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From The Socialist newspaper, 22 June 2001

Gothenburg's Police State

TENS OF thousands demonstrated against US president George W Bush and the summit of the European Union (EU) in Gothenburg, Sweden, 14-16 June.
PER OLSSON reports from Gothenburg on how these peaceful mass protests were used by police to attack and try and discredit the anti-capitalist movement.

THE GOTHENBURG demonstrations were another impressive all-European mobilisation against global capitalism and neo-liberalism, delivering another body blow to the bosses' EU/EMU, a week after the No vote in the Irish referendum on the Nice treaty.

One-quarter of Sweden's total police force were in Gothenburg to protect Bush and politicians attending the summit - the biggest police mobilisation ever in Sweden.

The police had promised to "adopt a friendly attitude". Bengt Staff, a police spokesperson, said two days before Bush arrived that "Gothenburg is different. We have had a constantly open dialogue with the protesters during the preparations for the summit".

But there was no such dialogue when demonstrators actually started to make their voice heard.

Nearly 1,000 demonstrators were arrested or kept by the police for six hours during 14-16 June.

Three were shot by the police, one is still in a critical condition and more than 60 people were taken to hospitals.

The police, the media and all the out-of-touch politicians at the summit simplistically said that the demonstrators were to blame.

Wide repercussions

The establishment are using the riot that erupted on Friday 15 June, and the destructive vandalism that followed in its wake, to attack the anti-capitalist movement in general and the socialist Left in particular.

The events will have repercussions beyond Sweden and are being used as a pretext to ban all demonstrations against EU summits and meetings of capitalist institutions like the IMF, WTO or World Bank.

It is already being used to stop demonstrators from going to Genoa in July and as an excuse to militarise the Swedish police.

A chief inspector, in a TV debate after the summit, even accused Rattvisepartiet Socialisterna (the Socialist Party's sister party in Sweden and a member of the Committee for a Workers' International, CWI) "of actively supporting groups" involved in smashing shop windows and throwing paving stones. This scandalous and blatant lie gives a glimpse of the current hysteria being whipped up by the media.

As socialists we do not advocate smashing shop windows as a means of political protest. These kind of actions do not serve any political purpose and tend to act as a diversion from the real struggle and task of mobilising workers and young people against big business and capitalist politicians.

But the riot and the damage it caused erupted after several police attacks and provocations.

It started with the police building an iron curtain around Hvitfeldska Gymnasiet, a school used both as a hostel and a combine centre/conference hall for organisers of the protests against the summit. This was done on Thursday morning (14 June), many hours before the first demonstration against Bush started.

Several hundred protesters staying at Hvitfeldska were taken by the police to divert attention away from the big protest against Bush and to deliver a warning to all who were thinking of joining the demonstrations.

The "Bush not welcome" demonstration which followed later, was, however, an impressive demonstration despite the police's intentions to create an atmosphere of unease and fear.

Black Friday

WHAT HAPPENED on Thursday 14 June was just the beginning. Friday morning started with a 4,000-strong protest meeting against the opening of the summit.

Around 2,000 then joined an anti-capitalist march, organised by Rattvisepartiet Socialisterna together with the SWP in Norway and the Non-Violence Network, which was blocked by the police after a couple of minutes until we were allowed to continue.

Suddenly, the police went in with dogs to split the demonstrations. They went in particularly heavily against the anarchists who started to fight back, by throwing paving stones against the police as they moved further up the street.

The police bear sole responsibility for the riot that started. They are to blame for parts of Gothenburg becoming like a war zone.

While 20,000 were marching against the EU/EMU, lots of young people were at a street party called by Reclaim the City.

This party was harassed and attacked by the police on several occasions. The police were looking for revenge and it ended in a tragedy.

The police fired and shot three people - the first time since the 1930s that police in Sweden have used live ammunition against protesters.

The events of Friday 15 June came as a shock. There were even people within Gšteborg 200, the main organisers, who argued that the following day's demonstration should be cancelled.

But members of Rattvisepartiet Socialisterna were instrumental in convincing others that the demonstration should go ahead and demand that the police stay away.

We have also argued for an independent commission to investigate what happened and start to gather witnesses. We are demanding that the police chief responsible and the Minister of Justice should resign.

Protesters Treated Like Criminals By Police

THE POLICE kept away from the massive demonstration that took place on Saturday and no problems occurred.

Joe Higgins, the socialist MP from Ireland, and another member of the CWI, spoke at the demonstration and was regularly interrupted by applause. He spoke out against police brutality and was later the main speaker at the CWI rally that afternoon.

The police, however, implemented a partial state of emergency in Gothenburg that day. Demonstrators from other countries, amongst them two buses of CWI members and sympathisers from Germany, were stopped outside Gothenburg and kept from early morning to late afternoon.

People on the buses were treated no differently to criminals and were not allowed to go out and no food was provided.

The police acted in an arrogant and provocative way once the big demonstration finished. In the afternoon 500 police officers sealed off a square where hundreds of people assembled to protest against police brutality.

They were kept for hours as the police used the excuse they were looking for an alleged armed "German terrorist".

In the night the police raided a school where members of Rattvisepartiet Socialisterna were sleeping. The special anti-terrorist force attacked the school with automatic weapons and ordered everyone to crawl out and lay down on the wet ground outside.

One of our members asked why. The police reply was to handcuff him. One police officer said: "Yesterday you set the agenda, today we do".

Even a 16-year-old disabled girl (with polio) who is a CWI member, was forced to lay down in the cold, despite her needing to be kept warm for her blood circulation.

Socialists Organise And Protest

THE COMMITTEE for a Workers' International (CWI - the international socialist organisation which the Socialist Party is affiliated to) had a very good intervention in Gothenburg, despite its members being harassed and taken in by police (no charges were made and all were released after a couple of hours). Two buses of CWI members from Germany were also stopped.

We sold more than 1,000 papers and a lot of other material. At least eight new members joined during the period of the demonstrations.

The CWI is now organising protests against the violation of democratic rights and police brutality in Gothenburg. Our German section held a protest on Monday 18 June and others will do the same this week.

Sweden's CWI section are producing a special issue of their weekly paper and are organising a series of public meetings explaining what really happened in Gothenburg on 14-16 June.

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In The Socialist 22 June 2001:

Anti-Capitalist Resistance Continues

No To Privatisation

Unison Leaders Under Pressure

Hands Off Our Public Services

Gothenburg's Police State

Socialist Alliance Takes Stock Of Election Results

Middle East Conflict: A Failure Of Capitalism

Inside Labour's Bermuda Triangle

Victory Against The Private Profiteers


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