets were placed at alert status, and AWACS surveillance planes were circling the area.

I personally am frothing at the mouth at the idea of demonstrating against Bush, but I'm not sure I want to go out to Stralsund and make the whole deal any worse for the people there. (I'd have to take a day off work for that, anyway.) Maybe I'll be at a protest in Hamburg. Whatever happens, I'll take some pictures, keep an eye on the news, and keep y'all posted.

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