Last week, the leaders of the world’s most powerful nations, the G20, came together in Hamburg. At the summit, the atmosphere was tense: Pro-globalization leaders like the German chancellor Angela Merkel were meeting their anti-globalist, autocratic counterparts such as US president Donald Trump. But it wasn’t only the summit itself that was tense. In Hamburg, globalization and capitalism critics from all over Europe had assembled to protest the summit. Most protesters were peaceful, but some came with the intention to cause violence.
The outcome was shocking: Hamburg experienced a summit of violence. Over 200 policemen were injured, over 200 trains cancelled, public transport lines interrupted and multiple stores vandalized and looted. Residents of the Schanzenviertel in Hamburg-Altona, where the protests occurred, spent the rest of the week cleaning up their neighborhood. Germany was shocked.
It didn’t take long for politicians to react: The Christian Democrat party (CDU) used the violence to call for more surveillance. What was more shocking was that many left-wing activists and politicians failed to condemn the violence. Journalist Jakob Augstein, a renowned journalist who worked for die Süddeutsche Zeitung, Spiegel and other publications, tweeted that violence was a legitimate way to prevent further G20 summits. Katja Kipping, a politician from the left-wing party die Linke, said that policemen had exaggerated the extent of the violence. However, two things were missing from all responses: An appreciation of the peaceful protesters and real solutions as to how to deal with militant left-wing extremism.
Clearly, we have a problem with militant left-wing protesters. Every year on May 1st, violent protests occur in Berlin and Hamburg leading to burning cars and vandalized shops. Radical left-wing violence is one of the main sources of violence after xenophobic/radical right-wing attacks. Radical right-wing extremism in Germany is condemned across the political spectrum. Rightly so. But, ultimately, left-wing violence is equally bad. It doesn’t matter whether a policeman or an innocent protester gets hurt at an anti-immigration march or at an anti-globalization march. It doesn’t matter whether an asylum-seeker shelter or a car burns: Violence is violence. We must make sure that left-wing violence is as much condemned as right-wing violence. It is not acceptable that parts of the political spectrum still fail to condemn this form of violence.
This failure of some parts of the political spectrum makes left-wing violence incredibly hard to fight. It makes it difficult to forge alliances to pass laws that target left-wing violence and it may lead to local or state politicians sabotaging efforts to fight left-wing violence. Also, it conveys an impression of inertia to the public. Residents in Hamburg-Altona or Berlin-Kreuzberg know that they only have to wait until the next May 1st or summit for large-scale violence to occur again. This is frustrating to them and sheds their neighborhood in a bad light.
Also, this inertia hurts peaceful protesters who go on the street against capitalism and globalization. In a world where poverty, inequality and populism are on the rise, no one can deny that we need to talk about how our system is run. Surely, as liberals we may disagree with the kind of criticism uttered by G20 activists. However, no one can deny that an open discussion is necessary and that the protesters may have some points that are worth listening to. At the moment, however, no one listens to them and their points, as everyone is only looking at the militants and the damage they do. It is sad, but roughly 90% of all media reports in Germany during and after G20 were about the 10,000 militants and only 10% about the 100,000 peaceful protesters.
As we have seen, the benefits of a united front against left-wing extremism are obvious: If we were to clearly condemn violent protesters and if there was public disapproval of what they do, we could tackle left-wing violence more effectively. This would benefit all of us. It would be to the benefit of peaceful protesters, as their ideas would get greater reception. It would be to our benefit, as there would be less violence and a more diverse public discourse. But for this to happen, politicians need to become more aware of radical left-wing violence.
Ole Scheuermann is a liberal political activist focusing on economic and geopolitical issues. He is studying Economics and Politics at the University of Edinburgh, and is a member of both the German Young Liberals as well as the British Liberal Democrats. In Edinburgh, he has been elected membership officer at the Edinburgh University branch. You can find him on Twitter @oleben1997 and contact him via email: firstname.lastname@example.org