Syriza and Podemos Part of German Blockupy Protests Blamed for Violence

Four German police cars set on fire by anti-capitalist protesters burn near the European Central Bank (ECB) building hours before the official opening of its new headquarters in Frankfurt March 18, 2015. Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

Supporters of the leading Greek and Spanish anti-austerity parties, Syriza and Podemos, were on the streets of Frankfurt yesterday during the Blockupy protests, its organiser has confirmed. The protests, which focused on the opening ceremony of the new headquarters of the European Central Bank (ECB), erupted into violence, which has since sparked anger from German politicians and media.

Ulrich Wilken, member of the Hessen state parliament for left-wing German party Die Linke and organiser of the demonstration, estimates that around 100 Greeks and 100 Spaniards took part in the protests, and that the majority of both were Syriza and Podemos supporters or members. Both parties also gave their official support for the protests.

The Syriza-led Greek government is locked in debt negotiations with both the ECB and Eurozone states, led by Germany, with negotiations becoming increasingly terse over the last week. Podemos, the left-wing Spanish party which translates as 'We Can', have stormed ahead of Spain's two established parties despite only forming in January 2014. Podemos have forged close links with Syriza, with leader Pablo Iglesias attending rallies with Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras in the run-up to the Greek election.

"We know that there were 100 plus people each from Spain and Greece present, but we don't know whether they were organised or not," he says. "My estimation is that they were mostly Syriza and Podemos - but not all." Wilken adds that there was strong support from Greek and Spanish communist parties too.

The organisers behind the protest are group called Blockupy, an alliance of 90 mostly German activists groups including the second-largest German labour union, Ver.di.

10,000 protesters took to the streets but violence erupted in the morning leading to hundreds being detained. German police said that 14 officers and 21 demonstrators were hurt, while 16 people were charged with disturbing the peace or arson.

Anti-capitalist 'Blockupy' protesters run on a street near the European Central Bank (ECB) building before the official opening of its new headquarters in Frankfurt March 18, 2015. Michael Dalder/Reuters

Podemos MEP and co-founder of Blockupy, Miguel Urban, spoke both at a press conference and during the afternoon rally. During the press conference, Urban said: "The ECB and capitalism destroys lives, simplicity rules." He later denounced the "heavy handed" tactics of the German police, who used water cannon, pepper spray, and their truncheons to control the protesters.

There were also official speeches from Syriza members. Dimitri Papadimoulis from Syriza described Blockupy as "an interesting experiment which Syriza of course supports".

But after the event, a number of German politicians and newspapers accused the Blockupy organisers of allowing the violence to take place and not doing enough to distance themselves from it. "We knew of the fact that violence was going to be used. That was known for a long time in the [activist] scene," interior minister Thomas de Maizière told ZDF TV. "That's why the organisers can't act as if they aren't guilty."

Yet Wilken vehemently denounces the violence, and describes it as "disastrous", saying that none of the official alliance members planned the violence or were involved in it.

"The morning was disastrous, but the afternoon was great, loud and colourful," he says. "We don't know who the activists are who caused the violence, but they are not part of the alliance. The alliance did not plan or want that kind of violence," he says. "The people behind the violence are partly victims of the ECB's policies, but there were also those who are not interested in politics, and are only interested in violence."

A German police officer who was hit by a paint bomb by anti-capitalist protesters looks at a burning police car near the European Central Bank (ECB) building hours before the official opening of its new headquarters in Frankfurt March 18, 2015. Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

He describes the day's events as an "act of solidarity" with the new Greek government, and describes Podemos as "an important partner".

The target of the protests, the ECB, is one of Greece's main creditors, part of the so-called troika supervising the Greek bailout programme, along with the International Monetary Fund and European Commission.

Although no further protests have been planned, Blockupy say there will be more protests in the months to come, as the negotiations between the troika and Greece continue.

"We didn't change the politics of the ECB yesterday," says Wilken. "Their politics are still wrong, and while they are wrong we will continue to protest," he says.