Prohibition on demonstrations, searches, and even a prison sentence… Germany is ostensibly tightening the screws in the face of the civil disobedience of its most extreme environmental groups. A strong symbol, the German authorities carried out this Wednesday, May 24, a vast operation against the radical environmental movement “Last generation”.
Author of several controversial civil disobedience operations, this very prominent collective currently wants to push the government to accelerate the fight against climate change. Its members had made themselves known in the media by repeatedly sticking their hands on the asphalt of major highways to stop traffic, or for having projected different substances on paintings in museums.
Accused of being a criminal organization
This week, an investigation for “training or support of a criminal organization” was launched by the Munich public prosecutor’s office against the collective. She led the police to “search fifteen locations” in “seven German regions” due to “suspicion of offenses committed by members of the “Last Generation”. “The police raids took place in the states of Hesse, Hamburg , Saxony-Anhalt, Saxony, Bavaria, Berlin and Schleswig-Holstein. Some 170 police officers were deployed across the country for the operation,” indicates the site of the German channel Deutsche Welle.
Seven of its members, aged 22 to 38, are targeted by this procedure, added the prosecution. In detail, they are accused of having “advertised on the Internet and organized fundraising”, up to 1.4 million euros, to undertake illegal actions. Two members are for example suspected of having “attempted in April 2022 to sabotage the Trieste-Ingolstadt pipeline”, an oil pipeline passing through Bavaria, considered essential infrastructure by the German authorities.
“Accounts have been seized and assets confiscated”, said the prosecution, stressing that the procedure was initiated “following numerous criminal complaints filed by the population since the middle of 2022”. The movement has already been the subject of hundreds of legal proceedings for, in particular, disturbing public order. Recently, a court also sentenced three activists to five, four and three months in prison, the toughest penalties imposed so far for this kind of act.
Demonstrations rain down in reaction
In response, the environmental movement immediately called on German citizens to take part in protest marches. Rallies were planned for this Wednesday afternoon in Berlin, Leipzig and Munich. More are scheduled for next week. If “Last Generation” recognizes the provocative aspect of its actions, the collective also maintains that only disruptive actions can provoke debate and change. “They scare us, but we must not give in. The government is leading us with our eyes closed towards a climatic hell, and is pressing the accelerator”, justified Aimée van Baalen, spokesperson for “Last Generation”. For the activists of the group, the protests are absolutely essential in the face of the action deemed insufficient by the authorities to fight against climate change. “Does drinking water have to run out, that we suffer from food shortages, so that we understand that ‘Last Generation’ is not criminal?” Asked Aimée van Baalen on Wednesday.
Many climate activist groups expressed their solidarity with the collective on Twitter. For Extinction Rebellion, the main purpose of the raids was “to distract from the real criminals”. The Fridays For Future movement also said it was “dismayed by the increasing criminalization by the German authorities of activists who demonstrate peacefully”. “Those who ask governments to respect their own constitutions are not criminals,” he said.
Germany defends its record
“The rule of law does not allow itself to be stepped on,” said Interior Minister Nancy Faeser in the newspapers of the Funke press group. “A legitimate protest always ends where crimes are committed and the rights of others are violated,” she added, noting that police registered 1,600 criminal complaints in relation to climate protests in 2022, much of it during roadblocks led by Last Generationreports the American press agency AP.
The actions of environmental activists anger the government, which claims to have done more than any other to counter global warming. The ruling coalition, which brings together environmentalists, social democrats and liberals, has ambitious climate objectives such as producing 80% of electricity using renewable energies by 2030. But the Council of Climate Experts, responsible for assess the government’s action, issued a report in mid-April estimating that Germany was in danger of not achieving its CO2 reduction targets.