From Peace Square to Police Scare
PRAGUE, Sept. 26- -a highly subjective and personalized timeline of S26, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.:
10:30 a.m. All is quiet in Prague this morning. Just a few people are out on the street, and many of the shops are closed. It kind of feels like Christmas. 10:35 a.m. I arrive at Namesti Miru, site of today’s S26 kick-off rally. Signs feature a myriad of antiglobalization slogans: "Onz weeld is niet de Koop," "Our world is not for sale," "The IMF and World Bank are killers," "Shut the IMF." 10:45 a.m. A black INPEG balloon tells me, "Everything in life is connected." A much larger balloon, aqua with bright orange letters, says, "Balls to the IMF." Noisemakers made from water bottles filled with dry rice rattle in the background. Christmas has become Fat Tuesday.
10:50 a.m. Ya Basta, an impressive Italian group of hardcore civil disobedients, have set up a loudspeaker and intercom on a white van. "We arrived here on a train with new ideas for a new struggle," one of their ranks shouts, while ska music booms. Ya Basta wear helmets and white overalls stuffed with foam to make charging police less painful. (Think of what the Michelin Man would look like if he had olive skin, a purposeful glint in his eye and some garbage can lids tied to his arms for protection against cops, and you’ve envisioned the definitive Ya Basta look). Alice and Viktor, two Czech activists and members of INPEG, stand near the van and dance a little. One of the Ya Basta men stands on top of the van and squirts the crowd with a water gun.
10:52 a.m. Inside a nearby bistro, people dressed in sport coats eat greasy food and look nonplussed. But the rally is jumping, with at least a dozen languages filling the air. I wonder what cliche the American media will use when they describe this rally in tomorrow’s papers — "Tower of Babel?" "Mixed messages, many languages? (Fast-forward to 9 p.m. The media probably won’t talk about the rally, but will focus instead on the wild rioting going on all over Prague.)
11:10 a.m. Back to Namesti Miru. A group of Greek Telecom Employees Federation members stand in solidarity, holding a banner that says, "Unemployment is the worst form of racism." They are a decade or two older than the rest of the crowd, and their maturity is quite welcome. There hasn’t been enough involvement from the baby boomer generation here in Prague, where most activists seem to be about 21 years old. Where have all of those Charter 77 dissidents gone?
11:25 a.m. Camera crews stand on the roofs of tram shelters, hoping to catch that brilliant shot. Most of them are from the Independent Media Center (IMC); I wish them well.
11:28 a.m. Thatcher, an IMC audio fellow from the US, tells me about his morning escapades. "The police pulled over a delegate bus, and I got on," he says excitedly. "But an angry delegate told on me, and I had to get off."
11:35 a.m. I pass a guy dressed in a red jumpsuit. On the front he has written in black marker, "I am not violent." The crowd is thinning out quickly. I join the Yellow March.
11:39 a.m. A large puppet of an IMF delegate sits in a wheelchair just a few feet away from the IMC table. The puppet has a briefcase with a dollar sign written on it. He looks depressed; the other puppets meeting at the Congress Center wouldn’t let him in. Now he sits alone.
11:42 a.m. "Turn Prague into Seattle," a man’s T-shirt commands. Okay!
11:45 a.m. People dance to techno music, lovingly provided by United Sound Systems, and have fun. A man with a pink Mohawk and matching tutu stands to the side, where he’s joined by a group of young women also dressed in pink. They collect into an affinity group and move onwards.
Noon. I walk from Namesti Miru, up Legerova street and straight towards the line of police guarding the Congress Center (IMF/World Bank Delegate Central). Unsurprisingly, the police have donned riot gear and scowls. Their shields are up, ready for a fight. Behind them flutter signs that say the march is "unlawful."
12:01 p.m. Behind me, billboards proclaim corporate names: Peugeot, Pyrocool, Ardo and IMF/World Bank Annual Summit.
12:30 p.m. Holding innertubes Ya Basta form lines and prepare to push forward and through the police line. They are fucking intense. The bridge towards the Congress Center is blocked, and armed cars stand at the ready. "We have to think about what we want to do," someone says over a bullhorn. "Do not push forward if you fear arrest. For us, it’s not an important issue."
12:45 p.m. Assess the press. They wear silly vests – with strange numbers on the back.
12:46 p.m. Hey – we’re ready to attack!
12:48 p.m. Not ready yet. A priest is holding a water gun, surrounded by an entire St. Peter’s Cathedral-full of folks wearing gas masks.
1 p.m. Is that a naked man running towards the police line?
1:01 p.m. Yes, that is a naked man. His skin says, "Fuck You Capitalism."
1:15 p.m. INPEG Alice shows up again. She looks calm and cool as always. Are you worried, Alice?
1:16 p.m. Alice doesn’t answer my question, but says that police have water cannons. Uh-oh.
1:40 pm. The line creeps forward. An old, hunchbacked woman collects "Liquidate the World Bank" balloons. I wonder what she’ll do with them.
2:20 p.m. After giving several deadlines to disperse, police give yet another. There’s no end in sight, so I go to do work. Up ahead towards Vaclavske Namesti, the street is barren but for trashed signs and an abandoned puppet.Standoff in Prague
26 September 2000 by Soren Ambrose
I have just left a standoff on a bridge in Prague between police and demonstrators (a bridge fortunately very near a center with free Internet access!) It is 2:20 pm in Prague (8:20 am in the Eastern U.S.), and when I left the demonstrators had not broken through police lines.
But let me back up a few steps. At 9:00 this morning I arrived at Namesti miru, the public square near downtown Prague where the thousands of demonstrators in Prague to oppose the IMF and World Bank on the occasion of their annual general meetings were told to meet. The square was packed with a great variety of groups from a great variety of places, speaking an equally great number of languages. One of the largest contingents was from Greece, marching and singing. The atmosphere was genuinely festive, though not without reminders from the podium of the serious reasons people were gathering.
Among the many groups in the park, among the most visible were a range of environmental and Jubilee 2000 groups and large contingents representing revolutionary and socialist parties from several European countries. There was an anarchist contingent in the part also, but small enough to make me think it was not the whole group.
The march kicked off about 11:15, with three different groups going on different routes towards the Congress Center where the IMF and World Bank are meeting. The avowed intent of the demonstrators is to blockade the delegates inside the meeting, presumably on the theory that if they have to spend enough time with each other they will ultimately give in to the demand to disband the institutions.
The largest group (I think — it is of course often harder to know what’s going on when you’re in the middle of something than if you’re watching a TV account or reading about it after the fact) went toward the bridge leading to the Congress Center, while the other two went through the valley that the bridge traverses.
Taking the lead going onto the bridge were the Italian groups affiliated with "Ya Basta!," which draws its inspiration from the Zapatistas of Mexico. They wear extensive padding under white body suits and have staged remarkable actions in Italy in which they go through police barriers holding their arms in the air and accepting the blows of the authorities.
Although I could not see very well, there was clearly a skirmish going on between the first line of Ya Basta members and police who had erected a serious barricade on the bridge – a barricade with two tanks (that I could see), maybe 200 cops, and . Now that I am on the internet, I have read that several people have been beaten, both there and at a valley location. I also have reliable information that water cannons are being used in the valley.
The three lines of Ya Basta members and the several hundred behind them, many with gas masks, appeared very determined. At this point, however, it is hard to know if the demonstrators will be able to succeed in breaking through to the meeting site.
There are reports in some of the mainstream media now of acts of violence, said to be initiated by protesters – but I have not witnessed any of these incidents, nor spoken to anyone who has.BEFORE TODAY
In the lead up to the Prague S26 actions, there have been a variety of forums and meetings and training sessions. Both CEE Bankwatch Network and INPEG, the coalition responsible for organizing most of the protests, have been staging parallel meetings. (I spoke at the INPEG event on Friday about the position of the 50 Years Is Enough Network.) Perhaps my favorite event so far, however, was a press conference yesterday at the INPEG media center at which reporters who came to ask the usual questions about how many people would be demonstrating were confronted with a formidable speaker in Marie Shaba, representing the Tanzania Gender Networking Programme (a 50 Years South Council member). Her eloquent, impassioned descriptions of what (corporate) globalization means for people in Africa provided the necessary background for the 80 or so reporters. They should now know why we are protesting.TOMORROW
There is a debate scheduled for tomorrow between civil society representatives, including longtime 50 Years friend Dennis Brutus (anti-apartheid activist, poet, and member of Jubilee 2000 South Africa), and IMF and World Bank officials. It should be interesting. In the afternoon we have scheduled a press conference to launch the World Bank Bonds Boycott in Europe.
And of course we’ll all be taking stock of everything that has gone on in Prague, and around the world, on S26.
Soren Ambrose is director of the 50 Years Is Enough Network based in Washington, DC.TOO MANY COPS IN FRONT OF RONALD’S KITCHEN
September 25, 2000
When did the Prague Police Department begin working for Ronald McDonald? Today in front of the McDonald’s in mid-Vaclavske Namesti — Prague’s major tourist hotspot, shopping strip and Boom-Boom Disco District — stood a row of local policemen, sullen, bored and unproductive. (Well, that’s not completely true; the cops did ensure the fryers kept cranking out french fries for the masses, and that no windows were broken by, uh, nonviolent, nondestructive protesters.)
"And the corporate media say we lack focus," I thought to myself. "Pah. Don’t these coppers have something better to do than to hang out at McDonald’s?" Then again, they are getting paid to pace around. What a relaxing way to earn money!
This week, 11,000 Czech police will patrol the streets so that the World Bank’s annual summit happens on time and with no interruptions. Joining them will be over 1,000 militia sent in from across this so-called democratic country to defend neoliberal economic policies from people who recognize the failures of such policies. The police presence has already escalated to the point that no late-night walk can happen without a few sightings of men-in-blue, who collect in groups of two to twelve, rest their hands on their nightsticks and say nothing to each other. Helicopters have already begun to swarm overhead.
As I walked past the guarded McDonald’s and towards the McDonald’s at the top of the square, the cops on duty greeted me with expressionless faces. I felt sort of bad for them; they don’t appear to be having much fun. Dressed in matching uniforms and decked out with weapons, their individuality and humanity is completely obscured — just like mass-produced McDonald’s hamburgers, which always look, smell and taste the same.
Few of the tourists and passersby in Vaclavske seemed bothered by the stifling cop presence. Perhaps the masses don’t mind that the big three international financial institutions the World Bank, IMF and WTO have received carte blanche to construct temporary fascist states wherever their representatives hold meetings. Or perhaps they read McDonald’s CEO Jack Greenberg’s feel-good editorial published in both the Mlada fronta Dnes and Prague Post last week. According to Jack, The World’s Most Annoying Franchise has "operated in richly diverse cultures" and is a "neighborhood business dedicated to giving something back to the communities [it] serve[s]."
The next time you drink a beer, raise a toast to McDonald’s, O Sacred Source of Biodestructive Burgers and Saturated Fat. Just do it — for Jack! Then contemplate McDonald’s culture, built upon low-wage service jobs, promotion of meat consumption and rainforest depletion. You may cry in your beer, or feel compelled to throw a brick at through the nearest fast-food window. Just don’t do it in Prague. CPJubilee 2000 Kicks Off A Week of Protests in Prague
Friday 22 Sep 2000
Jubilee 2000 kicked off their S26 activities with a press conference at the NGO Press Center in Prague’s Vinohrady neighborhood. Jubilee 2000 UK Director Ann Pettifor and Jubilee 2000 Czech Republic spokesman Tomas Tozicka described their planned activities, including a debt march for the 19,000 children who lose their lives each day due to the debt crisis.
"We are demonstrating in order to show our anger that the richest and most powerful leaders in the world are dragging their feet in helping the poor," Pettifor said. While World Bank officials recently have made several promises to develop more effective, less harmful loan programs and foster "equitable growth," ardent critics say these promises have been made many times in the past, and therefore amount to little more than rhetorical pronouncements.
Jubilee 2000, an international movement of faith and social justice groups, has spent 2000 campaigning behind a platform which demands the World Bank and IMF to cancel all debts owed by borrowing nations. Past actions include a mass demonstration held in Washington, D.C. during the April 16 actions against the World Bank, and a petition drive that has garnered millions of signatures from world citizens anxious to see poor countries become debt-free and sustainable.
Though loans made by the World Bank and IMF are public, the public has no authority to make decisions on these loans. At the same time, over half the populations in the most heavily indebted countries live below the $1-a-day poverty line. One in six children die before the age of five from poverty-related diseases, and almost 50 million children are not in school.
"We want to make clear that our targets are not the stuff of the World Bank and IMF," Pettifor said, adding that Jubilee 2000 aims its most vociferous criticisms at the finance ministers of the G-7 countries. These powerbrokers, Pettifor said, are most responsible for keeping poor countries in debt. The G-7 finance ministers meet in Prague on Saturday. Pettifor also addressed Jubilee 2000’s relationship with World Bank President James Wolfensohn, whom she called "just a civil servant. We’re calling on him to do what the G-7 countries themselves have promised to do – cancel 100 percent of debts owed to the World Bank and IMF."
Although all G-7 leaders have expressed interest in canceling all debts, the IMF and World Bank plan to cancel only 30 percent. "We say this is unacceptable," Pettifor said.
On Sunday, Sept. 24, Jubilee 2000’s debt march will begin at 10 a.m. at St. Simon and Juda Church on Dusni Street, Old Town, near the Charles Bridge. Jubilee 2000 has also planned a video festival from Sept. 25-26 and a program of speakers from Sept. 24-27.
Tozicka added that Jubilee 2000CZ began working two years ago to make the Czech public more aware of the World Bank and its destructive effects on borrowing nations. This week’s annual World Bank/IMF meetings provided additional incentive to press onwards with demands for debt cancellation.
Several corporate reporters who attended the press conference seemed to know little about Jubilee 2000 and its platform, and asked if the organization expected its march to end in violence. While Pettifor immediately condemned all violence, particularly the loss of seven million children to debt each year, Tozicka said both the media and the local government have grossly misunderstood the importance of this week’s protests and the role of groups such as the Initiative Against Economic Globalization (INPEG), whose mission statement endorses nonviolence. "This should not have happened in the first place," he said.
Tozicka added that in the past few months, Jubilee 2000 has met with local authorities and has been able to establish a "positive" relationship with them. During the entire preparation period, he said, Jubilee 2000 has been "very calm. But though we’re calm, we’re not stupid." If the debts stay in place, Jubilee 2000 will continue holding demonstrations.
During the question-and-answer session of the press conference, one corporate reporter with an American accent asked Pettifor and Tozicka if their groups planned to blockade the Congress Center, site of World Bank/IMF summit, during Tuesday’s Global Day of Action. Jubilee 2000 has never expressed any plans to conduct direct action this week, and has not done so in the past.
Apparently, the reporter perceives all antiglobalization organizations to be one in the same. Not so his colleagues in the audience, many of whom rolled their eyes at the question. Acknowledging that his inquiry was completely out-of-place, the reporter spent the rest of the press conference sweating profusely. CPCzech Govt. Smears Protesters
September 22, 2000
Today Chamber of Deputies [lower chamber of parliament] Chairman Vaclav Klaus told CTK, a Czech news agency, that the threat of globalization opponents "should not be underestimated."
"I really know that these people want to destroy, want to complicate the situation and breach the peace and order. They do not have any other goal," Klaus said.
Ever seen Vaclav at a protest? I haven’t, and it’s no surprise. This pragmatic politico likes to talk about markets and neoliberalist policies, and considers civil society an "aberrant" concept. He also believes "there is no dirty money." In other words, don’t expect to find him out on the streets any time this week, unless he decides to carry a picket sign extolling the values of the free trade around Old Town Square.
It’s interesting that Mr. Klaus knows so much about the 20,000 or so demonstrators expected in Prague by Tuesday, S26. Maybe he gets his information from multinational CEOs, the elitist minions who ensure global capital flows in an upward direction and into their pockets. Or perhaps he gets his protest info from American intelligence organizations, who have instructed local police officers in the art of combating protesters who, uh, mind their own business and try to ignore police officers. The US authorities seem to believe that even puppet making is a dire threat to maintaining the social order. (For reference, check out Philadelphia, USA’s indymedia site.) But I digress.
This Czech Santa Klaus has some serious coal in his satchel, and he’s throwing it directly at antiglobalists. His words transcend even the most ridiculous of journalist-generated assessments of protesters as "rioters" and "extremists," because his words carry some weight. Klaus has assumed a level of influence in the Czech political structure, which means that even if his assessment of S26 participants is so devastatingly wrong, he can get away with it. How unfair.
And libelous. Perhaps Vaclav and "his people" (as opposed to "these people," which presumably includes the Initiative Against Economic Globalization (INPEG), the Indy Media Center, Jubilee 2000 and others) ought to be charged with slander and disorderly conduct. For it’s soundbytes like the one posted at the top of the page that have: 1. given the general public an inaccurate picture of the current antiglobalization movement and its overwhelmingly nonviolent community of participants, and 2.instilled fear in many Prague residents, prompting them to shut down their businesses and hitch out of town for the week.
Can the residents and business proprietors afford such chaos, sent down to them from on high? For many Prague residents run small businesses that obviously rely on profits generated during hours of operation. They’re losing capital on behalf of discussions about capital, which was the scenario faced by the masses during the Communist (i.e. Hypercapitalist) era. And everyone needs to eat. Yet some business owners who plan to close shop for the week expect to lose as much as 100,000 Kc; others have invested in panes of glass to restore broken windows that, in all probability, will never be broken.
It all seems so senseless that these proprietors are so afraid of antiglobalist protesters who preach an ethos of nonviolence. As for businesses that will profit from this week’s boosted security forces, including 11,000 police and militia troops: Security companies.
Aside from business closings, a local hospital won’t be performing operations this week. And many theaters, public gardens and all schools have shut down. No school for almost 200,000 Czech youth? Even the United States wouldn’t accept such a policy. In the US, schools close only when it snows too heavily, a tornado hits or some alienated youngsters stage a shooting.
In short, the Czech authorities have launched their own state-sanctioned disruption campaign, which seems vastly counterintuitive. By encouraging residents to leave Prague for the week, the authorities are sending an awkward and embarrassing message: "We can close down our city! Feel free to visit, just not at the moment!" As part of the Czech government, Klaus is indirectly accountable for this. And by the way, how can a voracious pro-capitalist endorse such a loss of commerce?
While the corporate media avoids asking such questions, it continues to hound spokespersons from INPEG and other protest groups with inquiries about potential violence. Every article about INPEG I’ve read thus far has contained some paragraph or two about Seattle, the fictional violence perpetrated there, and a quote from INPEG spokesperson Chelsea Mozen in which she must reiterate INPEG\’s commitment to nonviolent action. By this point, Mozen must be frustrated with such needless repetition – and her name being misspelled by so many reporters (Mrozen and Mosen also seem to be her surname). You don’t think reporters would spell "Klaus" wrong, do you?
For the record, INPEG clearly states its nonviolent motivations on its official website. "We do not support the initiation of any violence against people, animals or property," the text reads. "At the same time we support citizens’ democratic rights to demonstrate. We oppose any measures taken by any authorities to prevent people from exercising this right." So why can’t reporters simply quote that and move on? And why don’t they ask Klaus why the government, and not protesters, have made motions to shut down Prague?
And why must activists always be the individuals whose motives are questioned? After all, activists are the persons who best know the issues and tactics they plan to act upon. Yet, their intentions and concerns are consistently obscured by journalists and politicians, who write and talk at length but rarely seek to inspire and involve other persons. It’s a pity.
But here’s a note of optimism: In all likelihood, Klaus the politician will have his place in the history books of post-communist politics, but aside from that, will anyone remember him or his inaccurate pronouncements? By the same token, people around the world will remember September 26 as a day when activists in Prague united with activists from places around the world who are fed up with living in a money-based society. And as long as there are people to keep the movement going, this spirit will survive all bad reportage and Santa Klaus mythology. This spirit is the true substance which – in Klaus’s words, "should not be underestimated." CP
CounterPuncher Laurie Apple will be providing frequent dispatches from Prague. For additional coverage check out the Indy Media Center site.