Sadie Plant on Sat, 23 Mar 2002 23:17:46 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> last week in Bern

16th March: two thousand young antifascist demonstrators march through the
streets of Bern. They are serious - a fascist skinhead gang had attacked a
couple of Turks only the night before - but also cheerful and calm in
their condemnations of fascism, local and global too. Those with
balaclavas, masks, and aerosols move through the city like soldier ants,
covering the walls with graffiti "gegen alles" as the crowd walks down the
hill accompanied by a truck with a small PA relaying a few speeches and
music. At the bottom of the Altstadt the demonstrators meet two rows of
police, blocking the roads to the left and the right. Nothing is stopping
them going straight ahead across the bridge, but that would take them out
of the city, so instead they sit it out. There are a few hundred police,
dressed in riot gear and armed with rubber bullets and tear gas. In the
street on the right, which would lead them back into the city, there is
also a water cannon. 

It's here that they decide to rush the lines. Volleys of shots ring out;
people - many of whom are sitting in the street run back in a moment of
panic. Stay together, stay calm.  Neither the demonstrators nor the
police seem to know which way to play the situation now. The demonstrators
drag a metal advertising hoarding into position in anticipation of the
water cannon, but it doesn't come. The police are nervous and well armed,
but they just stand their ground. After maybe 40 minutes of stalemate,
during which the kids sit down or wander round drinking, smoking, greeting
friends, the police tighten their cordon at the back of the demonstration,
200 hundred metres back up the hill, and start refusing to let people
leave without giving names and addresses confirmed by ID. On the other
side of the line, a man in plain clothes is on his mobile, saying: e won't
be able to hold them back -- we have to get more people here.

Moments later, the demonstrators declare their intention to link arms and
push their way through the cordon, and suddenly they do just that,
bursting through police lines which seem to melt away, leaving the
marchers free to walk back into the city in exuberant triumph, chanting
Internationale Solidarit.  A tractor appears as though from nowhere,
decked out with people and a black and red flag, rolling through the
reclaimed streets of the Altstadt.

It wasn't such a ball for everyone: as far as I know, one demonstrator
was hit by a rubber bullet and others were injured by the water cannon
vehicle; there were several arrests, and a few hundred people stayed
behind to do further battle with the riot police. But most of the
demonstrators left the scene free, unhurt, delighted with their victory,
and chanting: Let's go for a couple of beers and come back to do it
again next week!

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