The German activist who charged at ECB President Mario Draghi at a press conference, tossing confetti over him and shouting “End ECB Dick-tatorship”, has said she was shocked at how easy it had been to carry out her stunt.
”I was stunned and surprised at how well it worked out and that I managed to get inside the building at all. It felt very high risk and all the time I was thinking this could easily not work,” Josephine Witt told the Guardian, a day after her protest at the ECB headquarters in Frankfurt.
The 21-year old philosophy student revealed she had registered as a journalist under the name of Vice Media, the news website which has a German edition, for whom Witt does not work.
“I went through the normal registration process, and once there, through the airport-style controls and showed my ID. They check your bags, but I only had paper in mine which I thought was not unusual for a journalist,” she said.
”As we were waiting for the press conference to start I heard some journalists saying, ‘These ECB press conferences are usually quite boring,’ and I thought to myself: ‘Maybe this time it’ll be a bit different.’”
Soon after Draghi began his statement on monetary policy, Witt, dressed in a black T-shirt bearing the slogan “End ECB Dick-tatorship” climbed on top of the desk where Draghi was speaking, and threw a pile of leaflets at him. She then showered him in white confetti, while all the time repeatedly chanting “End ECB Dick-tatorship”.
Witt, who lives in Hamburg, was quickly dragged off by security guards and arrested but later released. It is unclear whether the ECB will press charges against her.
She said that after last month’s protests outside the ECB’s new headquarters, in which anti-austerity demonstrators clashed with police, she had wanted to stage her own peaceful demonstration inside the bank.
”After the aggressive police tactics used outside the ECB, I wanted to show a positive way of non-radical, peaceful protest inside the devil’s den,” she said. “What could have been better than dancing on the table of that unelected man in his ivory tower?
“The picture of Mario Draghi’s face was priceless – he was scared, surprised and shaken, and gone was the big poker-faced banker – it was suddenly just an ordinary man there in front of me,” she said.
“What I wanted to demonstrate is that economics are not just some god-given thing that we have to accept and go along with. We can try to change our economy. If the ECB was a democratically elected institution we could use it far more for the better.”
Witt said she was convinced that Europe needed a “new narrative”. “We have this image that the northern countries are disciplined and hard-working and the southern countries are just lying on the beach doing nothing. This is a racist narrative that’s dividing our united Europe. The ECB and the troika is only feeding into this, but we can’t let it divide our continent.”
She said she was also angry at the economic imbalances that have emerged since the financial crisis began, balances which had also affected Germany. “Just as it’s untrue to say the Greeks are lying on their backs, neither is it true that all Germans are rich,” she said. “The gap between the rich and the poor is bigger here than it’s ever been before.”
Witt is part of the European feminist Femen protest movement and has previously participated in high-profile attacks against Vladimir Putin at a trade fair in Hanover, a topless protest in Tunisia for which she spent four weeks in jail, and a Christmas Day protest in Cologne Cathedral for which she is still going through a court process. But in Frankfurt she insists, she was acting alone.
“It was refreshing to know that under the right circumstances I could get just as good a response by not staging a topless action,” she said. “By the response alone I got from people all round the world, I think it was a big success.
“I got tonnes of emails, some blogposts about me, from Canada to Australia people were congratulating me and thankful for what I did, and that made it worth it. There were only some macho responses commenting on my underwear, but they were in the minority.”
Witt’s parents, a physiotherapist mother and a father who has a solar panel business, have become used to the drama of their daughter’s activist lifestyle, she said.
“My parents saw it on the news. They won’t be very proud of their daughter, but they sent me a text message to check I was OK,” she said.
Witt said she had a “list in my head” of other figureheads she plans to attack. She added that the standout difference between the Putin and Draghi attacks was that while Putin’s lack of facial expression “showed just how much plastic surgery he’s had, from what I saw close up, Draghi clearly hasn’t had much done.”
This article was written by Kate Connolly, for theguardian.com on Thursday 16th April 2015 12.15 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010