Is the re-gentrification of a city a form of colonisation?

Resistance to colonisation is now almost universally regarded as a noble struggle, where the native underdog fights against a more powerful, more advanced, often rapacious, always unwelcome invader. The colonisers, with more resources, including the ability to control the flow of information to the world and to write history, often represented the resistors as terrorists. Examples of this abound: Gandhi in India, Mandela in South Africa, the FLN in Algeria, Geronimo in the United States.

Of course, for the colonised, theirs was always already a noble struggle as they fought to preserve their own ways of life and identities. Historically, such conflicts are usually between the inhabitants of two nation states, where one moves into space already occupied by another.

Given all this, I have been wondering if the following story from Germany can be seen as a noble fight against a coloniser at a local level. Instead of being about race, country or ethnicitiy, however, it is about class and loss of community. The struggle is about space, as in poorer parts of Berlin, residents are being squeezed out by gentrification:

Old flats and warehouses turned into luxury loft apartments have driven up rents and house prices beyond most residents’ means. Anger felt by those affected by the influx of the “new bourgeoisie” extends to the disappearance of open spaces and a growing indignation among communities that they are not being consulted.

“We have no voice in the way the city is changing,” says Jan, 26, a graphic designer and a member of an underground anti-fascist movement in Kreuzberg. […] “Until recently it was where I used to walk my dog and meet friends,” he said. “Now look – they’re building glassy apartment blocks there for rich yuppies to move into.”

The response to this bourgeois influx has the classic hallmarks of anti-colonial behaviour, in that both militant and non-violent resistance to the intrusion by the rich is taking place. Thus far, arson has been the favoured militant tool where

growing band of leftwing car arsonists have become the face of an increasingly vociferous campaign against the gentrification of the German capital.

They [anarchists] come out mostly after dusk, typically carrying a simple set of tools – a box of matches, and slow-burning barbecue firelighters which are lit and placed next to a car’s tyre. By the time the flames have taken hold the culprit has vanished, and the car is ablaze and beyond recovery when the fire brigade arrives.

In 2009, 216 mostly luxury cars were torched on the streets of the city, compared with 135 the previous year.

Non-violent ways to keep out “unwanted” residents and to make a neighbourhood unattractive for newcomers have also been suggested: “Don’t repair broken windows; put foreign names on the doorbell, and install satellite dishes.”

So far the press have been content with describing those involved in illegal acts as anarchists. I can imagine the language will change somewhat if the following copycat attacks increase:

Lorries belonging to DHL, the courier company, were recently attacked because they serve the German military in Afghanistan, as were German Railways’ vehicles – in retaliation for its role transporting nuclear waste by train.

One Response

  1. […] – made headlines, with burning cars and water cannon staples of the nightly news. This time, the locals felt, the cleansing was being achieved economically, by stealth, with chain outlets replacing family businesses and tenants (nobody buys in Germany) […]

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