IMC editorial by T. Moore
After a day filled with intense confrontation with police, demonstrators managed to actually completely surround and practically enter the IMF meetings. While corporate media has focused entirely on the so-called "violent, black-clad, pierced, and unwashed anarchists," they have completely neglected to mention that the policies of the IMF, World Bank, and WTO can no longer be tolerated. The police outside the convention center were protecting the IMF meetings from having public participation in them. We are people who are governed by the policies of the IMF, the World Bank, the WTO, and the myriad of other economic institutions, with no voice in them. We do not govern our selves - we are governed by the tyranny on unaccountable economic institutions. We want to make decisions about our lives for ourselves - as a community, as families, as people, as children. The people on the streets yesterday were demanding a right to their own political power - not just for debt cancellation, not just for the reform of the IMF and the World Bank. S26 was about realizing a new day, a day were the people can choose the kind of society that we want to live in.
Prague -- In a day of protests that were more colorful than violent, 9,000 demonstrators surrounded Prague's Congress Center where the World Bank and IMF are holding their annual meeting. A standoff with police lasted more than three hours before protesters decided to declare victory, retreat and regroup.
However, small bands of protesters clashed with police, throwing rocks and setting dumpsters on fire. Police responded with tear gas, stun grenades and water cannons. The Czech news agency reported that 54 police and several dozen protesters were injured. A spokesperson for INPEG, the umbrella coalition that organized the demonstration, said the group objected to the violence, which it felt would draw attention away from the issues of the World Bank and IMF.
By nightfall, violent clashes between police and the so-called anarchist "Black Block" continued. Protesters trashed a McDonalds in Wenceslas Square, a tourist area and site of the "Velvet Revolution" that brought President Vacalv Havel to power 11 years ago. The Independent Media Center reported that police used tear gas and arrested 500 people in downtown Prague. The Czech Republic has mobilized a formidable force of 11,000 police to control the demonstrators.
Earlier in the day, thousands of peaceful demonstrators wound through the streets of Prague. A small marching band entertained the crowd with Spanish Civil War and Italian protest songs. A man, naked except for a fanny pack, a dollar bill taped to his privates and anti-IMF slogans painted across his body, strutted through the crowd. Two elderly Czech women stood on a curb holding balloons bearing "Liquidate the Bank" slogans, smiling as the crowd passed by. There were almost no police visible along the march route.
The protesters came from throughout Europe. A Greek telecommunications union marched alongside Italian Communists and Greens. A Danish religious based group rubbed shoulders with Spaniards decorated in balloons and face paint. A rowdy contingent from the Italian group "Ya Basta" led chants. There were large numbers of German, Dutch and French protesters, and a delegation of about 50 made the trip from Poland. Demonstrators said they were motivated by a sense of indignation at Bank polices that they say deepen the gap between rich and poor worldwide.
"It's hard not to be ashamed or angry at what's going on," explained Ingrid Steinitz, 60, of Denmark. "People are not able to make a living or see their children grow up in the Third World because of [the World Bank/IMF's] structural adjustment programs."
"The World Bank and IMF are just the tip of the iceberg," said Ritchie (who chose not to give his last name) from Liverpool. "It's the multinationals and governments supporting the Bank that are the problem," he added.
Noticeably absent from the protest was any strong Czech presence. Since the Velvet Revolution there have been few street demonstrations in the Czech Republic. "They came out into the streets to protest [during the Velvet Revolution] and then they went home and sat back in front of their televisions," one young Czech activist said.
Standoff on the Bridge
The parade split into three marches, each headed to a strategic intersection in an effort to encircle the Congress Center, similar to the November demonstrations against the WTO in Seattle, and those against the World Economic Forum in Melbourne earlier this month. The goal was to prevent delegates from leaving the conference center.
A group of about 3,000 marchers reached the North entrance to the Nuselsky Bridge leading to the Congress Center. They were met by more than 100 police in riot gear, four armored cars and two water cannons. Organizers, shouting over a loud speaker, reminded protesters, in five languages, that they were there to put their bodies on the line, not provoke police. The plan was to try to push through the police lines in a carefully measured confrontation.
About 60 protesters, well protected in improvised gear made out of painters' jumpsuits padded with foam rubber and cardboard, formed the front lines. One woman even wrapped a doormat around her waist for protection, while others wore motorcycle helmets or hard hats. These demonstrators positioned themselves immediately in front of the riot gear-clad police.
They tried four times to push through police lines. Police responded with batons, while protesters used inner tubes to shield themselves from then blows. Some demonstrators also wielded sticks. There were no apparent injuries. At one point a protester threw a plastic bottle at police and was scolded by other demonstrators. Protesters systematically dismantled the police barricades, cheered on by the crowd every time they removed a section of the metal barrier. However, they were unable to push back the police lines and inch their way onto the bridge. Police, meanwhile, were unable to push the protesters back with their shields and batons.
The standoff lasted more than three hours. There were tense moments, when police appeared poised to break up the crowd with force. The protesters, sensing there might not be anything to be gained by drawing out the confrontation, decided to declare victory for having stood their ground. They then retreated to a park about a mile away to regroup.
The situation on the other side of the bridge, where another group of thousands of protesters were massed, was more volatile. While most demonstrators adhered to their peaceful strategy, a small group entered into violent confrontation with police. They reportedly heaved paving stones and Molotov cocktails at police who responded with tear gas and water cannons.
Later this evening, protesters gathered in front of Prague's Opera House
forcing delegates to cancel a planned reception. Others headed off to another
bridge where they faced off with police. Police helicopters patrolled the
city, late into the night.
The images presented to the planet when the International Monetary Fund
and World Bank hold their annual joint meetings are not ones of men in
suits making key decisions for entire nations. The latest images are now
of young people playing drums and
waving banners, often lost in smoke and tear gas fired from riot police. Today, as the meetings got underway in Prague’s former Communist-era Palace of Culture, a police and army guard set out to ensure the security of the “castle” as activists have dubbed it. Around 8000 activists are on the streets of the capital of the Czech republic to disrupt the meetings, taking inspiration from the actions in Seattle and Washington DC.
On Sunday the Undercurrents video crew arrived at the Independent Media Center to find police illegally insisting on checking the passports of everyone who arrived. When the Undercurrents reporters refused to give any details and attempted to enter the police dragged Martin while another grabbed his lens. The independent media responded by putting a dozen cameras in the face of the officers and forcing them to leave.
Ya Basta! an Italian network of very together activists hijacked a train
to take them to Prague. 1,200, strong they led one of the three parts of
the demonstration. Protesters sorted themselves into three groups with blue,
pink and yellow colour’s for ease of
identification and cordination. Flags in the three colours led the march off in opposite directions both to surround the castle and also confuse the police.
At the police barricade on the road bridge opposite the conference center,
banners in various languages declared the protests illegal and that force
would be used to disperse people. A stand off was the result with the Ya
Basta! leading the yellow group
trying to push past the police line. Activists succeeded in taking two police batons as souvenirs. Having made their was round to the other side of the center the Pink group, consisting of mainly British activists, moved in. With a sound track from a Samba band and activist folk band ‘Seize the Day’, activists got busy with fence cutting. One fence cutter said “I am doing this to stop people being hurt if the police try to force us into the side.” Meanwhile the downed fence was dragged off to become part of the activist’s barricades. Police refused to talk despite various musicians trying to open a dialogue. A diminutive middle aged Indian woman from the Narmada dam campaign stood nose to nose with the line of armed & armored police in gasmasks. The pink group moved past the military tanks, hundreds of armored police, and dozens of army personnel and found a side street blocked only by a thin line of uniformed police. Masked up black clad activists grabbed a metal barrier and ran at the line and a battle ensued with both sides getting stuck in. Sticks and rocks were thrown as police responded with deafening loud firecrackers, smoke grenades, and water cannons. One masked up young man grabbed cameras screaming at the press, both independent and mainstream, to stop filming. Meanwhile the samba band and other activists blockaded the streets forcing a number of delegate’s cars off the road. One Mercedes had its windows smashed and after making a run for it the suited middle aged male occupants had an undignified clamber over the police barricades to escape.
Wednesday, September 27, 2000
What seems to most enrage the delegates to the meeting of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in Prague this week is the idea that they even have to discuss the basic benefits of free-market globalization.
That discussion was supposed to have stopped in 1989, when the Wall fell and history ended. Only here they all are -- old people, young people, thousands of them -- literally storming the barricades of their extremely important summit.
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? Sure, it's not perfect, and everyone inside the meeting is awfully concerned about all those poor people and the environmental mess, but it's not like there's a choice -- is there?
For the longest time, it seemed as if there were only two political models: Western capitalism and Soviet communism. When the USSR collapsed, that left only one alternative, or so it seemed. Institutions like the World Bank and IMF have been busily "adjusting" economies in Eastern Europe and Asia to help them get with the program: privatizing services, relaxing regulation of foreign corporations, building huge export industries.
All this is why it is so significant that yesterday's head-on attack against the ideology ruling the World Bank and the IMF happened here, in the Czech Republic. This is a country that has lived through both economic orthodoxies, where the Lenin busts have been replaced by Pepsi logos and McDonald's arches.
Many of the young Czechs I met this week say that their direct experience with communism and capitalism has taught them that the two systems have something in common: They both treat people as if they are less than fully human. Where communism saw them only as potential producers, capitalism sees them only as potential consumers; where communism starved their beautiful capital, capitalism has overfed it, turning Prague into a Velvet Revolution theme park.
The experience of growing up disillusioned with both systems helps explain why so many of the activists behind this week's protests call themselves "anarchists." Anarchism is an ideology that defines itself by being fiercely non-ideological. It rejects externally imposed rules and argues that we are impoverished, as individuals and as communities, by overwork and overconsumption.
Most of us carry a mess of negative biases about anarchists. But the truth is that most are less interested in hurling projectiles than in finding ways to lead simple, autonomous lives. They call it "freedom."
So what do the lifestyle choices of a small (but growing) radical subculture have to do with the allegations being made against the World Bank and the IMF? Everything.
Far from simply demanding debt relief, the mass protests against the Bank and Fund are now driven by more fundamental demands: the elimination of both institutions, and of the economic beliefs that drive their every decision.
Over the past decade, a critical mass of communities in poor countries have questioned the Bank's belief that large-scale "development" always equals "improvement."
The people coming forward have been displaced by World-Bank-funded mega-dams
and had their water systems polluted
by World-Bank-funded mines.
Are these people Communists? A few. But most aren't capitalists either. They are tapping into something different, and much older. The young anarchists in Prague, also gathered here from around the world, have tapped into it too.
The Indian writer Arundhati Roy put it best, writing about her crusade
against a World-Bank-funded dam: "Perhaps what the 21st century has in
store for us is the dismantling of the Big. Big bombs, big dams, big heroes,
big mistakes. Perhaps it will be the Century of the Small."
At 5pm Tuesday in a park in Sydney, the Domain, protesters sat down
in solidarity with protesters in Prague. The Olympic tourists attention
turned from the large Olympic TV screens to the protesters who formed the
shape of S26 by sitting down. S26 symbolises 'September the 26th', the
global day of action against the International Monetary Fund(IMF) and World
Bank meeting in Prague. This protest was staged to target the pattern of
badly managed IMF and World Bank lending schemes to developing countries
which has resulted in crippling debts.
The World Joins Praha in S26 Actions
Solidarity actions were reported from around the world, including: San Francisco | LA | Berkely | Seattle | Tacoma | Portland, Rail Shutdown | Boulder | Denver | Boise | Gainesville | Lake Worth | Tuscon | Chicago | New Brunswick | Providence | Boston | New York | Hartford | Washington DC | Ohio | Pittsburgh | Buffalo | Hadley | Toronto | Montreal | Belo Horizonte | Geneva | Stavanger | Wroclaw | Madrid | Bristol, UK | Lisbon | Duluth | Tel-Aviv | Stockholm | Geneva | Netherlands | Dakka, Bangladesh | Upsalla, Sweden | Kiev | Moscow | Mumbia, India | Melbourne |