Social Defence in Wendland

At the beginning of March the third Castor shipment of highly radioactive spent fuel rods was transported across Germany by rail and public roads to the intermediate storage site in Gorleben. This time resistance was even stronger than before: 30,000 police were needed to force the transport through a county with 48,000 inhabitants. What happened in Wendland in the first week of March can only be described in terms of social defence against the nuclear industry and the nuclear state.

Even before the transport took place, there were signs of disobedience from many quarters. The cities of Dannenberg and Luneburg refused to let school sport halls be used for police accommodation. After these were appropriated by the regional government, pupils of the schools, together with their teachers and parents, occupied the halls, and local farmers blocked the entrances with their tractors. The real "hot days" in Wendland began on 1 March, when 15,000 people demonstrated in Luneburg and several camps were set up along the Castor route. The next day, some 10,000 activists and 500 tractors took part in the so-called "Stunkparade" demonstration from Gorleben along the transport route to Splietau, a village close to the loading crane in Dannenberg (where the Castors are lifted off trains and onto lorries for the last leg of the journey to Gorleben).

After the demonstration sixty tractors blocked the road in Splietau and people started to dig tunnels under the road. As a result this route became unusable for Castor, leaving only one route, the so-called "north route", intact for the shipment.

The train with six Castors set off from the south of Germany at 4.50 a.m. on 3 March. By the time it reached Dannenberg it was more than seven hours behind schedule because of all the actions along the route. It then took a whole day to transfer the six Castors from the train to six trucks, during which time several groups tried to block the roads between Dannenberg and Gorleben and to start digging them up. But the police intervened and many people were injured and arrested. Helicopters monitored the whole route and thousands of police patrolled the streets.

The big nonviolent blockade in front of the crane in Dannenberg grew throughout the day and by evening more than 5000 people were sitting in the road. Planning for this blockade had been going on for more than half a year in an effort to mobilise as many people as possible. It was designed by nonviolent groups to be a clearly-defined nonviolent blockade, organised in affinity groups with decision-making via a speakers' council.

In the afternoon the police contacted the organisers and asked for a meeting. This meeting highlighted how helpless the police were in this situation. The declared nonviolence of the resistance gave the police no legitimation to use force, but at the same time the number of people made it impossible for the police just to carry them away politely. The meeting ended without any result, but there was no doubt that the police intended to start clearing the road the following night, come what may.

At 1 a.m. on 5 March, police started to clear people from the side of the crane. For the first three hours they just lifted blockaders to one side, only managing to clear eighty metres in that time. Then at around 4 a.m. the police started to use water cannons (with low pressure, but freezing temperature). The result was a decrease (!) in the speed of clearing the road.

At 9.10 a.m. another unit started to clear the road from the other side, using water cannons with high pressure as well as batons. By about 10 a.m. the road was cleared, but there were still four activists hanging from a rope walkway over the road (hanging in the way of Castor) and thus preventing the transport from moving off. It took another two hours to remove them, but at 11.40 a.m. the transport finally set off on its slow journey to the intermediate storage site, reaching there at about 3 p.m.

Meanwhile, three police helicopters landed near the tractor blockade in Splietau. Some twenty police armed with knives ran up to the tractors and stabbed sixty tyres (each costing £500). Immediately after the attack they ran back to the helicopters and departed. The comment by Lower Saxony's Minister of the Interior on this brutal act of police vengeance was simply: "They had to do this."

This was the third Castor transport to Gorleben, and with each transport the resistance has grown. In 1995, when the first transport took place, 15,000 police were on duty (costing 55 million German marks) and 2,000 people participated in direct actions and blockades. The transport got through, but although this was a military victory for the nuclear state it was a political defeat (see PN, June 1995): further transports scheduled for later in the year never happened. The next transport was in 1996. This time 19,000 police were needed (costing 90 million German marks) and 6000 people took part in direct actions in Wendland. The transport was stopped several times along the route and there were demonstrations in many cities all over Germany (see PN, June 1996).

Now, despite the fact that it was March, with night temperatures going below zero, even more people participated. This time a police force of 30,000 was employed (Costing 150 million German marks), with more than 10,000 people participating in direct actions and nonviolent blockades. The big blockade of "X-tausendmal quer"("X-thousands in the way") alone involved some 9000 people. Many thousands more took part in other actions along the route.

But the success of this year's resistance lies not only in the numbers, but much more in the wide range of people involved: doctors closed their surgeries in order to demonstrate or to help demonstrators. Shops and schools closed because of Castor, and all sections of the population supported the anti-Castor activities. Police admitted to the media that the whole population felt hostile towards them, from radical youth to conservative families.

For the first time local and regional governments took part in the resistance. Nearly all the local councils passed resolutions against the transport, for the most part unanimously. Decisions were made to close the county roads to the police, not to supply them with water for their water cannons and not to provide them with accommodation in school halls.

All this can only be described as a sort of "social defence" against the nuclear state. This year's transport made it abundantly clear that there is no support for Castor in the region. It also revealed the true cost of nuclear energy: a "nuclear state" which has to force through its policy with police against the will of the population of whole regions of Germany. Now it is clear that there will be no second Castor transport to Gorleben this year, and probably no transport next year either, because of elections in Lower Saxony and to the German parliament. But, according to Frankfurter Rundschau, there might be a transport to the intermediate storage site in Ahaus, Westfalia later this year. There are many transports planned from German nuclear power stations to the reprocessing plants in La Hague, France and Sellafield in Britain. And there is still plenty of scope for activities to close down all nuclear power stations. Onward to the next day X

Andreas Speck

Reprinted with permission from Peace News.