The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) is a military alliance of twenty-six nation-states. It was formed on the 4th of April 1949 specifically to counterbalance the growing power of Soviet Union and block its potential expansion into Europe.
The end of the cold war resulted in NATO becoming a vehicle for US military expansion which is notably seen in the war on Afghanistan.
This weekend NATO held a summit in Strasbourg, France on its 60th anniversary with the main aim of increasing its troops there. Thousands of protesters converged to say no to the war on Afghanistan, no to war, no to NATO. Below is a report from the London contingent:
The Stop the War Coalition (STW) organised 1 coach from Manchester and 2 coaches from London. I joined the contingent because demonstrating against NATO and Obama’s foreign policy felt like the necessary step to take after the injustice seen in the siege on GAZA.
The coaches were waved off by the FIT and arrived late Friday night having negotiated police road blocks and a faulty GPS. A campsite had been set up by local anarchists, who had barricaded the main street leading to it using furniture, broken glass and anything else available to ensure the police could not enter. In the middle of the night, amidst the constant hum of a police helicopter, it was reassuring to know the camp was being guarded.
In the morning the UK contingent marched with the New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA) towards the meeting point for the main demonstration.
All trams and buses had been cancelled and a ring of steel placed around the city centre, with 24,000 German and French police on guard. The march was loud with slogans such as, ‘Obama, yes we can, troops out of Afghanistan’ whilst also focusing on Palestine and linking NATO and war with recession and anti-capitalism, alongside revolutionary chants.
Upon approaching a bridge smoke from tear-gas canisters marred our view and we linked with the Black Bloc (the name used to describe anarchists wearing black clothing) who had been battling the police lines since dawn. We tried to continue marching but a fresh round of canisters hurtled towards us and we had to draw back, temporarily blinded by our tears.
I had come ill-prepared but thankfully was handed a lemon and frantically bit on it then passed it on to prevent coughing fits; no-one wanted to stop chanting.
By this point I simply wanted to beat the police and others had the same urge. We tried pushing forward a couple more times, always staying strong with the banners, always standing our ground. The NPA then called for us to move back to their position, and we did so to form a stronger block.
Rumours then began that the bridge was open and we slowly inched forward until the smoke cleared and we could see lines of police with tanks to the left of us and fellow protestors ahead.
I had text comrades about our positioning and they had come from the rally point in solidarity. We marched together to it and sat in the blistering heat listening to speakers trying to ignore the low-flying helicopters and increasing plumes of black smoke rising from the German border where 7,000 protesters were barred from crossing into Strasbourg. When the fires drew closer and tear gas resumed the event organisers finally felt it was time for the march to begin.
The demonstration was 30,000 strong with international delegations of peace activists, Trade Unionists, the radical left and other pressure groups chanting for change. The main route was blocked and unfortunately the alternative ran alongside an IBIS hotel set alight by anarchists meaning the demonstration was stopped, police lines blocking the front and the back.
We took time to rest until suddenly tear gas was coming in and we were pushed forward into a desolate industrial area watching police shoot rubber bullets at anarchists throwing rocks. We retreated and tried to establish an escape route; there wasn’t one. With police lines inching forward I realised that there would be no independent witnesses if the police decided to baton charge and began preparing myself for that eventuality.
At that point organisers decided all protestors should sit down together away from the battle whilst someone negotiated our exit with the police.
Thankfully this tactic worked and we were allowed to leave, heads bowed, chants banned until we had passed the lines of police onto an open road once again. The demonstration ended where we had begun, with some including myself leaving slightly earlier, ID at the ready at a police block to return to the campsite, greeted by local sympathisers handing out much appreciated water and bread.
Teargassed, sunburnt and exhausted protesters spent the evening analysing the demonstrations, with many feeling there was an overall lack of organisation due to France not having an equivalent STW group but feeling positive having strengthened international solidarity and delayed the conference by an hour.
The following day an activist counter conference was held with Black Bloc tactics dominating the discussion. Most speakers felt that the Black Bloc should not be demonised or seen as a homogenous group, and although they shouldn’t have targeted Post Offices and bus shelters their overall actions appeared more justified when a camp medic spoke of police violence as early as the 2nd.
He described the use of tear gas and arrests at the camp, as well as bombs with aluminium shrapnel in them. STW Greece then argued we should be focusing on this police violence and NATO military violence instead of being distracted by the comparatively negligible violence of the Black Bloc.
This discussion linked greatly to the need to engage with youth, with Kate Hudson from CND feeling peaceful protest is enough to draw them in whilst John Rees from STW argued that in order to do this our movement must have a radical and dynamic core.
The London delegation left that evening, but only after we were searched by police blocking the campsite exit.
All our banners, political literature and anything else the police wanted was taken. This was supposed to be intimidating but, as with the whole weekend, their actions felt tame compared to the British police’s actions during the G20 and GAZA protests. It made me realise how violent our police had become.
Personally I felt the weekend was a success even if we didn’t manage to march where we wanted to; we protested, we were heard, and we forged closer international links which can only better our tactics in the future. The overall feeling was that no matter what the state throws at us, we will always organise and demonstrate against injustice and war.