The German village of Lützerath is being cleared out to make way for a coal mine

The village of Lützerath has been occupied by environmental activists to stop the expansion of a coal mine. Now police are trying to clear them out., but they resist.

  • Lützerath had 100 inhabitants but since 2006, residents have been forced to leave under pressure from the fossil fuel mining industry.
  • For a long time, different environmental groups occupied the village to impede its destruction, which was ordered to make way for a lignite mine.
  • In recent weeks the police started trying to forcibly remove people from the village, but the environmental activists have no intention of leaving.

In Lützerath, Germany, police have been attempting to forcibly clear out the environmental activists who have long been occupying the village to defend it from coal. The locality, which used to be home to 100 people, has been emptied of its residents over time to make way for the expansion of a nearby lignite mine, owned by the multinational RWE.

For years, Lützerath has become the symbol of German and international battles against the climate emergency and the locality, now a ghost town, has been occupied by several different groups. In January 2023, however, the police started to forcefully clear it out.

The history of Lützerath

Until 2006, Lützerath was a quiet German village in North Rhine Westphalia, located close to two of the largest lignite mines in the world, Garzweiler e Hambach. Lignite is a highly polluting form of coal. Some 100 people lived in the village, but in that year an exodus began that never stopped, with Lützerath slowly turning into a ghost town. The last resident to leave, a few weeks ago, was Eckardt Heukamp, a farmer whose land was bought out by RWE.

The reason for this flight, which was forced rather than voluntary, lies in the plans for the expansion of the German company’s lignite mine. A new village, Immerath, was created to house these residents, while the Lützerath’s fate is to be destroyed and swallowed up by the nearby 3,200-hectare fossil fuel mine. The mining company’s expansion into Lützerath will give it access to 280 million tonnes of coal, which would allow it to increase production, which currently stands at 25 million tonnes per year. The German government says that this plan is necessary to meet the country’s energy needs at a difficult time, also due to the Ukraine conflict.

Starting in 2020, several groups of environmental activists have occupied the village to impede its destruction and oppose the mining mega-project in the area. They settled into the abandoned buildings, taking turns and essentially repopulating the ghost village. A court ruling last autumn, however, banned people from entering and staying in the Lützerath area starting on 10th January 2023. On this date, tensions exploded between law enforcement officers working to clear out the village, and environmental activists, who don’t want to leave.

Recent protests

On 7th January, a major demonstration was held in Lützerath, with approximately 7,500 people taking part. The environmental groups present on that day, as well as in the previous and ongoing occupation of the village, included Fridays for Future, Last Generation, Greenpeace, and many more.

Protests and evictions in the German village of Lützerath
Protests and evictions in the German village of Lützerath © Sascha Schuermann/Getty Images

Activists set up roadblocks and organised shuttles to bring as many people as possible to the area. As well as in abandoned buildings, people moved into treehouses and huts, with the village reaching a stable population of about 1,000 people. During the day of protests, various activities were organised, such as meetings, workshops, and moments of collective thought.

Activists have pointed the finger against the German government, accused of caving to the interests of multinationals at a very delicate time in history for the environment, making it impossible to achieve the climate targets set at the international level to combat global warming.

Police remove activists

After years of battles and very intense days of protest, on 11th January the activists in Lützerath suffered the iron fist of the police.

Over 1,000 officers started clearing out the area, in the wake of the court ruling that set 10th January as the final deadline to leave. Activists responded by throwing stones and fireworks, with guerrilla-style clashes breaking out. Some people were forcibly dragged away by law enforcement officers, who boarded up the doors of buildings in the village to avoid further squatting. The environmental groups present in the village, with no intention of giving way, barricaded themselves on trees or formed human chains.

Protests and evictions in the German village of Lützerath
Protests and evictions in the German village of Lützerath © Sascha Schuermann/Getty Images

As noted by the BBC, the activists place their hopes in a federal law that prevents the felling of trees between February and September. Thus, if resistance can continue until next month, the lignite mine expansion project would be blocked for months. On Saturday 14th January another demonstration was planned, in which renowned activist Greta Thunberg also took part.

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