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Germany tracks down Spanish protesters involved in G-20 clashes

Three Spaniards have been accused of public disorder and face up to five years in prison

Photo that helped identify one of the protesters.
Photo that helped identify one of the protesters. EL PAÍS

Almost a year ago, the Spanish police warned their counterparts in Germany that groups in Spain were arranging to protest at the G-20 summit in Hamburg. According to the police, the groups were using social media to organize “black blocs,” a tactic where young anti-capitalists dress in black to avoid being identified.

A German magazine cover helped identified one of the accused

What the Spanish police did not expect was for the German force to launch an exhaustive investigation to identify, one by one, the thousands of protesters who took part in the violent demonstrations on July 7 and 8. This work has successfully identified 11 aggressors – three Spaniards and the rest from Italy, France and Switzerland.

German authorities, which estimate the cost of property damage in the Sternschanze neighborhood to be €2.7 million, were not willing to let acts of vandalism – including cars set on fire, street furniture destroyed or pulled apart and damage to homes – to go unpunished.

In the videos sent by the German police to the Spanish National Police, the three Spanish protesters can clearly be seen and are now under investigation by the High Court. But while dozens of people appear in the videos seen by EL PAÍS, only these three Spaniards, accused of “public disorder,” “undermining authorities” and “physical aggression” have been detained, according to the order from the Hamburg court.

“They responded to the call individually, but as you can see, they know one another and join together to act,” says one of the police officers about the video. The Spaniards are at the front line of the protests. At first they are dressed casually but when the German police begin to remove people from the street, they change their outfit, wearing black masks and hoods to cover their faces.

Protesters at the summit set cars on fire, destroyed street furniture and damaged local homes

The Spanish police are familiar with the protesters, who have a long history with the far left. Two live in an occupied flat in Carabanchel in Madrid while the other lives with his parents.They come from middle- and upper-class families with highly educated parents: “University professors, cinema directors,” who were surprised their sons were not “on an Erasmus scholarship” in Hamburg but rather pulling out stones with levers and throwing them at police, leaving one seriously injured, according to police reports.

One of the protesters, who appears in numerous police videos and photographs, was identified by his clothing. Police also listened in on cellphone calls made by the accused. “They are a key element to showing they were there,” explain the investigators.

Although their names have not been revealed, the German police said that one of the Spanish protesters was identified, among other evidence, thanks to the cover of German magazine Bild. The day after the violent demonstrations, the magazine published an image of a hooded man throwing a stone at police with the headline “Who knows this G-20 protester?”

The investigation has been coordinated via Eurojust (the organization within the European Union in charge of strengthening judicial cooperation between member states). There is a separate court order for each of the 11 accused. The three Spaniards, who face up to five years in prison, have been released until they are prosecuted by the German court.

Black blocs

A “black bloc” is a protest tactic where demonstrators dress in black clothing to avoid being identified by the authorities. The goal is also to give the impression of a united mass, promoting solidarity among the protesters and building a revolutionary presence.

The tactic was developed in the 1980s in Europe by activists in protests against nuclear power. Black blocs gained attention in media outside of Europe when one caused property damage to GAP, Starbucks and other businesses during the demonstrations against the World Trade Organization Summit in Seattle in 1999.

Today, it is a tactic that is organized via social media and mainly associated with anarchist and anti-globalization protests. Activists who take part in a black bloc reject violence unless it is used for personal defense. They believe violence should be used against symbols of political power but not against people.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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