Keeping order, with dangerous echoes

The G-8 Summit here in Germany early next month is already fulfilling its own prophecies. It almost doesn’t matter what happens at the meeting itself; it is the raw stuff of symbolism, for both sides. Europeans, and the UN, are hoping for an environmental breakthrough from the US that won’t happen. Russia will dig in its heels, angry at the UK for bringing charges against an ex-KGB agent (and by association, Putin’s government) in the ludicrously Spy-vs-Spy assassination of Alexander Litvinenko. And tens or hundreds of thousands of protesters will march.

Here’s where it’s already getting dangerous. German police, anxious to avoid the violence, or even the appearance of disorder that has marked previous G-8 and WTO meetings, are going overboard. Earlier in the month, they preemptively raided left-wing groups’ offices, bookstores, server farms, and communal flats. Mail from servers was copied by the police, all justified by an “anti-terrorism” statute. Most newspapers called this alarmist, and warned of backlash.
Now comes news that police are using an old Stasi technique, filing away the scents of dissidents so that they can be tracked by sniffer dogs quickly. Should that be needed. Spiegel details the authorities’ knock on a 68-year-old longtime activist’s door, and the request for his scent. Just in case they need to send the dogs after him.

These are dangerous tactics. The police should try to keep order at the summit. There will be Neo-Nazi groups there protesting globalization as well (where are the attacks on their headquarters?), and the chance of conflict between them and the left wing groups is somewhere near certain. But this kind of preemptive strike on groups planning protests is legally questionable even in Germany, morally repugnant, and practically foolish. It serves only to inflame emotions, distract people from the real issues, and heighten the changes of real violence.