G8: Evian – Eyewitness report from Lausanne protests

The majority of the members of the delegations to the G8 summit in Evian had accommodation in Lausanne, in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. In Lausanne, as well as in Geneva and on the French side of the border, there were a number of protest demonstrations against the summit.

The recent G8 summit of the richest capitalist nations and Russia, held at the remote spot of Evian, saw large demonstrations in protest on both the French and Swiss side of the border. Gianluca Angeli, a member of the CWI in Italy, gives an eyewitness report from Lausanne. CWI Online

Eyewitness report from Lausanne protests

Before the G8 summit meeting, at the beginning of May, the political situation in Lausanne seemed quite different from that in Geneva, because of the weakness of the city’s traditional left organisations. The parties, trade unions etc. of Lausanne had decided to join in the main protest in Geneva.

The last demonstration in Lausanne – on 1 May – had indicated what was being prepared for the G8 summit. On that occasion, some demonstrators put on black clothes to mock the ruling elite in the city who fear the ‘Black Block’. They threw false stones (of rubber) at a building. But then some real ‘Black Blockers’ threw two flower vases against the glass windows of some shops. The reaction of the shop-keepers of the city was hysterical, including threatening to use fire-arms.

In the event, nothing particularly violent happened in the demonstration on the Tuesday before the summit. The Lausanne city authority had prepared a red zone (only residents allowed) and a yellow zone (no-demonstration allowed), just as the authorities did in Genoa two years ago. The local authority provided accommodation for those who came to demonstrate against the G8 – a field with showers etc.. Some demonstrators prefered to sleep near the lake, in the place where the ‘forums’ were held – the meetings of the demonstrators. The police tolerated that, but warned that this "clandestine camping" would not be allowed to become too wild. Both places were on the edge of the city.

At midday on Saturday, 31 May, I got my first experience of a ‘coordinating’ meeting of the people who were there for the demonstrations. Right at the beginning of this meeting some people said: "We are not here to talk. We don’t want this assembly".

‘Block’ tactics

However, the assembly went ahead and decided that the demonstrators would be split up into different blocks – different blocks for different tactics. There were two official blocks. One was called the "Water Block" and would be involved in actions to block the street where the G8 delegates and staff would have to pass. There would be no resistence against the action of the police. The plan was to move the protest elsewhere when the police attacked.

Then there was the "Pink-silver Block" which would test, in non-violent ways, the resistence of the police against the demo in the city and eventually organise the blocking of streets in a similar way to the Water Block tactics. There was another block – the "Black Block" but nobody spoke officialy for them in the assembly meetings.

Inside each block, people were organised into "affinity groups" – small groups of people who had come together before the G8 summit or people with similar ideas or groups created there and then. The members of these "affinity groups" were supposed to work together during the demonstration. The tactical decisions of the Pink-Silver Block, at the time of the demonstration, were supposed to be taken by a meeting of the delegates of all the groups of that block. Every "affinity group" could send a member to a short first-aid course. (This kind of organisation was not new; the demonstrations against the G8 summit in Genoa of July 2001 saw similar things, especially amongst the groups of the "White Overalls" and the groups of some ‘social centres’.)

The majority of the demonstrators were from the French-speaking part of Switzerland, but there were also many people from the German-speaking part and also some groups from France and from the south of Germany.There was a little group of Italians – about 30 people, including a group of ‘disobbedienti’ from Bologna. The political composition of the demonstrators included many enviromental protection and women’s rights and gay rights groups. Political parties and trade unions seemed to be practically absent.

In the afternoon, two American activists gave us a lesson in non-violent resistence to the police, with pratical examples, and at the end of the lesson, we simulated an actual blockade under their supervision.

At about 18.00 hrs we went into the city centre for a spontaneous and unauthorised protest. The demonstration tested the border line of the yellow zone, but despite the attempts of some elements inside the demo, to provoke the police, there was no incident. Some hundreds of demonstrators took part.

There was a final assembly in the evening. The decision for the day after was that we should have to be ready at 6 am in the morning for an unauthorised protest and to eventually block the street to stop the staff of the G8 from passing. Another demo (authorised) was planned for the following afternoon.

The Pink-Silver Block had decided to meet at the forum. At 5.30 in the morning, the groups in this Block were gathered at the forum and the majority of them put something pink on their clothes. Then we went onto the main road to go to the demo. At 6 am on Sunday morning I saw a huge contingent of Black Blockers filling the main road near the camp. I think there were a few thousand of them.

Police attack protesters

We lined up in front of them and after half an hour we started the demonstration. We set off, with the Black Block coming nearly 500 metres behind. We had a protest and we tested the police lines, without incident, for two hours or more. The police held the road at the border line of the yellow zone, but did not attack us, and neither, at that time, did they pursue us. The Black Block was just out of our sight. A group of cyclist protesters informed us that there were clashes between the police and the Black Block. Then we arrived at a street going down hill that was closed by a line of police and by a police water canon. At that moment, members of the Black Block joined our demo.

A policemen said something to us by megaphone – in French. Then the police attacked and the demonstration turned back. After crossing some narrow streets, we arrived at a square where there was some violent action Blockers against shops. They also attacked some other similar targets even when the pressure from the police forced us onto the road and back to the camp site.

After an hour or two, the police closed off every other route. Behind us the police stepped up the pressure, forcing us to move on quickly, including using tear gas. But that was not sufficient to put an end to the actions of some of the Blockers.

When we arrived at the camp site we saw that the road to the forum was closed off by a line of policemen. They then surrounded the camp-site and laid siege to it with three or four water cannons, many police vans and a police armoured car.

I and a small group of French people found an escape route through the fields near the camp site. After that, the police raided the campsite.

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