Wake UP! It's yer Praguematic
Published by Justice? - Brighton's Direct Action collective
SchNEWS 277, Friday 6th October 200
"Don't worry, they won't get anywhere near us here, there's 11,000 police and only 5,000 protesters… I think we can safely ignore them today"- IMF delegate, Sept. 26- morning!
Another international day of carnival against capitalism. This time in Prague. Cameras rolled, the TV showed the usual tear-gas riot scenes and McDonalds got its customary kicking. But what didn't make the news was that across the globe 45 cities in 20 countries took part in solidarity actions against the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF).
What hardly got mentioned were the hundreds of people stopped from entering the Czech Republic or those beaten up and abused in police stations. And of course convenientally ignored was why thousands of people took to the streets of Prague last week. But don't worry yer SchNEWS crew were there to give you some nuggets of truth.
FAT CATS & CHUBBY CZECHERS Maybe it was a bit of an ambitious demand: 'We will lay siege to the World Bank and IMF until they dissolve themselves."
But with the Conference abandoned a day early and the previous day's meetings poorly attended, there's no doubt that last week's mass demonstrations in Prague were a success.
SchNEWS was lucky enough to talk with a 'mole' who spent the day inside the Conference Hall, chatting with delegates over champagne and canapes. One IMF employee told our insider, "I don't care about anything really... apart from how good the food is when I go out on missions to third world countries.
You must be very bored if you are interested in the World Bank." Bored? Fifteen thousand people coming together from all over the planet to lay siege to institutions that have been blamed for "harming more people than any other non military organisations in human history ", (David Korten, People Centred Development Forum). Boredom doesn't really come into it.
The protests were also a success because they drew attention to institutions that have thrived on anonymity. As the chairman of the World Bank inspection panel told our mole, "The only thing the World Bank is afraid of is publicity.
These protesters are creating that." Another, a Deutsche Bank employee from New York, was even more frank: "The protesters are right of course. We are just interested in the money. The World Bank and IMF are just helping people like us to cream it in. Isn't it great?"
The protests were also a success because they give the poorer countries more courage to stand up and complain about what the IMF/World Bank are doing to them. One told our mole, "It's great to see them here. These protests definitely help us in our fight." Another Southern delegate added, "These protests are the inevitable result of policies being imposed on the world like a religion.
Thatcherism has led to this. G7 governments and especially the US are responsible. In G7 countries there are still some safety nets for the poor but in the South, which has almost no voice, there is less and less for the poor. That's why it's great to see the young Europeans doing this. It's the only way."
TEARIN' UP THE CZECHS!
Up to fifteen thousand people mobilised from every corner of the planet; Bologna's Michelin-man stylee Ya Basta! mingled with Czech Solidaritska, Catalonia's CNT and blocs from Poland, Germany, Greece and beyond. Latin Americans, Bangladeshis and Maoris traded resistance tips as the sound system kicked in.
Groups divided into yellow, blue and pink-silver blocks and approached the Conference Centre from different directions. As the groups got near to the police lines all hell broke loose, with protestors trading cobblestones with stun grenades, tear gas and water cannons. The bankers couldn't get out, and we couldn't get in, and eventually delegates were taken out by underground probably the first time a lot of them would have used public transport for a while.
As darkness ebbed in, the remaining pink and blue crew wove their way northwards through the valley to meet the Italians who had blockaded the Opera house -the southern European anarchists obviously craving some higher culture after a hard day's street fight. However, the opera got cancelled and the bankers instead headed to the city limits for a banquet. These people really are down with world's poor!
Protesters drifted to Wenceslas Square, scene of the Velvet Revolution, where ten regular cops stood sheepishly in front of a beckoning McDonald's.
Within a minute and a half it received its ritual trashing. KFC followed suit, and by the time the IPB Bank got its share of broken paving stones several dozen Prague locals had joined in to reclaim a little power from the bankers who had foreclosed their business or refused them loans to feed their families.
The riot police took their time getting there; just enough damage was done before the cops ran riot and the crowd melted away to pubs with decent prices…
The next day you couldn't move in Prague without being pounced on by police. The WB/IMF cancelled the last day's meetings saying it was nothing to do with the protests. Honest guv, it was just that they had nothing more to talk about…
"And as the delegates peer over the side of their ill-protected fortress at the crowds below, scanning signs that say "Capitalism Kills," they look terribly confused. Didn't these strange people get the memo? Don't they understand that we all already decided that free-market capitalism was the last, best system?"- Naomi Klein
CZECH IT OUT: IT'S NOT JUST US WHO THINK THEY STINK...
In 1997 the World Bank's Jakarta office commissioned an internal study of corruption in its lending programmes to Indonesia, confirming complaints that shoddy accounting practices have allowed Indonesian officals to steal as much as 30 per cent of the Bank's loans over the past 30 years - over $8 billion in total!
Even according to the Bank's latest Annual Review of Development Effectiveness (1999), "poverty trends have worsened". Excluding China, there are 100 million more poor people in developing countries than a decade ago. And since 1990 life expectancy has declined in 33 countries.
It's 55 years since the Bank and the IMF first sprang to life. How long do they want before they get it right? And the next big World Bank/IMF shindig will be in….Dubai ! Off with their heads!
To those who asked "But what would you put in the place of the IMF and World Bank?", veteran campaigner and author Susan George replied "And what would you put in the place of cancer?"
Around the world solidarity protests took place in 45 cities in over 20 countries. Unfortunately many police forces showed a high degree of solidarity with their Czech counterparts in administering excessive violence.
Israel, Tel Aviv over a thousand participants assembled for street theatre, art and other protest and then marched (very slowly) through the banking street. Delhi, India, around 60 people from various organisations successfully blockaded the entrance to World Bank offices for two hours. Calcutta, India, a rally of around 500 people was held under the banner 'Prague Solidarity 2000'.
The lively event went on for seven hours and included speakers and discussions. A memorandum to the Indian Prime Minister was submitted urging the government to refuse to take on the destructive policies of the IMF and World Bank.
Mumbai, India, activists staged a protest at the entrance to a new shopping centre calling for a halt to the increasing gentrification of the city and onslaught of multinational corportations. Members of the public gave the demonstration great support with some joining in.
v In Wellington, New Zealand over 200 people enjoyed free food and music before moving on to a protest outside Westpac Trust bank . The day was peaceful until the police moved in and made an arrest when scuffles broke out 12 more people were nicked.
In Melbourne, Australia 2000 people marched in solidarity with the S26 protesters braving the grey, wet and cold Melbourne weather. In Sydney, Australia protesters attempted to blockade the Prime Ministers office and met with police!
Brazil : In Belo Horizonte over 200 assorted activists assembled at the Central plaza to begin a Carnival Against Capitalism. Armed with banners, leaflets, posters, puppets and music the lively procession made its way to the Citibank where a blockade was successfully maintained for an hour despite a heavy-handed police presence.
In San Paulo, a group of Zapatista supporters held up a busy traffic intersection for an hour before moving off to join a rally of 500 at the Stock Exchange. Meanwhile in Brasilia, a determined group of 10 students held a demonstration at the Central Bank of Brazil, distributing leaflets and displaying banners. In Fortaleza, 200 marched along to McDonald's to protest at the takeover of local culture by multinationals and distribute free ethnic food.
Berkeley, California: 500 people held a critical mass bike ride and Street Party. In Burlington, Vermont demonstrators held a march which ended at the new GAP store (known for their use of sweatshop labour) and through a variety of actions managed to halt business for a short while.
In Denver a procession made it's way through the shopping centre targeting Starbucks, Gap, and Nike Town and then made its way to the office of Vice President Al Gore's office to protest against the plight of U'wa Indians in Columbia. In Massachusetts over 300 demonstrators descended on supermarket corporate giants WalMart. In Hartford 400 anti-globalization protesters blocked a downtown street for nearly 4 hours during rush hour, before 20 of them were arrested.
In Gainesville a group of about 50 people held an energetic march through the town centre. In Chicago hundreds gathered in the corporate crime centre, 8 people were arrested for wearing masks. In Montreal, Canada over 100 protesters carried out a march that ended at the Stock Exchange, riot police were at the ready but the march passed off peacefully.
Bristol, UK: activists hung banners around the city informing people of alternative media links. In London No Borders protested at Waterloo Station highlighting the lack of free movement for refugees which is in sharp contrast to the increasing free movement of money. Under the slogan 'Money moves why can't people?' demonstrators hung banners and distributed the Financial Crimes spoof newspaper.
In Geneva, Switzerland about 50 activists helped to build a sculpture of flesh, bones and money outside the IMF offices.
Barcelona, Spain: a demonstration was held on the 23rd, 4000 people marched to the sea past various banks and stock exchanges which got nicely decorated. At the end of the day 5 coaches set off for Prague. Despite the city authorities banning demonstrations on the eve of the 26th, about 40 protesters in Moscow went ahead and held a demonstration outside the World Bank offices anyway, six people were arrested so the demonstration moved to the police station where the arrestees were being held.
In Utrecht, Holland 500 people marched through the town centre stopping at banks, demanding that employees take responsibility and think of the social and ecological consequences of the banks' investments. Malmö, Sweden protests were held outside several bank offices around the town square.
In Stockholm, Sweden around 200 people marched through the town on the evening of the 26th the evening passed off peacefully until riot police stopped the demo.
As these reports show, resistance to destructive IMF/World Bank policies is not confined to middle-class European students as the mainstream media would often have us believe.
All over the world, citizens of affected countries have been standing up and protesting about their situations. Here's your quick guide to just some of the global resistance mounted by developing countries in the past couple of years…
In Argentina, people angered at IMF dictated government reform of labour laws, staged a wave of general strikes in '99. In May this year cuts to social security were met with lively demonstrations resulting in public offices being set ablaze.
In Bolivia the privatisation of water thanks to the IMF led to a 35% price hike. As a result of demos the country was placed under a state of martial law, the occupation of the streets by the army, radio stations being put under siege and human rights agencies invaded by government officials.
In August this year, 15,000 Colombians staged a general strike in response to IMF imposed restructuring programmes.
Costa Rica saw widespread anger to a bill outlining IMF policies. The resulting protests ended with police gunfire and beatings leading to the death of one protestor.
In Ecuador, the Confederation of Indigenous Peoples called a week of protests to highlight the devastating affects of IMF policy reforms.
In January of this year, 3,000 occupied the Congress building. Protestors in Honduras staged a wave of strikes between May and July of this year because of significant cuts to their public services and a 48 hour general strike in August.
In Nigeria this January, 5,000 workers marched in opposition to deregulation of the oil industry suffering vicious attacks by armed police for doing so.
June this year saw the country crippled by a general strike and two police stations were burnt to the ground. Protestors and police in Paraguay clashed this June during rallies over 'non-negotiable' IMF reforms. A 48 hour general strike was later called.
In Pakistan local traders went on strike in protest at wage reductions and rising taxes. South Africa has seen a mass of actions at rising unemployment and labour market reforms whilst demonstrations were held at meetings of IMF and governments officials.
And finally, residents of Zambia staged resistance to meetings of IMF delegates and government leaders. Since IMF imposed reforms were introduced, an estimated 60,000 have lost their jobs.
*Want to know more? The World Development Movement have just published a report called 'States of Unrest: Resistance to IMF policies in poor countries.' WDM, 25 Beehive Place, London, SW9 7QR, 0207 7376215, www.wdm.org.uk
YER SchNEWS QUICKIE GUIDE TO THE WORLD BANK …
One of the World Bank's central roles is to ensure developing countries have the physical infrastructure necessary to join in the global economy, making it easier for the Western multinationals to exploit their resources and cheap labour.
So they get loans for the construction of roads, ports, mines, hydroelectric dams, oil wells and pipelines, and coal-fired power stations, mostly built by…er Western multinationals. These companies received nearly $5 billion in direct loans and guarantees for this purpose from the Bank's private sector last year alone.
And the poor? They are often displaced from their homes, suffer loss or damage to their natural resources, and are placed in the front line of climate change that the Bank's support for fossil fuels is helping to create.
...AND THE INTERNATIONAL MONETARY FUND
The IMF are basically international loan sharks who dish out cash to debt-ridden or near bankrupt developing countries in exchange for a bit of 'structural adjustment' (now called the 'Comprehensive Development Framework').
These 'adjustments' mean governments have to privatise, cut health and education budgets, deregulate labour markets… you get the picture. Or as Carlos Andres Perz, the former President of Venezuela pointed out, the IMF practises "an economic totalitarianism which kills not with bullets but with famine."
Both the World Bank and IMF claim to be democratic. But their democracy operates on the principle of 'one dollar one vote'; the more money you put in to the Bank, the more votes you have. Meaning that the US, Canada, Japan and the European Union control 57% of the vote. The other 250-odd countries fight for the rest…
For more info czech out: www.whirledbank.org www.globalexchange.org
DON'T BELIEVE US? LISTEN TO THE PEOPLE WHO HAVE TO LIVE WITH THE WORLD BANK AND IMF DECISIONS
Yer roving SchNEWS reporters mingled with dissidents from all over the world, finding out just what effects the World Bank and IMF have in different countries.
A Bulgarian activist told us the IMF's flagship project in his country is a giant privatised copper plant - which just happens be to the most notorious example of ecologically damaging industry in the country.
There are absolutely no official checks of the water or air quality surrounding the plant, but independent tests carried out by a Non Governmental Organisation (NGO) revealed that all 10 local rivers in the area are now completely dead - the result of huge arsenic and acid pollution. Despite representing an NGO, the day before the conference opened the activist was still waiting for his 'accreditation' - the document supposedly giving dissenting voices access to the decision makers of global capitalism.
What did he think of the much-heralded 'democratisation' of the IMF? "It's all 'good words'- but as far as I can see, nothing has changed" he said. "If it's impossible to sit down and discuss and change things, then there is this other way to go out and say 'guys, there's a lot of people who don't agree with these decisions and these projects'. Maybe this is why the street actions are good".
Jeff Napoleon Barmangel is from Global Village Cameroon, a West African NGO concerned with environmental protection and sustainable development, with emphasis on renewable energy. "The World Bank invests only in fossil fuel projects" he says. "They should consider the alternatives".
The Cameroon government has been trying to overhaul the country's electricity network; at present, only 5% of rural areas have electricity. Jeff himself missed his intended flight to Prague because he couldn't photocopy necessary documents due to a power shortage.
He told us how the country has great potential for small, environmentally-friendly, micro-hydro electricity generation: There has been a pilot project, realised by local technicians with limited funds. "If there is enough investment, financial assistance and technical support, this can spread" says Jeff. "This is why we are saying that the Bank should differ from commercial banks and think about sustainable development.
That was the original mission. That is why the Bank should invest in projects like rural electrification and other renewables, what with global warming and climate change." But does the World Bank want to know?
Their flagship project in Cameroon is the Chad-Cameroon oil pipeline; 1070 km long, it will link the Chad oilfields with off-shore loading facilities on the Cameroon coast. The Bank hails this as a model for public and private sector partnership, which will, in theory, 'transform oil revenues into direct benefits for the poor'.
Jeff says "This money…is supposed to help poor countries improve their situation. This project will benefit no-one but multi-national companies and the local elites…This pipeline will pass through rainforests full of indigenous people and rare species. Pipeline workers will hunt them to extinction."
Jeff's scepticism is well founded. The poor are unlikely to see any money generated by the pipeline.
The oil producing region of Chad is a political tinderbox which has seen government soldiers shoot dead hundreds of unarmed civilians in recent years and Cameroon has been listed for two years in a row as the most corrupt country in the world. In both countries, human rights are routinely abused and environmental destruction is rife.
The pipeline crosses 17 major rivers; the consequences of a leak would be catastrophic, not least because all communities on the route rely on surface water for all their needs.
Yet the World Bank claims that all such concerns have been adequately addressed via a 19-volume environmental assessment study and a 'revenue management law' agreed with the Chad government - but dismissed by the Human Rights Center at Harvard Law School as 'camouflage' lacking in any real, enforceable substance.
Did Jeff feel that the bank was as 'democratic' as it made out? "I think democratic is the wrong word to use. Maybe tomorrow, but today, no. The bank is not democratic." A day before the conference opened, though, Jeff remained optimistic. "I've just got my accreditation, and we're going to give them our ideas. I hope they'll respond positively."
"Our movement is called Indigenous Authorities of Colombia" said a protester in traditional costume. "We're here primarily to protest against third world debt and also against the constant loss of resources, of precious metals and against deforestation which has cost indigenous villages throughout South America dearly.
They have lost their thoughts, their identity, everything." Did he feel it had been worth the long journey to fight the World Bank? "Yes, I'm happy because we've found allies; we've made allegiances with people from around the world from Africa, Asia, India. Europeans too, all together, a mass of people fighting for the same cause.
Looking around this crowd of people, I'm very happy that we need not feel alone. We all have the courage to fight for our rights."
"We say that the IMF, the World Bank, the international corporations are OUR debtors. They owe US because they are destroying life in our countries and have thus created an ecological debt."
The woman from Ecological Action Ecuador (EAE), in Prague representing an alliance of Amazon villagers, was damning in her description of IMF involvement in her country. "They demand repayment of debt and lay down conditions. One is 'liberalisation'- we have to relax our environmental laws to allow privatisation of state owned institutions.
So, for example, the IMF is demanding that our government allow it to mine and develop in protected natural areas, like national parks and even in villages themselves. They want to privatise everything, even water. We don't want to be made prisoners.
If we sell everything then our children and grandchildren will have nothing." Hence EAE's claim that the global moneymen owe it to the poor to take responsibility for their actions and fulfil the demands of the powerless. "These are to allow us our natural heritage and acknowledge our right to live as we choose.
My friend here, from the village of Copan, can no longer fish in the local river due to pollution caused by oil companies. The IMF and World Bank must stop the social, environmental and cultural destruction of our countries." Are you listening, James Wolfensohn? Nope, thought not.
'Suits and Savages why the world bank won't save the world.' An educational video that uncovers the smokescreen of a global bureaucracy available for £30 institutions/£15 standard/£7 concessions from Conscious Cinema, 110 Elmore St., London N1 UK www.consciouscinema.co.uk
"I was arrested and taken into custody. As they led me down the stairs to the cells I noticed blood on the walls and heard cries from other cells… The police searched me and the others, putting all our possessions in one pile on the table in the room.
They told us not to move - anyone who did was hit with truncheons across the back. The police were more violent than intelligent; they didn't know where anyone had been arrested, or what for. I was terrified, they did not allow access to a lawyer or a phone to let my friends know where I was - I didn't know what would happen. The people I was in the cells with will be friends for life."
SchNEWS is no stranger to accounts of police brutality, arbitrary arrests, beatings and torture; we all know that this happens routinely, day-by-day, across the world.
But it's not everyday you see it for yourself- what we witnessed in Prague made a date with the Met seem like a tea party and gave us a glimpse of how the other half live.
It started at the borders: At least 600 "undesirables" were refused entry, including an American, Lee Sustar, who has no criminal record, yet the Czech Police described him as "a threat to public order and health".
The Czech authorities have a list of 300 activists not allowed into the country and have been helped by the FBI, Interpol and the British Police, who even sent a 'media specialist' to assist with presenting a nice friendly police face.
A German woman travelling with British activists was refused permission to leave Germany under an anti-hooliganism law, the first time this law has been used against anyone except footie fans.
The Czech authorities mounted a massive operation in an attempt to ensure that the bankers' party went uninterrupted- 11,000 police were deployed in Prague, supported by armoured personnel carriers, troop trucks, fire engines, helicopters, tear gas, concussion grenades and water cannons.
On the day itself there were few arrests but as night fell and in the following days, police started to pick people up arbitrarily and soon nearly 900 people had been nicked.
Many of the arrests were made by masked-up plain clothes cops who were one minute leading attacks on uniformed police and McDonalds and the next dragging activists away. Amongst the random arrests were two German schoolboys who had bunked off a school trip in order to savour the delights of Czech beer!
In custody arrestees were routinely not told why they were nicked, denied access to food, warmth and medical attention and denied a phonecall and a solicitor. Water often had to be paid for.
In some cases up to 20 prisoners at a time were crammed into a cell measuring just nine feet by nine. Some protestors were handcuffed to walls and beaten, others forced to lie spread eagled on the floor and prevented from sleeping.
The treatment of some women was particularly degrading; they were strip-searched and humiliated by male prison guards. By far the worst case was Chris, an Austrian woman cartoonist, who was nicked and beaten till she lost consciousness.
In the nick she was so scared for her life she jumped from a second floor window. She now has a broken leg and hips, and a destabilised spine.
Her foot will never recover- the bones are just too damaged. Her location was only revealed when a nurse in the hospital broke the information embargo imposed on her by police and telephoned her friends.
She has now been deported to a Vienna hospital, charged with attacking 3 policemen. Her van, which is also her home and contains her life's creative work, has been impounded by the Czech police to ensure she comes to the trial.
None of this treatment is perhaps surprising given that 30% of Czech police voted for the far right party at the last election. But while most of us are safely away from Prague now, we should remember the people who live there.
Over half of all the arrests were of Czech citizens, despite the fact that many Czech activists were too scared to turn out on the day for fear of police reprisals.
It is likely that police harassment of Czech activists will continue, so it's important not to leave them to suffer; they really need our help and solidarity. Donations (cheques/PO's) can be made out to Prague Prisoner Support Fund, and sent c/o RTS, PO Box 9656, London N4.
There are at least 20 international activists still in jail and another 70 are missing but presumed in jail. Up to 600 other Czechs are also suspected detained. They will almost certainly have to stay in prison until their trials, which could be something like three months.
"A crowd of 200 protestors gathered around a circle of people playing drums in Wenceslas Square. The mood was defiant but non-violent as we danced and chanted surrounded by lines of riot police.
The crowd grew as did the noise; a trumpet led the bass drums who parted the way for fire breathers then signalled for quiet as people from various groups reminded us of why we were here. The solidarity that people felt was obvious from the way they listened and cheered as words were translated and shared.
A minutes silence was held to remember political prisoners all over the world and not just those taken in the last few days in Prague. People sat and remembered their friends, hugged each other and gathered strength from those around them.
The silence changed to low and quiet cheers that gradually grew louder and higher - then the drums kicked in and produced the most incredible atmosphere that many of us felt we had ever been part of."
Activists around the world have shown that the struggle does not end in Prague: Ya Basta! occupied the Czech pavilion at the international exhibition of architecture in Venice, Italy demanding freedom for political prisoners under the banner "Let's globalise the rights!"
And in Switzerland, Spain, Sweden, Austria, France, Germany and Britain activists have organised demos, occupied embassies and defied the cops in solidarity with the victims of Czech brutality.
Czech These Facts
For lots of reports and pictures on what went on in Prague, and for an open letter to send to President Vaclav Havel about the police brutality go the Indymedia site, www.indymedia.org.uk
For a good explanation of the IMF, World Bank and WTO, The Ecologist contains a special report called 'Globalising Poverty'. It costs £3.50, The Ecologist, Unit 18 Chelsea Wharf, 15 Lots Road, London SW10 0QL. 0207 3513578. www.theecologist.org
An editorial collective in London are intending to produce a book called 'Reflections on Prague'. Contributions are needed, although keep them fairly short! The book also aims to look at the future of the anti-capitalist movement. Send contributions to email@example.com
NO F***ING COMMENT
Britain's most boring newspaper, the Financial Times, has taken offence at cheeky anarchists who spoofed the famous 'pink pages' to spread- shock, horror- scurrilous anti-capitalist propaganda in the run-up to Prague.
Internet provider Easyspace has been forced to close down the 'Financial Crimes' website after FT lawyers felt the subversive use of the FT logo, typeface and 'distinctive' pink background coupled with banker-baiting diatribes was, er, taking the piss a bit.
Fearing damage to the 'considerable and global goodwill' of the greedy man's bible, the lawyers accuse the 'Financial Crimes' of "Committing the Tort of Passing Off". Which we presume is better than committing the part of tossing off…
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. For a copy of Financial Crimes, send us an A4 SAE with 33p postage. And if you're in Brighton feel free to grab a bundle from the Peace Centre on Gardner St and hand 'em out to yer mates or baffled passers-by.
...and finally.. Missed out on all the fun in the Czech Republic last week? Wished you could help close down the IMF too? Well now you can... virtually speaking.
A new video game has been released where you, the protestor, are pitted against the Czech pigs, with the object of the game being to capture the IMF delegates, or as they are known, 'exploiters'.
The activists are armed with rocks and petrol bombs while the cops have batons, shields and the odd tank, and while the riot goes on slogans like 'Smash the World Bank' and "The IMF kills" come across the screen all accompanied by banging techno, just like the real thing! Check it out at www.doupe.cz
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