G-7 protests: Inside the activists' camp

G-7 protests: Inside the activists camp
G-7 protests: Inside the activists' camp. DW/B. Riegert
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Around 500 anti-G7 activist have set up their tents on a former campsite deep in the woods some 7 kilometers from the Spanish town of Irun, on the French border. The tranquil camp — made up of colorful two-person tents, dilapidated buses and hammocks — lies amid lush meadows. Children play outside and dogs wander about, while activist prepare food in a communal kitchen. In the evenings, they discuss politics, make music and party. Many of them have participated in previous protest camps, but most want to remain anonymous, fearing that French police may have secretly infiltrated their camp. Recently, five individuals suspected of belonging to the violence-prone black bloc group were taken into custody near the chic coastal city of Biarritz. It is there that this weekend leaders of the world's seven most powerful economies will meet for the G-7 summit.

Read more: Trump or Europe — Boris Johnson's G-7 balancing act

Arrogant G-7?

Hugo Braun has been opposed to these summits ever since their inception 20 years ago. The pensioner from Dusseldorf is a member of attac, an anti-globalization organization. He has come to Irun to join several thousand other like-minded activist to protest against economic globalization, the financial markets and the G-7 in particular. But he is not staying in the motley protest camp, he admits with a smile. He says that sleeping in a hotel is more befitting to his age.

"The leaders of the most powerful states, who will meet at the Biarritz summit, think they are entitled to just make decisions that — intentionally or unintentionally — affect the entire world," he says. Instead of this small group of states, Braun believes "the United Nations should be making such decisions, as it has the respective bodies to do so."

Braun is attending a three-day countersummit at Irun's exhibition hall that brings together anti-G-7 activists. Some 50 different political groups are here, representing a multitude of causes and interests, ranging from demands to disarm the police, to calls to grant the Palestinians more rights, to outright opposition to economic globalization and neoliberal economics, and banning nuclear power plants. Some attendees also want to see more organic farms in the Basque region and women's rights strengthened.

Braun admits that "with so many causes being represented, it is easy to lose track." He says that makes it difficult to pin down the activists' key demands.

Police out in force

There is no reliable information on how many activist really have flocked to this region ahead of the G7 summit. According to the French Interior Ministry, some 3,000 police officers are stationed in Irun and 10,000 in the seaside town of Biarritz. Some French "yellow vest" protesters — who for almost year have been blocking roads in protest against President Emmanuel Macron's policies — are also present at Irun's countersummit. They have said they are not certain whether the anti-G-7 rallies will remain peaceful should some protesters attempt to breach Biarritz's security zone on Sunday.

Read more: Why is Donald Trump ignoring Germany?

Stealing presidential portraits

Catherine Chantecaille of the Basque environmental organization Biri wants to get visitors to join a unique kind of protest on Sunday. With the help of other organizations, her group has stolen 127 official portrait pictures of President Macron from French schools and state offices. Their plan is showcase the pictures on Sunday near the town of Biarritz. "Of course the police will be there as well to find out who stole the pictures," Chantecaille says, adding that is why "we need as many people to show up with their own portrait pictures as possible to cause confusion."

French authorities, meanwhile, do not take kindly to the theft of such portraits. In autumn, a German activist will go to court in Orleans for this reason. She faces a fine of €75,000 ($83,600) or up to five years behind bars. Chantecaille finds this utterly ridiculous. "You can buy a picture of the president in any souvenir shop for eight euros," she says.

Navarre independence

Behind Chantecaille's booth, a small group of activist are working on red flags with the small yellow symbol of Spain's Navarre region. They plan to fasten them to long, wooden poles and then wave them at Saturday's rally. When I ask them in what sense Navarre's independence movement is connected to the G-7 summit, the activist just smile.

Irun's countersummit will end with a lengthy concluding statement containing a bundle of disparate demands. But the actual G-7 summit will not issue a final statement, as host President Macron has made clear. The idea behind this is to prevent US President Donald Trump from blocking the customary communique, as he did at an earlier G-7 summit in Canada. Hugo Braun, who has protested against numerous G-7 summits in the past, was surprised by the decision, but he thinks "it is the only thing Macron can do." He is convinced that the summit will focus mainly on "how to undo the damage that Mr. Trump has caused so far."

Next year, the US take up the G-7 presidency, though it is entirely unclear whether Trump plans to host a G-7 summit.

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