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Lützerath activists put the Greens in front of their contractions

A thousand activists have entrenched themselves in an abandoned village in Germany to prevent coal mining


Activists sit on tripods in Lützerath on Wednesday.AFP

The German government has sided with the energy company RWE in the open struggle by a thousand climate activists against the expansion of a brown coal open pit excavation in the federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia. “The abandoned town of Lützerath is a wrong symbol for the fight for climate protection,” declared the Minister of Economy, Robert Habeck, before the resistance of the activists, who refuse to evict the resistance camp set up in that district.

Habeck’s words are darts against the bases of the Greens, the party he leads, a betrayal of the cause he preaches. But it is consistent, since it was Habeck who gave the green light to the agreement between the Rhenish state government, also participated in by the Greens, and RWE to expand a nearby Lützerath mine, which barely has 20 abandoned houses in the meantime. The compromise for which Lützerath will be demolished saves other initially threatened towns from disappearing and also gives legal certainty to North Rhine-Westphalia’s decision to abandon the use of coal by 2030, he recalled. “My political work has among its objectives to achieve something similar in other parts of Germany.”

In this sense, the government spokesman, Steffen Hebestreit, has insisted on the need to comply with current legislation and the demolition of Lützerath is part of an agreement between the authorities of the North Rhine-Westphalia region and the energy provider RWE , mine operator. All the buildings and land belong to the RWE, which has also won all the lawsuits against the expansion of its mine.

The eviction of Lützerath began this Wednesday, but the almost 600 police officers involved in that operation have not achieved the objective. The police operation, which had been announced in advance, started with strong resistance from the activists, who greeted the security forces with Molotov cocktails, stones and fireworks. The situation, meanwhile, has calmed down, but remains entrenched.

The protesters, including the well-known activist Luisa Neubauer, accused the agents of using disproportionate violence when trying to break human chains made up of people who were resisting peacefully. “Brown coal is the most climate-damaging energy source and the Garzweiler coal mine is Europe’s biggest carbon bomb,” said Karsten Smid, energy expert at Greenpeace Germany.

Greenpeace is just one of the organizations supporting the mobilization, which has been joined by activists from all over Europe. Among the campers, there are also children.

“The area is being fenced off. People in the cordoned off area currently have the possibility to leave the area without further police action,” the North Rhine-Westphalia Police reported on Twitter. Those who offer resistance will be arrested, and the police have planned 30 cells in the police stations of the surrounding towns.

But the activists, very young and determined to prevent RWE from destroying nature to exploit lignite, are not intimidated. They have built barricades, hung from trees, climbed onto the roofs of abandoned houses, and entrenched themselves in ditches and even in pipes. They are everywhere.

According to the responsible head of the Aachen Police, Dirk Weinspach, the Lützerath activists are a “mixed scene”, which is predominantly “middle-class and peacefully oriented”, although a small part is nevertheless willing to commit violent crimes.

After the first morning scuffles, the police agents have changed their strategy to avoid an escalation of the situation and being involved in images of violence to which the political class, and especially the Green party, will later have to respond.

Although the German government’s plan is to phase out coal in North Rhine-Westphalia by 2030, according to the agreement signed last year with the energy company RWE, operator of the Garzweiler mine, it gave the green light to increase coal extraction in the face of the energy crisis derived from the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Most of the inhabitants of Lützerath had already left the town due to RWE’s intention to expand the exploitation of the Garzweiler II mine.

In statements to the NTV network, a police spokesman said that the situation on the ground is “very dynamic” and that, for the moment, there is no record of injuries. And to prevent there being any, the Interior authorities have decided to play the exhaustion card. Without supplies or the possibility of provisioning in the area, which has been cordoned off and fenced off with barbed wire, the activists should stop their attitude. But the truth is that many of the houses in the village have been occupied by activists for months. Some of them also live in tree houses, caravans and tents.

Your first goal is to hold out for four weeks. Nature comes out of its winter torpor in mid-February and the law prevents the felling of trees from that moment on.

The argument used by climate activists has been that open pit mining in that area is not justified, and several studies agree with them, but their chances of turning Lützerath into Hambach are slim. Hambach, or Hambi, as that case is known, is a forest with trees up to 350 years old that was going to be demolished for the exploitation of the subsoil. With the intervention of the Münster Higher Administrative Court, Hambi was spared.

Climate protection activists hardly correspond to the political ideas of the Green electorate, affirms the activist Luisa Neubauer and a member of that party. “This is a calculated undermining of Paris’s climate objectives, which goes against the fundamental values of the party,” she denounced. Climate researcher Stefan Rahmstorf also considers the green-lighted eviction of the Greens a “historic mistake”.