This interview was held with comrades who have been in the Hambach Forest in Santander in November 2018. The interview was in an audio format, intended for free radio. This is a transcript; therefore it is not made to the letter. It does not include the news that may have emerged from this fight between November and the end of December.
What is the project that you want to carry out? How long did it take?
The squatting project started in the forest. Hambach is a millenary forest of about 12,000 years of age, of which today there is only about 5% of what it was originally, that is, about 210 hectares. Why has the forest lost so much? Parallel to the forest there is a huge crater that is a coal mine: the largest opencast coal mine in Europe. Here lignite is extracted, the worst quality coal.
The struggle began through camps on climate change. Some people who were in that camp, 6 years ago in 2012, were motivated to occupy the forest and confront the RWE company, which is devastating the environment and contributing to the most unbridled capitalism.
To make a simile with the Spanish state, RWE is like Endesa here. It is a large electricity company that produces electricity and the necessary raw material, in this case coal. This means that they have an entire rail network that they use to transport the coal from the mine to the plant where they burn it. We believe that if they did not pull subsidies from the German government it would not be profitable, because this type of coal they extract has a shitty performance.
The German state has said that in 2022 it does not want to continue extracting coal because of the environmental issues. RWE wants to amortize. That is, it aims to get the most out of the mines it has opened. They are using the most extensive and powerful machinery that has been patented in the world, used in places like Chile.
Can you tell us about the process and / or the evolution of the camps in resistance to the destruction of the forest?
The mine has been active for more than 40 years and there has always been a certain level of resistance and / or local opposition, but the first occupation was, as we have said, in 2012. It was built, we believe, just as a house in the trees. In November of the same year they evicted the first squat. This was because, as there are protected species, they only have logging permits from October to February. But it was later squatted again with the construction of nine houses, which were again evicted.
The third occupation is the one that lasted about 3 years. Last year, logging stopped. Some 60 platforms could be built on top of the trees, most of which were homes. Last September it was evicted through a process of almost a month of effective eviction from the first house to the last, but not before going through a few weeks of constant police harassment accompanied by a climate of hostility and significant uncertainty. We lived with a constant presence of riot police from one side to the other, erecting barricades. We did not know when it was going to start, but it was going to go ahead, without the need of waiting til after October, when the previous occupations evicted.
And now, a fourth squat has begun.
How did you organize in the forest?
It was an open and avowedly anarchist social life. The transfeminist and queer struggle is very present, as well as animal liberation as well.
There was a large fund of money that was distributed in the different neighborhoods. Well, it must be said that in the whole forest there were several small villages, nine neighborhoods, without a solitary house. Some people were always present in their neighborhood, others were more itinerant … It was very nice when the word spread that there was going to be a big feast in one of the neighborhoods, and people would come from everywhere.
Returning to the issue of money, each neighborhood had its own fund with its corresponding treasurer, which was a rotating person. The task was rotating to avoid internal conflicts and security for the police. In each neighborhood you could ask the person in charge for money without giving any explanation as to why you needed it. Trust was what sustained this. Each neighborhood, through its own assemblies, decided how to act and how to resist, without forgetting that every week communal assemblies of the whole forest existed.
Most of the people there had no cell phones, so each neighborhood had one to receive news from outside sources or to communicate what was needed.
There was also a house bought outside the forest that was available to be able to do certain things that in the forest were not viable, such as showering. That there was no running water is a key point, because you always had the need to go out; to look for water, to recycle food etc. For this reason it is necessary to say that we have lived with a large amount of solidarity from peasants in the area. People who lived there opened their houses, brought us food, offered us showers. Once they gave us four tons of potatoes, the surplus of their field. In the moments prior to the eviction, these practices were also very present. At any time of day or night someone would come with backpacks full of food, a climbing harness etc.
At the organizational level, it lacked something more cohesive, because each neighborhood was on one side, but the truth is that the key point of Hambach, the air resistance in the trees was what all areas had in common. Resisting up here when there is an eviction means that the police have to deploy a lot of time and infrastructure to achieve it. They had to pave the ground, to put the machines in and get us out of our houses, without counting on that there would be people stuck in concrete drums, people suspended between ropes from tree to tree. This is also a tactic that slows down the police. To send the escalator police, they have to have the area cordoned off, they have to bring riot gear, they have to deploy an organization.
Although sometimes gaining time by losing minutes to them, may seem useless, in this case it has been quite important, since it has achieved the stoppage of logging. If there had not been that resistance to waste time, resources and give everything to resist, perhaps it would have been cut. It is not certain but maybe so. It is true that the tactics were diverse and each neighborhood was organized in a way. Molotov cocktails were not used inside the forest for obvious reasons. The barricades also have their use. First we made deep holes so that the machines had to fill them with earth. And later the excavators (which looked like snow plows) had to remove the mounds from the barricade. There are also those who deposited bombs in the barricades. The police, for this, sent robots that deposited explosive devices to detonate these. This was another way to give wasted time to those who wanted to evict us.
Related to this matter that you commented on: What role have technological innovations played in these ways of dismantling resistance? Do you think that the batteries have been put, in a way, to dislodge Hambach?
There were many drones. But sometimes they were not even from the police, but from people who wanted to record what was happening, even journalists. But almost certainly in addition to these more visible and noisy drones, among these of the police, there were also silent drones. They had the function of stunning and frightening on the one hand, and monitoring and gathering information on the other hand, which covered them as well.
We could say that there has been a kind of “technological war” between the activists and the police. In the process that goes through the three evictions there has been a learning from both sides. For example, the enclosures in drums with metal rods that forced the police to bring radials ended up being planted with glass and bitumen to damage them. We have seen how the climbing teams have been trained to dismantle the cement drums. Proof of this is that in this dismantling there was always a recording and photos of the whole process. When they cut the chains off the hands, they took pictures of these to observe us. All this information is evaluated to develop improvement plans in the effectiveness when dismantling the resistance. The eviction team is special police that trains for this. We even saw some times when there were police taking notes.
But obviously, we also learn from all this.
During the eviction and later in the detentions, what is the behavior of the German security forces?
To begin, we need to make a note. There were people who talked about about 2000 policemen, other people said about 4000, and even some people talked about there being more. What we know is that there were a lot of police that came from all over the territory of the German state. There were pecial units that dared to go alone through the woods at certain times, riot police, the climbing police and security companies hired by the company.
At first they tried to wear us down. The trick of attrition were their tactics. There were weeks of police presence, records, stoppages … anyone who entered the forest was identified, not with great violence, but with the taking of fingerprints. In Germany, especially when massive actions are taken, people refuse to identify themselves. Many people who wanted to remain anonymous did not leave the forest or did it at night, going a lot of distance to skip the police controls. It was exaggerated, because they had the entire area practically militarized. This situation of exhaustive control wears people down a lot. They were slowly evicting barricades until one day they entered, surrounded the entire forest and removed the entire platform from the ground. That is to say, his first phase was to dismantle everything on earth. Here were hooded people trying to prevent it as best they could.
From the day they were finished evicting the entire floor, a new “luck” appeared in the forest, since people were masked at all times, in black, to protect both the police and journalists. We must bear in mind that during the eviction we were many more people than before. There was a strategy of the people involved in Hambach, that from the day the first tree was felled, the next day mobilizations were mounted throughout the state, and also mobilizations towards Hambach.
Later, for about three weeks, they were evicting town by village little by little.
If the question is aimed at the idea that the German police are very straight, democratic and respectful of their own legality, the truth is that yes, they are. It does not mean that, like any policeman, they have their unofficial methods. For example, to comrades who were up on a tripod high up in the trees, before lowering them, a policeman with a bucket threw his shit at them. At the time no one was recording, the police took advantage and when they got up they broke their arm in the struggle to get the padlock. They used the ropes to poke them in the face.
With a partner who had not hidden her arm too much, it was recorded in such a way that they saw that the chain around her wrist was a little loose, so they understood that they did not need to unfold anything, because she could get her hand out of the chain without breaking anything. So they opted to torture her psychologically and give her squeezes until she left. These practices are not very common but they were present. If they can torture, they do it.
In the police stations, not as a general rule, but it was typical, to pull the chains at night to make noise and wake up people, to have the lights on to prevent sleep. Also they turned them off so you wake up and do not know how long you were there and lose track of time. They also left you with a cold of death. Sleep deprivation, heat deprivation are practices officially recognized as torture.
In our case they took us to see the judge. The lawyer had told me that they would take me to the judge to call him. He told me that right now they had 40 people arrested and if they did not take us to the judge, there was no need to call. But the three people who took us to trial did not give us the option to call. At first they gave us time, but in the court they told us we couldn’t because they were busy. At our insistence they took us to the judge and theyy denied us the call. He told us no because the lawyer was already notified and had not come. He told each one of us separately. We could make the trial without a lawyer or that trial ended. The decision was already made.
Before the eviction and detention, the Hambach people had given us support. They told us that because we are foreigners we had more risk of suffering repression, as in the case of pretrial detention. In addition, the fact of not being identified provided another risk if they took us to the judge.
In the end one of us was identified. The strategy of not identifying oneself is quite useful when we are en masse, since they can not manage so much paperwork and there is not enough room in the dungeons. If you have not been taken to a judge in 24 hours, you have to be released. Most people in these cases were released. It is possible not to identify yourself and even to destroy your fingerprints with superficial cuts. Then, they have to let you go, there will be no fine for you … a clean slate and a new account. But if they take you in front of the judge it is less to so. We have tried to tell you the strategy of not been identified.
So, what is your current legal situation now?
Waiting for a trial, maybe the fine, maybe going back there … we do not know
Are the other people arrested in similar situations or not?
Two people were put in provisional detention. The trials will be now, on November 20. And to see what happens, you can not expect anything since his strategies are changing. Before we arrived, they had arrested an Australian girl who was making a peaceful resistance, sitting on a barricade with musicians playing on top of her. They detained her accusing her of throwing a stone. They detained her and in the trial she was told to put her in preventive detention to set an example and that people would think twice before resisting. 9 months passed. It is the longest enclosure in the period of resistance in Hambach. In comparison to what could have been here, quite low. The fines will also surely be lower than what could have been.
Definitely being foreigners has an added dificulty in the case of repression, not only in terms of the greater ease of ending up in preventive detnetion, but also by refusing to give you the translated papers, due to the difficulty of understanding. They can play much more with your life.
Obviously, repression is unknown. They may be set up as in Hamburg (resistance against the G20 summit), with post-mortem detentions for miles away.
Before the eviction there had been a thousand people detained who did not identify themselves, 30 people were imprisoned and 100 had been fined. Since most do not identify themselves, the few that manage to be identified get everything.
In conclusion, from November onwards we will see but it does not look good.
And what is the situation of the camps now?
There was a protocol to reopen the area four weeks after the eviction. We do not know if this was the case or not. What we do know is that there are people reoccupying even though there are still policemen in the forest. There are five operative neighborhoods, we do not know how many platforms they have managed to raise but there is a strong motivation to return and that is being felt. In addition, everything has gone through a fairly large process of mediation and this has also meant that many people from all over Germany are moving there.
There are several open fighting fronts in Hambach; the direct action of the occupation. There is the judicial way, environmental groups that make outward diffusion, legal support groups, cooking groups that came from all over the state … if it were not for all this diversity, we do not believe that this resistance would have been so powerful. For the simple reason that if there were no occupation and direct action, they would have already cleared what remains of the forest. If there were no people focused on the subject of the judicial process and being realistic, since there were thousands of police officers, and if they had not sent the military, they would have ended up also cutting down the forest more easily. And proof of this is that a judicial proceeding went through the judicial process, which the judge responded to by saying that they have to stop logging until it was resolved.
Thanks to all this, it is much easier for the five neighborhoods to become more.
Maybe it’s a good time to prepare and regain positions.
We talked the other day with a very involved partner and she told us that the ideal would be to go to projects around Europe to spread, knowing that the felling is stopped for a while.
But people are still squatting and this is very important since a police idea was to build a wall around the forest. So it is important that this continues to exist.
To finish, can you tell us somewhere to inform us and be aware of what is happening in Hambach? Besides giving possibility to someone who reads us, who empathizes with the struggle and wants to show solidarity in some way, what would you say?
The best way to find out is through the network (it is not difficult to find blogs or twitters), it has always been the most updated that could be found.
However, the best thing to do is to go there and live in it. Then there are other levels; Assemble information talks, collaborate with the resistance, use the imagination and face the system in any of its forms.