John Walter

During the last 15 years or so, citizens in Stuttgart have protested against a vast multi-billion dollar project called “Stuttgart 21”  by its proponents, chiefly DEUTSCHE BAHN [GERMAN RAILWAY, INC.], THE FEDERAL AND STATE GOVERNMENT, THE MAYOR OF STUTTGART and CERTAIN INVESTORS ACTIVE IN THE PROPERTY SECTOR.

The critics of the Stuttgart 21 project dispute that citizen participation was encouraged and made possible in a realistic way. This is probably true.

All over the country, citizens discover that large projects which require that they are heard, are in fact decided AMONG INTERESTED PARTIES behind closed doors. Then a small announcement is made in a daily paper, usually among lots of ads and legal announcements, on a page usually overlooked by most readers. This announcement typically informs the dear citizens that a public hearing will take place on some Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday at 10 or 11 a.m. when every normal truck driver, office worker, sale girl or factory worker is at work. The few people who come, often elderly people, helplessly face experts and politicians, and when everyone goes home, the letter of the law has been obeyed. The public has had its chance to object, to critique, etc.

I have, on the other hand, taken part in public hearings held in a small town public school where the politicians and experts were booed and the auditory was roaring with protest. The result? The protest was ignored. EVERYTHING HAD BEEN DECIDED IN ADVANCE. BUT THE LOCAL POLITICIANS WERE ANGRY BECAUSE THE ATTEMPT TO WIN THE APPROVAL OF THE PROJECT HAD FAILED.

As for ANTI-“STUTTGART21”  or “K21” (short for “KEIN 21”, that is to say “no 21”) protests, they have been going on for a long, long time. They were less noticeable, kind of, when the project didn’t seem to come of the ground for a couple of years. Only recently, when things began to get serious, did numerous crowds take to the street. THESE PEOPLE ARE SAYING ONE THING: WE HAVEN’T BEEN HEARD, AND WE DON’T WANT THIS PROJECT.

It’s about six weeks ago that Le Monde, the French daily, published an article entitled “Stuttgart, the methodical rebel.”*  
The article succeeds to give a portrait of a pharmacist, a woman who has regularly taken part in the demonstrations that begin each Monday at 6 p.m. and that express a widely-felt protest against the demolition of the old central tation, a protected historical monument, and against the devastation of the large park nearby, with its 300 trees (also supposedly “legally protected”) that are to make way for new office buildings, malls, a prime downtown residential buildings. 

The writer of the article mentions even that this woman who opted to regularly voice her protest in the street is often accompanying by her old mother, age 84. At least whenever the time permits, as the old lady does not fail to point out.**
It is a story that succeeds to bring across a curious fact. The demonstrations in Stuttgart have a very wide popular base. They are not just an affair of a few ecologists. And they are certainly not “instigated” by radicals or an affair of “professional demonstrators” – as conservative politicians tried to insinuate in the media.

What had been peaceful protests tolerated by the powers that be suddenly turned into a peaceful protest dispersed by police wielding batons, using tear gas, pepper spray, and directing the forceful jet of water of water canons against school kids, senior citizens and middle-aged ecologists.

That was on Thursday, Sept. 30, 2010. [The weekly DER SPIEGEL
published a number of photos in the internet, most of them about the attack of the police on school-children engaging in a tree-protecting sit-in.]

A day later, 65,000 people took to the street. Even  the NEW YORK TIMES could not close its eye to the fact that “tens of thousands of protesters flooded the streets of Stuttgart […] chanting ‘Shame on you,’ one day after the police had used pepper spray, water cannon and tear gas tp disperse crowds that had gathered to save [300] centuries-old trees from being cut down…”*** 
The NY TIMES failed, however, to report that demonstrators arrived in front of the state parliament on Friday, October 1, tossing their shoes against its walls very much in the way of a certain Iraqi journalist, while shouting “Liars, liars!”

The o-so objective NEW YORK TIME also put its lot with the Stuttgart police in its article published on Saturday, October 2, when admitting that 130 people had been injured by the police on the preceding Thursday evening. A French source spoke of about 400 injured; the organizers of the demonstration counted about 370 on site. An emergency hospital had to be set up in the threatened Schloss-Park. Stuttgart hospitals announced that they had great difficulties handling all the incoming wounded persons. All of these uninteresting details the NY TIMES chose to ignore.

The NEW YORK TIMES  reported, however, that “newspapers across the country on Friday [October 1, 2010] were filled with pictures of German police officers in riot gear and bloodied and wounded demonstrators, young and old.” And the NEW YORK TIMES did not fail to point out that the unprovoked attack on peaceful demonstrators was “a major political embarrassment to Chancellor Angela Merkel” – a fact still made more unpleasant by the way the chancellor subsequently accused the demonstrators. (But this unpleasant nuance the TIMES preferred of course to remain silent about.)

The opposition Green Party which according to the NEW YORK TIMES was calling for for national protests, but which is only one force involved in  the protests against the “Stuttgart 21” project, has by now  overtaken the Social Democratic Party in the state of BADEN-WURTTEMBERG (of which Stuttgart is the state capital). 
The GREENS are also about to overtake the governing Christian Democrats (CDU, for short) at the polls in the Stuttgart region, and even if they should stop short of that, the Social Democrats are ready to join them as their junior partner in order to unseat the presently governing CDU in Stuttgart.

This is perhaps the most decisive effect of the way in which the classe politique has been treating the population of this country. More and more people are angry and ask to be heard. They see campaign promises broken, they feel they are lied to again and again, they sense that profitable deals are cut and that they as well as nature are paying the bill. They know that up to now “participation” even when foreseen by the law is a farce, and they desire a real say in affairs that directly touch the way they live. This is the basic conflict. The conservative forces, that is to say, the Christian Democrats, the Free Democrats and certain politicians inside the Social Democratic Party want to continue the old game: We’ll tell them sweet things; they’ll vote for us; THEN WE DO WHAT WE THINK IS GOOD FOR INDUSTRY, THE BANKS, US – IN SHORT, FOR “THE COUNTRY”, and if people protest, we’ll call in the cops. Perhaps some GREEN POLITICIANS, a number of politicians of DIE LINKE and certain SOCIAL DEMOCRATS have comprehended that this kind of game will face increasing popular resistance, and this exactly from the better-informed and better-educated among the working class and the middle class. 

Thus, something like a DEMOCRACY MOVEMENT is in the making, and progressive parties would be blind if they wouldn’t support this grass roots protests. LET US HOPE THAT THEY WILL NOT ATTEMPT TO HIJACK IT AND USE IT FOR THEIR OWN PURPOSES: it can only antagonize critical citizens still more than is the case already today.


* Frédéric Frédéric Lemaître, in : Le MONDE , August 31, 2010 .

**  “Comme chaque lundi, Sybille Adler devrait être fidèle au rendez-vous. A 18 heures, cette pharmacienne sera devant l'aile nord de la gare de Stuttgart pour protester contre sa démolition. Si le temps le permet, sa mère l'accompagnera. Malgré ses 84 ans. Ou peut-être à cause d'eux. N'est-elle pas née au moment même où cette gare aujourd'hui partiellement classée monument historique voyait le jour ? Cette gare en pierres naturelles, et surtout le parc qui borde son aile sud, est le joyau de la ville. « C'est ma patrie », résume une élégante femme aux cheveux blancs qui avoue « plus de soixante ans », mais préfère taire son nom : « j'ai été secrétaire à la mairie, vous comprenez” (Frédéric Lemaître, ibidem)

*** Michael Slackman,  “Crowds Fault Police Action in Stuttgart”,  in : THE NEW YORK TIMES (New York edition), October 2, 2010, p. A6