On Saturday a large and spirited demonstration marched through Berlin’s governmental quarter, filling the air with drumming, whistles and catcalls. The largest anti-nuke demo seen in Germany since the years of Chernobyl was organized with impressive rapidity in response to Merkel’s backdoor deal with the nuclear power industry. At the front of the demo were farmers and tractors from the Wendland, where the Gorleben nuclear waste storage site remains a perennial flashpoint for resistance. Otherwise, it looked and felt like an inter-generational sampling of the middle classes – confirmation of the mainstream character of opposition to nuclear power in Germany.
Organizers claim 100,000 people took to the streets in protest. Police under-counters countered with 40,000. Even splitting the difference at 70,000, this was a mobilization too large to be ignored. And with all the grassroots and activist networks involved, as well as parties (Greens, SPD, die.Linke), it’s not likely to be a one-off. The networks are already focused on Gorleben: there is a buzz that this year they may actually be able to stop the Castor train with massive blockades.
Merkel’s governing CDU-FDP coalition had been signaling for weeks that it would seek to roll back the scheduled phase-out of German nuclear power plants enacted by Schröder’s SPD-Green government with strong public support in 2002. Nuclear power company CEOs went into a closed-door meeting with Merkel’s economic minister and party leaders late Sunday morning, on 5 September. When they came out in the wee hours before dawn on the following Monday, the deal was done: Germany’s 17 nuke plants would extend operations for an average of 12 years beyond the currently scheduled shut-down dates, the extensions subsidized with massive state hand-outs. The scandal is in the form as well as the content: Merkel’s initiative, undertaken without any mandate and initially opposed by her own environmental minister, is the literal negation of democracy.