Prague S26 In The City Of 100 Fires
International Blocs rock the Eastern Blockades
Direct from frontline Prague, Si Mitchell sent back this breathless report
27th September 2000
The SQUALL posse are still at large on the streets of Prague, despite the secret polis pinning a tail on their donkey asses, and one cameraman catching a cobblestone around the noggin. Don't worry about what you read in the papers - S26 was a total success - what meetings they managed to hold, were backed by a chorus of concussion grenades and the whiff of CS gas.
On the streets a well organised, hierarchy-free bloc did what they came to do - and more. Unbreakable links have been formed. We have seen the future of international solidarity. There is no going back.
We hit the square at eight, shin pads and sticks gaffer-taped to every limb as body armour. The SQUALL crew were in good company. A global call to arms had mobilised anarchist blocs 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 beat adrenal glands into action.
An elaborate route and splitting plan had been formulated in internationally attended multilingual street meetings. Months of preparation brought 20,000 well-focused justice hunters onto the streets of Czech's capital to blockade the World Bank and IMF's annual carve up. Aware that the real decisions are made well before such glutinous shindigs, the kids on the street set out to blockade the assembled bankers, funders and corporate liggers inside the city's fortress-like Congress Centre - which squats imposingly on top of a city centre hill.
The idea was to keep the bastards there till they agreed to dismantle the two institutions. A little hopeful maybe, but the unification of an international revolutionary bloc working as an organised unit would prove to be the most significant thing those on both sides of the barricades would wake up to on S27.
An SWP-led trotskyist contingent had managed to get a consensus for a directionless banner-waving 'Unity March' by bringing large numbers of their people to planning meetings. However, on the day, there was a quick split between those that came to create an effective blockade, and those that came to get their placards on TV.
The blockade divided into three groups - yellow, pink and blue. The yellow took the bridge - a four lane viaduct 300ft above the valley which splits the city - the only northern exit from the Conference centre. The pink and blue were to head south on the east and west sides, to seige all other exits. Despite plans for tactical amalgamation, by September 24 it was apparent that Pink was red, Blue was black and yellow would be fronted by Ya Basta.
Skipping the 'unity march' route (accidentally?), the carnival left Namesti Miru square at midday. The splits - catalysed with coloured flags, banners, and a rolling globe, were seemless. With a 500 strong international hardcore anarchist bloc heading the blue route, we felt obliged to go blue. Mass chants of "Oh Ay, Internationale Solidarite!" mingled with drums and whistles and cacophonous laughter. It was as close to the morning of Culloden as you'll get in a built up area.
The police seemed content to let us plough down to the Centre. However, with our target in sight the cops had made a blockade at the narrowing point of a steep hill. A line of riot cops and a water cannon truck blocked the road. Left was into the valley, and right was blocked by the Vysherad Castle. It was forward or bust. The 'clava posse didn't miss a step as the cobblestones that paved the street began raining on the police line. The cops responded with stun grenades and water canon (the smarter 'activitsky' wore black waterproofs - the rest of us were instantly soaked to the skin).Within moments the molotovs were coming over the front lines. Blood was spilling on both sides. We fished one geezer - completely spark-out - from the river of water flowing down the hill, as the cop line was replaced with water-firing armoured cars. The police sprayed some kind of skin-burning paint, perhaps to pick people up later, perhaps to just hurt them now. Concussion grenades exploded repeatedly and, the now familiar, sting of tear gas filled the street (why do the SQUALL eds keep sending us to these places?). While half the crowd donned gas-masks, the Greeks piled up to the front: "Let us through," they said. "We're used to it?"
After a pitched battle lasting an hour or more (American Seattle veterans looked on in awe at non-violent direct action - European stylee), the police pushed the blue bloc down the hill. Steel fencing barricades were erected in the streets and fires lit. Small masked groups stoned caged canon trucks. It was Jihad without the religious bollocks. The western exit was sealed. Leaving half the bloc and a burning car to hold the line, the other blues (complete with new riot shields, helmets and sticks....er dunno where they got them from) followed the Infernal Noise Brigade Marching band around to help seige the south side.
Despite the 'consensus', the Trots had apparently defed-out the siege idea in favour of a mass paper sale in the square - but a renegade pink and silver bloc headed by a UK Earth First Samba band had got within poking distance of the Centre's eastern flank. Meanwhile Ya Basta's military machine was holding the bridge in style (not to mention the attention of the world's media).
Moles on the inside of the conference relayed information to the mob. Half the delegates hadn't made it and the other half were running round like headless chickens (nowt new there then). The meetings were bungled and we knew it - though the next days FT would paint another picture. IMF representatives from Bangledesh commended "the young people" for being so effective.
After realising their tacticless strategy of road clearance was doomed, the old bill shut the tube line to the public and took the delegates out by underground - the first time most of them would have used public transport.
As darkness ebbed in, a joyous and united pink and blue crew weaved their way northwards through the valley to meet the Italians who had blockaded the Opera house (the southern European anarchists were craving some higher culture after a hard days street fight) where the IMF delegates were due to spend the evening. However the opera was cancelled and the bankers headed to the city limits for a banquet (these people really are down with world's poor).
Not wishing to waste the walk, the two thousand strong crowd, headed down to Wenceslas Square. Ten regular cops stood sheepishly infront of McDonald's - a semi circle of activists stood looking at them tapping on the railings. Bang - one window went and they legged it. Within a minute and a half, the shop was an insurance right off. KFC followed suit, and by the time the IPB Bank got trashed 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 to justify some nice new legislation) and the panicked crowd thinned to just a few hundred. SQUALL's's agent six won himself a two inch headwound filming what used to be a Mercedes garage - and had to retreat to the nearest "low quality hospital". Karlovo Central had already seen a good few broken limbs and smashed heads - though activist medic teams of doctors and nurses had been on the case all day treating casualties in the field.
As daylight dawns in Eastern Europe 460 well battered folk are waking up behind bars as police are stopping and arresting arbitrarily in the streets. Deportations are going down and follow-up actions are looking less and less likely.
The disused warehouse that served as the activists' convergence space for the past week is being shut down, as is their information shop in the city centre. As is always the case - a police operation that fails to protect corporate targets is followed by extreme over reaction. The army's coming out to play. We ain't out of the trees yet - but the woods..... the woods belong to the activists.
Crowd Bites Wolf - free to view online - a documentary filmed on the streets of Prague during the WB/IMF demonstrations, featuring Si Mitchell. (Guerillavision, 2000)
Report From Prague S26 - In Prague as the demonstrations against the World Bank/IMF rage, written by Undercurrents film-makers Martin Palmer and Paul O'Conner - 26 Sept-2000
Pain & Punishment For Prague Protesters - Reports of police brutality against those arrested during S26 demonstration in Prague against World Bank/IMF - 02-Oct-2000
Prague A Go Go Boom - The IMF and World Bank will hold its 55th annual summit in Prague. Thousands of anti-capitalist protestors will be there too - September-2000.
Knuckleheads With Nightsticks At 20th And 1st - Washington DC - WB/IMF Summit demonstrations - 17-April-2000
Black Blockades In Babylon - Washington DC - WB/IMF Summit demonstrations - 16-April-2000
Cracked Heads And Crack Troops On The Streets Of DC - Washington DC - WB/IMF Summit demonstrations - 15-April-2000
Battle For Seattle 1 - report from the streets of Seattle - Dec-1999
Battle For Seattle 2 - 2nd report from the streets of Seattle - 06-Dec-1999