In Germany, “the last generation” turns to civil disobedience

They call themselves Letzte Generation, as “the last generation” to be able to prevent climate change and the collapse of the planet’s biodiversity. The new face of a more radical activism, more pressing in the face of the ecological emergency. Since the beginning of the year, images of the punch actions of these young Germans have been touring the media of the country, whether they stick their hands on the roads to block traffic in Berlin or sabotage oil pipelines in the countryside. . Their credo: targeted demands, alarmist discourse and civil disobedience.

“The government ignored everything else: petitions were written, a million people took to the streets,” says 24-year-old student Lina Joansen. Wednesday in front of the German Chancellery, which they have just sprayed with black paint, a dozen activists in orange vests and construction helmets begin a sit-in, chanting: “Let’s save oil instead of drilling”. “We have to sit down here and join the resistance,” sighs Lina calmly, indifferent to the police who identify the identities of the small group.

In June, these activists campaigned against the threat of new oil drilling in the North Sea as Europe tries to do without Russian fossil fuels amid the war in Ukraine. This week, Berlin had to resolve to announce an increased return to coal, the time to reduce its dependence on gas imported from Russia.

“We no longer have time for temporary solutions”

At the beginning of the year, they carried out a cycle of actions against food waste. Anxious to focus their message on concrete themes, they asked the German government for a law to prohibit supermarkets from destroying their unsold goods. Result of this campaign according to the group: more than 250 arrests for blockages of ports, highways, roundabouts. “It’s a small movement in numbers, but it manages to attract disproportionate attention,” observes sociologist Dieter Rucht, honorary professor at the Freie Universität in Berlin.

The movement was born in the wake of a hunger strike lasting several weeks led by a handful of them, near the seat of government and parliament, in the middle of the campaign for the legislative elections at the end of last summer. “Spectacular and less predictable, civil disobedience attracts more attention than demonstrations”, explains sociologist Dieter Rucht, while the mobilization around the Friday for Future movement, which brought together hundreds of thousands of Germans, had decreased with the Covid-19 and the war in Ukraine.

The action of the new government, where environmentalists are part of the government, does not convince these activists. Myriam Herrmann, 25, who came to support her comrades, said she was “incredibly disappointed” by the coalition. “We have a Green Minister of Economy and Climate, but he wants to import gas from Qatar, drill in the North Sea and build liquefied gas terminals as a temporary solution,” she protests. “We no longer have time for temporary solutions”.

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