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"Kafka's Ghost Lives in Prague"
By Agent Creme de la Creme (via Biotic Baking Brigade email@example.com ) 3nd Oct 2000
I'm writing this piece three days after the "S26" Global Day of Action seriously shook up Prague and the World Bank/IMF meetings.
There's so much to say, but I'll try and keep this relatively brief and focused. In summary, yet another major financial meeting was seriously disrupted by an amazing array of people from around the world. The usual wave of problems, conflicts, and divisions have also arisen.
I arrived several days before S26 to find preparations lacking in most respects, and many people stressed out about whether or not the action was going to come off.
For example, the communications group had hardly begun to consider how thousands of people could exchange information quickly and accurately (a problem which would later plague us).
Fortunately, the NGO sponsoring the official protest, INPEG, had managed to secure an enormous warehouse space in a fairly central location through the help of a former Czech dissident. Legal, media, communications, action, and nonviolence meetings involved several hundred people total, far short of the thousands expected and needed.
My experience in Prague has felt like a Kafka novel. From the moment I arrived till my hopeful departure in the near future, I am always aware of the presence of the State.
Every neighborhood has uniformed police performing random passport checks on pedestrians, and riding the Metro is an experience straight out of Camus' The Stranger.
While I have only been passport checked once (they wrote down my details and sent me on my way), my travel partner has been checked five times. Not having one's passport on hand is grounds for deportation, as the Czech State is looking for any technicality to get rid of outside agitators.
Wherever you go, you are being watched in a much more obvious way than in the U.S.
I have to confess that my romantic illusions of Czech being a bohemian stronghold of liberty have vanished. Much has been made of "the bloodless Velvet Revolution" of 1989, where the dissidents managed to break free of the Communist grip. . . and proceeded to embrace free market capitalism. The secret police apparatus stayed in place, the manipulation through government force and propaganda continued, the names merely changed.
A jailed dissident and famous playwright, Vaclav Havel, became President of the new regime. As Kafka wrote, the slime of the old regime coats the new one. Ironically yet perfectly, the World Bank/IMF meetings were held at the former Soviet Palace of Culture. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss!
In the months before S26, the Czech government carried out an incredible campaign of slander and fear-mongering against the upcoming demonstrations, calling the protesters "killers" and "barbarians." Schools were shutdown for days and schoolchildren sent out of Prague.
The State recommended that civilians lock up their homes and flee the city-and 1/5 of the population did! Havel, instead of confronting the injustice perpetrated by the World Bank and IMF, welcomed these oppressors to his country and wined and dined them at lavish dinners while condemning the protests.
He tried to play the role of a mediator between these repressive institutions and those trying to shut them down, but in the end revealed the extent to which one has to sell out in order to gain and remain in power.
So Prague was not a very fun place for anti-globalization activists to visit during the last week. People's fear of us from the government propaganda campaign showed clearly in their eyes. I guess I'm disappointed that people fell for the hype, but then again its the same in most every country, most of all in my own land of birth.
As the days progressed toward the big day, things picked up steam bigtime. Loads of people began arriving on the weekend and momentum was clearly in the air.
After a reconnaissance of the area around the conference center on Sunday and a meeting of the street action groups on Monday morning, I began to feel optimistic that we could actually blockade the delegates in. That reminded me of Seattle, where I didn't think we would succeed until we were well under way in doing so.
The growing numbers of people also helped to lessen the rampant and justified paranoia, since the cops and the fascists now had many more of us to contend with than before. And yes, there have been many fascist attacks during the last week.
Over 30% of the police voted for the far-right fascist party in the last election, so it's really no surprise that they let neo-nazi scum roam the streets (and in the jails) beating up people with impunity.
Over the course of several international meetings, INPEG planned out a meeting place and march route.
The idea was for a "Unity March" of all the groups to gather at one place, and then after a short march together break into three groups (blue, yellow, and pink...which for our purposes we will call red) who would then surround and lay siege to the center from different directions.
Predictably, the plan was roundly criticized for various reasons (as it would have been regardless of its content, we're such a lovely movement), the one most obvious being that it focused way to much on the North side of the center and not enough on the South side. In the future, more than one meeting point should be an essential component of any plan because it's very effective in splitting the cops up on those rare occasions when we have numbers on our side.
Also, the multi-color strategy worked well for strategical/logistical reasons and has potential to lessen the dogma wars in the following way: if it's clear that one color will be composed by mostly militant types, then pacifist types can choose to pick a different color march and vice versa. More on the dogma wars soon.
The days before S26 were really exciting for me. So many brilliant memories to carry away from here: 1,000 radicals from different cultures chanting "No Pasaran!", the echoes ricocheting off the walls of a Soviet-style industrial space; translations into different tongues during the various meetings; the sense of a growing, vibrant international movement and solidarity with millions of people around the world against a more-or-less common enemy (more on that later as well!); dressing like a tourist and discretely passing through thongs of police during scout missions; and of course, drinking absinthe in the pubs till the wee hours talking love and revolution.
On the morning of S26 I met up with the blue route, a group composed mostly of anarchists with large contingents from Spain, Greece, Poland, Czech, and several dozen Norte Americanos.
As we waited in the Namesti Miru (peace square) a pink and silver group came by. These were mostly Brits who wanted to do an autonomous action with their samba band and try and get round to the critical south end quickly.
Also, they quite sensibly didn't want to get mixed in with an obnoxious bunch of authoritarian Socialists who had 2,500 of their people in the red march.
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