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Separate and Not Equal-- the G8 Reveals our Apartheid Style Democracy
By the time you read this, another G8 summit meeting will be over. And, to quote the ever-quotable Shakespeare, it will once again have been a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
Every year since 1975 the heads of the same states (with the more recent addition of Russia) meet to discuss ways to further their control over the rest of the world, including their own citizens, a fact which has become even more apparent at this year's lockdown-style get-together. And every year since 2001, when an Italian protester was murdered by police, it is a sort of annual scrimmage between citizens and organisations which aim to change the status quo, whether for the good of the environment, the poor, the war-torn or diseased, and the not -so-thin blue line of heavily armoured police who are apparently protecting democracy from itself. In short, the G8 is and remains a meeting free from any sort of consultation with either the heads of those states who will be greatly affected by the decisions made (read African and developing nations), or the citizens the G8 leaders claim to represent.
It can also be viewed as a sort of party under Apartheid-- the tiny number of "haves" sit in luxury behind a Ã¢â€šÂ¬12million fence and a police-enforced "protester free zone" 5 km outside the barbed-wire, while the great masses wishing for change or to at least have some sort of inclusion in the decision-making process, sleep in tents and are bullied by armed men in Darth Vader costumes, but both sides attempt to reach conclusions as to the way the world and their own part in it should progress, and both attempt to enjoy the meeting as much as possible.
On the agenda this year, curiously on both sides of the barbed wire fence, was climate change. Greenpeace demanded immediate action, not words, studies and empty promises. Grass roots groups across Europe, from Denmark, Italy, Sweden, and all parts of Germany, rode to the meeting by bicycle to show their own commitment to this issue.Those who could not do so travelled mainly in packed buses or trains (I was one of the latter). Inside the luxury zone, though, was a different story. Bush, purportedly representing the US, came with his own special agenda-- move away from enforced and concrete goals on carbon emissions and to a new, American-style system wherein each country should set its own goals voluntarily, and enforce them on the honour system. Business leaders were of course quick to praise this brainchild for its flexibility and business-friendliness. In the end, the result was the same as every year; the assembled leaders essentially agreed to talk about this issue again later, with no concrete goals set. If global warming was on the agenda, clearly it was not an "action item".
The firm carbonfootprint.com has even assessed the total carbon emissions that each country's delegation to the meeting made. The rather predictable result is that the US delegation, much like its own citizens, was the most polluting. In fact, its carbon emissions were greater than any other country's delegation, in some cases exponentially. While Japan tried to offset this pollution by tree-planting programmes, the US has, predictably, no such plan. So while the assembled leaders at the luxury hotel in Heiligendamm spoke at length about their commitment to fighting global warming, their total carbon footprint for the 3-day meeting was more pollution than even 198 average Americans cause in an entire year. Meanwhile outside the newly erected Apartheid fence, a 16,000 strong police force used such environmentally-friendly methods as armoured vehicles with water cannons and helicopters to prevent the bicycle riders from disturbing the important deliberations inside.
Much of the talking was also diverted by Mr Bush's various preparations for future wars. The missile system he plans to install in the Czech Republic and Poland was viewed as a threat to Russia (funnily enough), and discussions on this topic were heard more in the international news than the topics originally slated for debate. Make no mistake, a new arms race and cold war are indeed pressing issues, but the interesting thing here is who is doing the pressing. This move was initiated solely by the Bush regime, without consultation of even the other G8 members, turning this year's meeting into a Russian babushka doll: Bush and Putin in the centre, followed by the rest of the G8 leaders, and finally the huddled masses outside the fence, yearning to breathe free, and preferably unpolluted air.
The agenda outside the fence remained unchanged throughout the conference; make our voices heard. This seemingly simple motto has become increasingly difficult, however, in an increasingly polarised world of haves and have-nots, and not only of wealth but also of rights and power. While previously the right to peaceful assembly was guaranteed by the German constitution, this year marked a special exception. The only demonstration allowed was in Rostock, some 20 km away from the actual meeting place, and some three days earlier. Even this assembly was met with massive resistance from police, and resulted in the typical clashes with stone throwing and cars set ablaze on the one side, and pepper spray, water cannons and billy clubs from the police. Later in the week protesters would try again to get near the actual discussion, using bolt cutters to get through the fence, and imposing sit blockades of the streets to Heiligendamm. All of these measures were met with rapid and harsh resistance from the police, who quickly made matters clear: if you aim to stop global warming, you'd better arrive on a jumbo jet. Bicycle riders must wait outside the fence, please.
Daniel Vallin is a writer who lives in Europe.