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Prague: personal account
by djennifer 30th Sept 2000
S26 started with about 5000 gathering in Namesti Miru, a square at the center of town, north of the Congress Center, with an enormous cathedral at the center.
There was a mobile sound system, and many people in costumes, some banners hung from the trees, a giant blue globe that said "Balls to the IMF," a pink tank with a very sexy face painted on her front (reference to an action in 1989 when a monument made from a Soviet tank was painted pink - I think without the face...), a few puppets and many flags.
The group was divided into 4 color coded groups by distributing leaflets, colored whistles, and using flags. A 5th group approached autonomously from the south of the Center.
We all processed together for several blocks and then my group, the blue (made up of Czech, Slovak, Polish and Greek anarchists and the band I'm in, the Infernal Noise Brigade, which was joined by an English and an Italian) peeled off from the main march. We headed south via the western route.
A bit of geography: the Congress Center was built by the Communists and designed to withstand siege and nuclear disaster, so it is on the edge of a valley, with an unapproachable drop-off, and there is one primary access road connecting it to the center of town, which is like a state highway, connecting Prague to the 2 other major cities in the country.
There is an incredibly high bridge spanning the valley which leads directly to the Congress center. So to approach the CC from Nam.
Miru one must either take the bridge (which the cops had been rehearsing on for a week, maneuvering their tanks/armored personnel carriers around on it at 2am) or go looping around on either side on fairly narrow and winding cobblestoned streets. To the west is the Vltava river, so the blue route went right along the river.
The INB were somewhere in the middle of the blue march - we didn't want to lead it for many reasons (not wanting to contribute to the imperialistic activism many brits and americans were doing, not wanting to hold up the march if there was a need to move extremely quickly, etc).
We arrived at one of the access points to the CC, and found the police on a hill above us. The front lines immediately began throwing bottles and cobblestones at the police, who responded by attacking with a water cannon. We were far enough back and the angle was wrong for the cannon so we weren't hit at all for quite a while; we got our gas masks ready and then played.
Several molotovs were thrown as well. The police began firing massive amounts of concussion grenades, which explode quite loudly and burn if you're too close to them. This battle went on for what seemed like a long time before they began firing tear gas. One of the canisters which was thrown into a wooded area caught fire (they are highly flammable...) and some of the blue group put it out.
The INB pulled off to a side street, shielded by a tree from the water cannon, where we could continue to play music and be out of the way. I've never seen anything like it.
After an hour or 2, we decided to pull out, as the intersection was unlikely to be taken from the police, with their superior weapons and their extremely superior position above...we wanted to be somewhere more effective.
The communication system was quite difficult, with mobile phones being the only real way of communicating - fortunately the mobile system did not crash, which apparently it often does in European actions.
The result was that enormous numbers of people were gathering often-conflicting bits of information and giving it to us (the INB tactical group which followed the lead of and assisted the Czech tactical group for the blue march).
Frequently we would painstakingly reach a decision and then before implementing it we'd get new info which felt more crucial and we'd end up altering our plan.
We went to another location, leaving much of the blue group, and joined the pink and silver group (UK Earth First with an enormous samba band which they put together and trained over the week before the action). Shortly after we arrived they pulled out, and so we went up and played in between the line of police and the line of seated protesters.
The intersection itself wasn't seeming too strategic, other than that it was tying up a few water tanks and many riot cops, but it was a good time, there were many Czechs there who were pleased, and the reaction of the cops and the neighbors looking down from their windows was well worth the ineffectiveness of it strategically.
The cops were alternating between fear and smiles; they definitely didn't know what to think of us, and the neighbors were taking photos and smiling and waving.
We stopped playing and then snatch squads arrived, so some of us backed off and worked on a new plan with some of the blue group which had just arrived. It took ages to create, but finally we went around to a place where we heard delegates were leaving (again, with INB somewhere near the middle of the march) and we ended up coming extremely close to the congress center, to a very poorly defended police line - cops in shirt sleeves with shields and little else.
The front of the march broke through the line and the whole group rushed through, coming so close to the building that seemed so impenetrable, we could see into the windows, I never dreamed we'd get so close.
Then from around the corner charged what felt like a hundred riot cops, unloading a frightening amount of concussion grenades, chasing us with the water cannon. We ran and they continued chasing.
It was wild - I have been in other crowd situations where people are running and panicking and it's been really scary, but this felt really together, we ran until someone called to stop and we would stop briefly, see that our respective groups were together, and then run again. Eventually a large group of us (INB and some of the polish and czech scouts/tactical folks) dashed down a hill where we doubted the police would follow, certainly not with water cannon.
Running with all of our drums and everything was so difficult, but happily for me I'd had a massive running training session to catch the last train from the action camp last week where we ran about a km of a 2km road. Good skill, running.
We then went around to the southern part of the march and found an enormous massing of cops with 8 trucks (water tanks and APCs) at one intersection and 3 trucks just around the corner.
There was a sit down blockade of the road, and it was the first place we'd heard of/been to all day that had seen no fighting at all.
They asked the band to stop playing as they feared we would get people riled up and throwing things, so we went and took a long-needed break and gathered more information.
We decided to join with the pink and silver group who were a block or two away. There had been recent fighting there and loads of people who were still a bit scattered. Our tactical group joined with theirs and we all went together (about a thousand of us?) towards the opera house, where delegates were to go after the meetings.
It was fantastic, we took the entire street, not a cop in sight, and we walked for about an hour, playing the whole time. One of our people lit up a fire staff and 2 fire breathers came over and spit plumes into the air.
One of our songs has pretty consistent silent breaks in it and the crowd was shouting into the silence, a thousand voices raised as one, it was extraordinary.
We got word that about 1000 people had surrounded the opera house and that the event had been cancelled, so many people were planning to head up north to a palace where a banquet for 6000 delegates was to take place.
We reached the edge of Vaclavske nam., a site of massive historical significance where the 1968 rebellion kicked off, where Jan Palach self-immolated in protest of the Soviet occupation, and where some of the most significant moments of the 1989 revolution took place.
It is now a glittering capitalist shopping center full of multinational businesses and banks, and one place that INPEG has been carefully planning around, to prevent demonstrations from coming too close to it as the potential for massive property damage is so high.
Some of the group ahead of us went on into the square, but we turned away and began heading up the road towards the opera house, and the banquet beyond. The rest of the march followed, and some of those ahead came back nd joined us.
The INB pulled off to the side of the road shortly after, I was exhausted and couldn't go further, and I knew how far away the banquet was and knew that I couldn't march and play that far. We were all hungry, and so took a break.
From there we learned that the Mcdonalds at VAclavske nam had been trashed and we heard rounds and rounds of concussion grenades (sounding eerily like gunfire) and saw clouds of tear gas rising.
We decided not to go to the banquet and divided in 2 groups, one going home and the other going to eat and meet up with some of the UK EF!ers to talk about the next day.
On the way to eat we slipped over to VAclavske nam and climbed up to the front of the museum at one end of the very long square, perfect vantage point for the events below.
Saw about a thousand protesters standing up to a double line of riot cops, possibly 100 of them?? Went to leave and were trapped for a few minutes, cops refusing to let us leave when we asked. They pulled out shortly after and we slipped off, 2 people opting to stay behind.
Went to get food split again, with three of us going off to a different place from the other three. My group met with others and after eating, decided to take taxis home as we'd heard that the police were sweeping the streets and arresting anyone vaguely suspicious looking.
The other group was waiting for a tram home and a police van pulled up and arrested 2 of them, the third escaped and made it home to tell us what had happened. We've heard nothing from them yet.
People in jails are being sexually harassed, tied up and beaten, pepper sprayed, shipped off to border police, deported. 422 arrested (these numbers are difficult to confirm as no one is being allowed phone calls so we rely on calls from outside reporting missing people), 130 are internationals.
This morning an action was planned to blockade at the Hilton - 5 arrests occurred there, there were about 50 activists there, the police attacked them with tear gas and water cannons.
Another action was planned, which would leave from nam.Miru, meeting there at 9. About 3-400 are still there and have until just recently been blockaded in the square by the police - they are now sitting there and some are being allowed to leave.
The convergence center has been heavily harassed all night last night and was in the process of being shut down last i heard (several hours ago). It's thought that the czech space coordinator (one of 3) was being arrested, though this is still unconfirmed.
Our infocenter, a space in downtown posh prague, was smashed up pretty badly by fascists last night. Fascists have been attacking leftist/radicals pretty consistently for weeks.
A spanish woman who was organizing was arrested and severely injured, and taken to hospital. She escaped from the hospital and has found medical care elsewhere and is fine, but in hiding.
The city's medical services have been the most impressive i've seen at any mass action - they have been all over the city, i haven't heard at all of them refusing to go into any area, they were even there at the massive siege this morning at the blue group blockade.
All in all, i've never seen anything like it, i've learned an incredible amount. It's been great to support decisions made by locals/easterners, though it has been challenging being a band which is accustomed to leading crowds.
But it seems to be working. And we're having a good time, though worried much about our 2 missing folks.
that's all for now.
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