Thousands of demonstrators defied police repression and violence to stage mass protests against Nato in Strasbourg, France, last Saturday.
People from all over Europe and the US gathered in the city to protest against continuing aggression by Nato forces across the world – especially in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Nato was holding its 60th anniversary summit in the city. A key item on the summit’s agenda was drumming up more yet troops from Nato countries for the occupation of Afghanistan.
Barack Obama has already pledged to send 21,000 more US troops to the country, while last week Gordon Brown promised an extra 1,000 British troops.
Trade unionists, peace activists, the radical left and anarchists all came together in Strasbourg last weekend to protest against this. Police attacked the demonstrations using tear gas, percussion grenades and water cannons.
Costas, a student from Greece, told Socialist Worker, “We brought over 60 people with us from Greece to send a message to Nato that we won’t stand by and watch while life is made worse in Afghanistan.”
The global economic crisis added a strong anti-capitalist flavour to demonstration.
“We’ve just had general strikes in Greece,” said Costas. “People are asking why is it that our jobs are being cut while there’s all this money for weapons.”
The police repression added to the “them and us” feeling on the demonstration. Debates over tactics ran through the protests, as people considered how best to challenge the police and the state.
Despite the state violence, protesters kept up a determined challenge to the police.
Many Strasbourg residents showed solidarity with the protesters, leaning out of apartment windows to salute them with raised fists as they marched through the city. Local people also handed out free baguettes and water to protesters on Saturday.
As well as the main demo, activists held demonstrations and a counter-summit in the city on Friday and Sunday.
Thousands of protesters from different backgrounds stayed in a camp in the south of the city.
Small groups left at dawn to build barricades around planned venues for the Nato summit. These blockades helped delay the summit for up to two hours.
By Saturday morning it had become clear that thousands of protesters had been stopped from entering the city. Coaches were stopped from crossing the border from Germany.
Police took hold of the city, setting up checkpoints and road blockades around its centre and on many bridges and entrances to the campsite.
But this only made the protesters more determined. It also meant people’s anger was directed at the police, as well as at representatives of the French state and the other Nato leaders.
NPA central to protests
The Strasbourg demonstrations against the Nato summit last weekend were the first major outing for France’s New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA).
The NPA organised a lively and colourful intervention made up of trade unionists and young people.
The party also offered political leadership on what were often poorly organised and chaotic demonstrations.
Muriel is a member of the NPA who joined the Strasbourg protests. “The NPA is a voice for workers,” she told Socialist Worker. “We have a vision of a different France – one where real equality exists.
“Workers in France have started to stand up once again – and the issues of war and the recession are becoming more connected.
“It’s so important that people organise resistance to Nato’s wars and to the pressure that our governments put on us.”