HEILIGENDAMM, Germany — Anti-globalization demonstrators this week claimed victory after thousands took their message to the gates of the village where world leaders were meeting.
Protesters trekked through forests, wheat fields and past German police firing water cannon and pepper spray to occupy the main road into the Baltic resort of Heiligendamm for three days before leaving at the end of the summit yesterday.
They caused disruption for officials from Group of Eight nations, who were forced to fly in by helicopter or take the sea route to the site, but the summit went ahead and questions remained about what the protests accomplished.
Were they just a sideshow? Or did the latest anti-G-8 protest produce tangible results?
Answers vary, but it seems clear that protests will remain an annual accompaniment to G-8 meetings.
“This is one of the greatest triumphs for the anti-globalization movement to date,” said Olaf Bernau, 37, a German anti-G-8 leader on the blocked main road to Heiligendamm.
“Without violence and with the simplest of means, we got past all these police barriers. It might only be symbolic but we disrupted the G-8 with nothing but our physical presence.”
But Karsten Voigt, a senior German Foreign Ministry official and formerly a leading figure in West German protest movements, said they had achieved little.
“It was a parasitic action that only succeeded in drawing attention away from issues at the summit,” Mr. Voigt said.
“I don’t think they had any influence at all on the summit. They only influenced the media coverage. They’re against the G-8 as an expression of globalization. But if you look at the protesters, they’ve become globalized themselves.”
An estimated 30,000 protesters flocked to the area around Heiligendamm. The environmental group Greenpeace breached the secure zone at sea Thursday with 11 inflatable boats in a dramatic protest before being intercepted by police boats. The group launched a hot-air balloon yesterday in another attempt to get past security, but police helicopters forced it to land.
Protesters have become a fixture at G-8 meetings. Ever since globalization opponents caused mayhem at the 1999 World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle, protesters have been trying with varying degrees of success to disrupt G-8 meetings.
One demonstrator was killed at the Genoa summit in 2001. Even though most G-8 meetings since have been set in isolated rural areas, there were protests of varying scale outside sites in France, Canada, the United States, Britain and Russia.
“I don’t think the demonstrators’ physical presence had any impact,” said Gary Smith, director of the American Academy think tank in Berlin. “Their message was totally inarticulate. What does it mean to be anti-globalization? It borders on nonsense.”
The challenge for protesters next year is to get to Hokkaido, on Japan’s northernmost island, about 470 miles north of Tokyo.