Road blockades, mashed potatoes attacks, airport protests: since January 2022, climate activists of the last generation have been giving politicians and the police a hard time. Where will this end?
It was a wet, gray, rainy morning on January 24, 2022 when two dozen members of the Last Generation group blocked Autobahn access roads in Berlin for the first time. At that time, hardly anyone had any idea what the protest for more climate protection would become. Since then, the so-called climate stickers have turned half the republic against them. Motorists scold, prosecutors investigate, politicians are outraged and even suspect a terrorist threat.
The group itself draws this balance: “Within a year, the last generation has become unignorable.” Now the actions are to be expanded significantly, as spokeswoman Aimée van Baalen said on Monday. “The resistance is growing stronger than ever.” She did not say exactly what is planned.
Hunger strike for radical climate change
It all started in 2021, shortly before the federal elections, with a hunger strike in Berlin for a radical climate change. Then as now, the activists warned that there was hardly any time left to initiate an emergency stop to the harmful greenhouse gases and to avoid deadly overheating of the earth. The hunger strikers fought for a conversation with election winner Olaf Scholz. When Scholz did not respond to their demands, the roadblocks began. There were also protests in museums, stadiums, at oil pipelines and airports. As a rule, participants stick themselves to surfaces so that the eviction takes a long time.
The group itself has counted 1,250 road blockades throughout Germany, and around 800 people have stuck to blockades. More than 1,200 times protesters were taken into police custody. In many large cities, they not only paralyzed traffic, but also gave the police and politicians a hard time. In Berlin alone, the police reported around 262,700 hours of action for the protests of the last generation by mid-January. 770 suspects are on record in the capital, and 2,700 criminal charges have been filed. Meanwhile, a process wave is rolling.
“We know that it’s annoying that people have to be stuck in traffic because of us,” says 20-year-old Lina Eichler. Together with the former politics student Henning Jeschke, she is one of the founding members. Both have been on the hunger strike and are dedicating themselves full-time to the protest – with all the consequences. “I’ve also been hit in the face once on the street,” says Eichler. Nobody likes people who sound the alarm like they do. But there is no other way. “We have to stop because that’s how society is discussing it,” Eichler is convinced.
An act of civil resistance
The last generation considers the protest to be absolutely peaceful and an act of civil resistance similar to the civil rights movement in the US in the 1960s. “Non-violent provocations in the sense of excitement and outrage – yes,” says Jeschke. But people shouldn’t get hurt. “If someone hits me or something, then I have to keep my composure.” That will be trained.
Nevertheless, the criticism accumulated when a rescue vehicle got stuck for minutes after a Berlin woman had a bicycle accident in autumn – probably also because there was a blockade miles away. Activists threw mashed potatoes at pictures in museums protected by glass, set off fire alarms, blocked ministries and temporarily shut down airports. The public prosecutor’s office in Neuruppin started investigations on suspicion of forming a criminal organization because activists turned off the pipelines of the Brandenburg PCK refinery.
“The radicalization of parts of the climate movement is extremely worrying,” said FDP Secretary General Bijan Djir-Sarai in November. CSU regional group chief Alexander Dobrindt even warned of the emergence of a “climate RAF” based on the terrorist group Red Army Faction, which is accused of more than 30 murders. The President of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Thomas Haldenwang, classified this comparison as “nonsense”.
“Climate terrorists” as nonsense word of the year
This term has been “revealed several times as being completely exaggerated,” says Carla Rochel, another Last Generation spokeswoman. The selection of “climate terrorists” as nonsense of the year proves that peaceful protests should be criminalized and dragged through the dirt. The breach of law is on the part of the federal government: “It is breaking Article 20a of the Basic Law, as is currently becoming clear with its policy on Lützerath and LNG terminals.” In the article, the state is obliged to protect “the natural basis of life and the animals, also as a responsibility for future generations”.
It’s a high-stakes showdown. According to Eichler, more than 30 procedures are underway. At Jeschke there are about two dozen – some of them hired. Both have often sat in police cells. Jeschke’s parental home in Greifswald, where he and Eichler are registered, was searched twice within a month at the end of the year. Eichler dropped out of high school, Jeschke stopped his studies. Only protest counts for them now.
According to a transparency report, the last generation pays some full-time activists financial contributions from donations. “41 people are currently being supported for their educational work,” spokeswoman Carla Hinrichs told the t-online portal. In 2022, the group received a good 900,000 euros in donations and spent around 535,000 euros. Half went into renting event rooms, apartments for demonstrators and cars, and another 100,000 euros in materials such as superglue, banners, safety vests, seat cushions and hand warmers.
Two ultimate demands
The group has two ultimate demands for an end to the blockades: 100 km/h on the autobahn and a permanent 9-euro ticket. Sounds banal, but it is not in sight. So what is the Last Generation doing? The group itself reports the influx of further activists and growing support from scientists, artists and churches. The left recently signaled sympathy. But broad support is lacking. In a November Civey poll, 86 percent of those surveyed said the actions of the last generation were harming the cause of climate protection.
The protest researcher Jannis Grimm from the Freie Universität Berlin advocates a differentiated picture. The activists had no visible influence on climate policy, says Grimm. But despite the war in Ukraine, the energy crisis and inflation, they kept the climate crisis in the media. “Obviously it’s an amazing success.”
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