Berlin Interior Minister Frank Henkel sounded very proud. “The most peaceful May 1 since 1987,” he said, full of pride, in all the papers on May 2. And it’s true that it wasn’t a violent day – only 54 injured police officers, as opposed to 133 last year, and 94 arrests, compared to 123 last year. This is good news. But it was not, as the minister made out, somehow down to his careful management of the day, but down to two things – the police’s liberal use of pepper spray in certain places and the increased politicisation of the day by opposition groups.
In the past two years, the number of things to get upset about has gone up, and people are becoming more aware. There’s lots to get angry about – rent increases, the plight of the refugees still camped out at Oranienplatz, the resistance against Nazis, the EU crisis and the austerity packages being foisted on people across Europe. That’s why 20,000 people showed up and marched out of the traditional drunken-rant ghetto Kreuzberg this year and marched into Berlin’s government quarter to demonstrate. And why opposition leaders from Greece were invited to take part in the demonstrations. It was a day for taking the message to the government.
It was only in the boom years that May 1 was about being mindless, about burning people’s cars and throwing bricks at cops – now that European governments have responded to the world financial crisis by lurching to the right, playing up to the racists, and cutting state budgets, the demonstrations this week became more determined – and more numerous – because they’ve got something to say, and people can see they’ve got a point.