One of the largest police operations in the history of North Rhine-Westphalia begins this week: the police clear Lützerath, which is occupied by hundreds of opponents of lignite. The background of an escalation with an announcement.

Although the energy company RWE and the residents of Lützerath agreed years ago to demolish the small hamlet near Mönchengladbach (North Rhine-Westphalia), demonstrators continue to occupy the ten houses and some trees to prevent their final demise. Because the police should clear the district of Erkelenz promptly – according to the DPA possibly already at the weekend, according to the Tagesschau next week – RWE and the authorities expect at least four weeks of tough arguments with the occupiers.

Energy companies have been mining lignite in the area around Lützerath since the 1940s, and they have been excavating in the immediate vicinity of the village since 2006. The reason why RWE now also wants to use the particularly thick layer of coal under the hamlet is because of its coal-fired power plants, which it still has must be fueled by the end of 2030.

What sounds like a climate-damaging project at first glance is praised by Economics Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) as “good progress for Germany’s CO2 reduction”: In order to compensate for the loss of Russian energy supplies, two coal-fired power plants in the area will run longer than originally planned, until 2024. Three larger power plants will be taken off the grid in 2030 instead of 2038 as originally planned. Until then, the power plants need coal, which is to be supplied by the mine under Lützerath.

RWE has long since bought all of Lützerath’s properties from the owners. From 2006, all residents moved to a nearby town, in 2020 RWE tore down the first houses, the higher administrative court for the state of North Rhine-Westphalia finally rejected a farmer’s lawsuit against his agreement with RWE in March 2022. In October 2022, the federal government confirmed the need for coal mining in Lützerath. Legally, the energy company could have left the hamlet flawlessly for months.

More on the topic: “My home is not a pawn” – Last farmer in Lützerath at the opencast mine sells farm to RWE

Supporters emphasize that if Lützerath, which is already deserted and largely in ruins, gives way to coal mining, five other villages that were originally approved for demolition will remain. Companies, authorities and climate protectors had laboriously negotiated this compromise. The Hambach Forest, which has long been disputed, is also protected in this way.

The squatters condemn the coal mining as unnecessary. “We are at the point where the climate crisis is being made,” said Mara Sauer from the “Lützerath Lebt!” alliance of the world. This is the place “where the excavators excavate the lignite and then burn it to form CO2. That is why we are blocking this destruction at this very point.”

“I think that in Lützerath the protest against a despondent and far too unambitious climate policy is growing stronger than anywhere else,” says Christoph Bautz from the campaign organization Campact. The small town in the far west of the country is the new “hotspot of the climate movement”.

“Places are always central to movements,” says Bautz. In his view, Lützerath is for the climate movement what Gorleben was for the anti-nuclear movement. “What we are asking for now is really a last-minute stop for the evacuation of Lützerath.”

Karsten Smid from Greenpeace formulated it similarly. “The evacuation of Lützerath is a political decision,” he said. “And we firmly believe that it can be reversed at the last minute.”

Prominent environmental activists support the occupiers. The coal exit in 2030 is a false promise, said Luisa Neubauer, who became known through Fridays For Future. “The climate is not protected by this, the only thing that is protected here are the profits of RWE, the operator of the largest CO2 source in Europe.” The coal must stay in the ground. “That’s why we’re calling on nationwide to start on January 8th. to go to Lützerath.”

The fact that the police are now clearing Lützerath after years of argument is due to a general decree issued by the Heinsberg district, in which Lützerath is located, on December 20, 2022. It prohibits entering the town and its access roads from December 23, 2022. From Tuesday, January 10, people who violate the rules should expect “the taking of administrative enforcement measures through the exercise of direct coercion”. From Tuesday the police can clear. She wasn’t allowed to do that before.

It is not known exactly when the evacuation will begin. The authorities have only announced them for the second week of January, i.e. for the coming week.

The North Rhine-Westphalia Office for the Protection of the Constitution assesses the climate activists in Lützerath primarily as “civil democratic actors”. “Nevertheless, few left-wing extremists are active in the protest scene,” the authority said on Friday. Before the hot phase of the mobilization before the expected evacuation of the place, about 130 activists were there, including 30 violent. “Lützerath Lives!” spoke on Friday of around 300 local activists.

Meanwhile, violent organizations are calling troublemakers to Lützerath. On the “Indymedia” website, left-wing extremists announce that they will take “militant” action against the “highly armed police apparatus ready to kill,” reports Die Welt.

It seems unclear how many violent people will come to Lützerath before the evacuation begins. It also seems unclear how many formerly peaceful demonstrators are siding with the violent.

The State Office for the Protection of the Constitution believes that there could be at least a few: left-wing extremists have repeatedly tried to appear as allies within civil-democratic protests. With current topics such as climate change, left-wing extremists wanted to introduce protest groups to forms of action that could lead to direct confrontation with the police and the rule of law.

At the moment it seems unlikely that all the demonstrators will leave the village peacefully. TV pictures show burning roadblocks; When the police cleared the access roads earlier this week, masked people in white overalls threw stones, bottles and firecrackers. In interviews, activists stress that they are putting up fierce resistance. The question is probably how much the eviction will escalate.

Many occupiers of Lützerath describe their protest as “civil disobedience”. They refer to the American philosopher Henry David Thoreau, who stopped paying taxes because of his resistance to slave ownership and the American war against Mexico (1846-1848). Well-known nonviolent civil rights activists such as Martin Luther King in the USA and Mahatma Gandhi in India also invoked Thoreau. The Lützerath squatters see themselves in their tradition.

NRW Interior Minister Herbert Reul contradicts the demonstrators: “Civil disobedience exists when people protest non-violently and are willing to accept the punishment provided by the rule of law for breaking the law. This is obviously not the case with hooded activists who throw firecrackers and stones at police officers and then flee,” he told Welz, “he told the world. “It has nothing in common with the impressive non-violent protest of a Gandhi”.

Hardly likely. “Not only the last generation will stick to the streets around Lützerath, but all generations will protest together against the coal madness,” announces Christoph Bautz from Campact. The “broad of society” is on its feet – also at a planned large-scale demonstration with several thousand participants on Saturday, January 14, for which Greenpeace, Campact and Fridays for Future, among others, have joined forces. It should also take place if an eviction is already underway at this time.