Fwd (GLW): CZECH REPUBLIC: Prague 2000: Diary of the people's battle

Alan Bradley alanb at SPAMelf.brisnet.org.au
Sun Oct 22 07:17:27 MDT 2000

The following article appears in the current issue of Green Left Weekly

CZECH REPUBLIC: Prague 2000: Diary of the people's battle

PRAGUE — The following is the first in a three-part eyewitness account of
the large anti-corporate tyranny demonstrations outside the meetings of the
International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank in Prague in September
by Russian writer and socialist activist BORIS KAGARLITSKY.

>From a memorandum to participants in the meeting of the World Bank and the
•Do not wear your Annual Meetings ID badge in public.
•Be prepared to display your Annual Meetings ID badge at police check
points or when entering the Prague Conference Centre (PCC), and wear it at
all times in the PCC and at official Annual Meetings events.
•Do not take taxis on the street — ask the hotel or restaurant to call one
for you.
•Avoid demonstration sites — leave in the opposite direction if one is
•Do not engage in debates with demonstrators — take leaflets or brochures
without comment.
•If obstructed by demonstrators, do not try to force your way through, seek
help from the nearest police officer.
•You are advised not to display jewellery, or wear ostentatious clothing
such as furs.

September 20

Ordinary Prague citizens have been issued with instructions that recall
warnings of a nuclear attack. The police have leafleted people's
letterboxes appealing to them not to go out into the street and, if
possible, to leave the city for the period of the summit.

School holidays have been extended. Police also instructed people not to
speak to protesters and not to read protesters' fliers, books or magazines.

Meanwhile, radical left groups have postered walls calling on Prague
residents to come into the streets and express their disagreement with the
people “violating our social rights and freedoms”.

In Prague, an opponent of the IMF and a critic of capitalism who decides to
join in the demonstrations faces an unexpected problem: there are too many
demonstrations and other actions. Each group has come up with its own

Left intellectuals have refused to go to communist meetings, and
non-government organisations (NGOs) have vied with one another. The
anti-fascists have, for the most part, held independent actions, without
informing anyone else. The humanists have been unwilling to collaborate
with anyone either.

September 21

The more established NGOs are conducting their seminars under the aegis of
Bankwatch, which monitors the actions of the international banks. Some of
the participants are turning up in ties. People constantly stress their
professionalism, and call for discussions with the heads of the IMF and the
World Bank.

More radical groups have united around the Initiative Against Economic
Globalisation (IAEG). Here the atmosphere is quite different, with men in
torn jeans and women with tattoos.

Each group regards the other ironically. Nevertheless, they stress: we have
common goals and we are not going to quarrel.

There are reports that in response to the actions of the left and the
“informals”, a demonstration has been called by the ultra-right. Quite
spontaneously, a new idea is beginning to take hold of left-wing youth, an
idea formulated in the simple slogan, “Beat up the skinheads!”.

Putting this into practice would not be hard considering the huge numerical
superiority of the left, strengthened by reinforcements in the form of
German anarchists, for whom the week would be wasted if there were no
fights with fascists. Fortunately, the police have kept the left and
nationalist demonstrations far enough apart to avoid street fighting. A few
fascists have nevertheless been beaten up.

September 22

We are received by World Bank director James Wolfensohn. He gives an
impression of sincerity and reminds me of Gorbachev: the same goodwill, the
same desire for dialogue and the same helplessness when it comes to the
practical question of carrying out reforms.

“Wolfie” reassures the representatives of civil society and tries to
justify himself. As proof of the changed character of the bank he cites
that earlier, the bank had two employees working on the problems of civil
society and now there are several dozen. New departments and new posts have
been created.

Among the representatives of civil society, the news of a massive growth in
the bureaucracy fails to arouse the expected enthusiasm. “Give us a
chance”, Wolfensohn repeats.

Everyday political life here is terribly like that in Moscow in the late
1980s. Informal organisations, perestroika, the same stormy meetings,
queues for the microphone, cacophony of demands behind which lies a general
discontent, understood and formulated in different ways. And the same
helpless promises from the authorities, who already understand that
carrying on as before is impossible, but who cannot manage anything new.

September 23, 9am

At 11am, President Havel is to lead a discussion in the castle between
movement participants and IMF heads.

The city is still almost empty, but sometimes groups of young people are to
be seen on the streets, their appearance leaving not the slightest doubt as
to why they are here: T-shirts with pictures of Che Guevara and threadbare

Closer to the centre of town, making their way through the streets are
cavalcades of Audi cars, protected by police cars with flashing lights.
Inside the Audis are the conference delegates.

Meanwhile, the police are taking up their positions. Helicopters circle
over the city. Blue uniforms are everywhere. On the flanks of many of the
uniforms I notice sickeningly familiar canvas bags containing gas-masks,
the same as those that used to be given to us in school during elementary
military training exercises.

The thought strikes me: they are firing off “cherry” gas. It feels as
though a war is about to break out.

I ask a middle-aged policeman the way. He immediately apologises: he
doesn't know a short route to the castle. He and the other police standing
there have been brought in from Moravia. Police have been brought from the
whole country, and the armed forces have been put on alert.

The meeting with Havel reminds me of last talks before the outbreak of
armed hostilities: the sides are still meeting for negotiations, although
the troops are already taking up their positions.

We go up to the castle. There are numerous stops for document checks and
metal detector scans. Soldiers of the presidential guard stand in booths,
just as in London, only their bearing isn't as erect, their uniforms don't
fit well and they're not particularly well fed.

In a medieval hall built for ball games, about 100 NGO representatives are
assembling, together with a similar number of functionaries of
international financial organisations ... and numerous television cameras.

The first address is from Katarina Lizhkova, speaking in the name of the
demonstrators gathering on the streets. “There will not be any dialogue.
You talk about dialogue, but the police have already prepared water cannon
and tear gas. Thousands of people have been illegally held up at the border
and here in Prague, thousands more are being subjected to police
persecution simply because they want to exercise their legal right to
protest. But we will not stop until the anti-democratic institutions of the
financial oligarchy are abolished.”

The left side of the hall applauds, while the right maintains a gloomy

Walden Bello, the movement's most popular ideologue, takes the microphone.
“The international financial institutions are a danger. They aren't
answerable to anyone. Don't believe what they say.

“They talk of fighting against corruption, but they supported Yeltsin in
Russia! They talk about democracy, but they gave money to the dictator
Suharto in Indonesia.

“Now that you've lost your authority, you start talking about social
justice. But the words and the deeds part company. If you want changes,
then cancel the debts of Russia, cancel the debts of Indonesia.

“You've made your loans conditional on policies that have brought these
countries to ruin and collapse. The programs that are being implemented
under the dictates of the IMF almost invariably fail. What right do you now
have to demand this money back?”

The leftists applaud, while the rightists keep silent.

Trevor Manuel, a one-time communist and revolutionary and now South
Africa's finance minister, objects to Bello's words. “Without the
international financial institutions, things would be even worse for poor

The right-wingers applaud. Someone among the leftists mutters “Traitor!”.

In the hall, the atmosphere of confrontation is even stronger than on the

Faced with a hostile audience, Wolfie has become completely self-effacing.
Crushed, he hangs his head, again trying to justify himself. By contrast,
new IMF director Horst Kohler holds forth aggressively. “I have spoken with
Third World leaders and they have had a mass of questions, but no-one has
demanded that the fund be dissolved. On the contrary, they want to work
with us!”

“You mean they want to thieve together”, mutters the British journalist
Alex Callinicos, who is sitting next to me.

George Soros takes the stand and unexpectedly begins to expound the general
positions of Marxism on the nature of the capitalist system. Then he
declares: “So long as the rules are as they are, we are going to play by
these rules. You should not expect anything else from us financiers. I
don't want to lose.” He finishes up with an appeal for reform of the
system, while there is still time.

Bello once again flings himself on Kohler. “Why are you unwilling to
reorganise the administration of the IMF? The structure is completely
undemocratic. Where are your promised reforms?” Kohler replies that the
fund is making efforts, and is improving its work.

“That's not a reply”, Bello shouts. “I asked a concrete question. You are
simply not willing to reorganise the system of administration! So what is
there for us to discuss with you?”

Havel thanks all the participants and the two sides go their separate ways
.. until the demonstrations begin later that day.

cont'd = Part two of Boris Kagarlitsky's report will appear in the next
issue of Green Left Weekly.

More information about the Marxism mailing list