Prague Protests: Anti-Globalization Movement
Is Spreading Worldwide

The Antiglobalization Movement Gets Global
Tamara Straus, AlterNet
October 3, 2000

If you were watching news coverage of the protests in Prague
the other week, then what you probably saw were bleeding cops,
Molotov cocktail-throwing anarchists and thousands of youthful
radicals in a disorganized protest. But the truth was far from
those images. Although violence did break out among some
demonstrators and up to 55 Czech cops did get injured, the
protests organized by the Initiative against Economic
Globalization in Prague (INPEG) were largely nonviolent and

Come September 26, 10,000 protesters from practically every
major city in Europe and North America gathered in the city of
spires. Black-clad anarchists from Bristol could be seen
rubbing shoulders with Slovak environmentalists. Members of
the Italian group Ya Basta!, which takes its name from its
support of the Zapatista revolutionaries, could be found
marching in matching white fire suits, followed by Greek
workers in red bandanas carrying flags with the hammer and
sickle. There were Canadians and Americans, Swedes and Poles.
And their target was the World Bank and the International
Monetary Fund -- the two international lending institutions
which were holding their 55th annual meetings in Prague and
which protesters insist have increased world poverty, wrought
environmental damage and sought to make the world over in
terms that best suit the United States.

Franz Kafka was the true host of last week's events. His
ghostly presence loomed over the sea of 12,000 dark-suited
bureaucrats, bankers and politicians who had gathered in a
meeting hall intended for apparatchiks of the Communist
Party. Surely the author of The Castle would have appreciated
that the financial elite were forced to share the same medieval
city with a gang of postmodern flower children. He also would
have been amused by the presence of hundreds of representatives
of non-governmental organizations -- environmentalists, human
rights activists and church leaders -- who had made a pilgrimage to
Prague to denounce the Bank and the Fund. I am certain the Czech
misanthrope was present when David Hawley, a spokesman for the
International Monetary Fund, announced in perfect bureaucratese that
the meetings were closing ahead of time. "They moved more quickly than
anticipated," said Hawley. "It has nothing to do with protesters."

But the protesters knew better. They had pulled off much of
what they intended: disruption of the Bank meetings and a
media spotlight, however weak, on the darker sides of
globalization. "We have continued the spirit of Seattle," said
Scott Codey, an American organizer with INPEG. "The atmosphere
was positive, celebratory. Thousands of people from all over
the world shared their views on antiglobalization."

However there was much not to celebrate in Prague. After
dozens of demonstrators broke through police barricades and
got within yards of the bankers' meeting hall for a one-hour
battle with cops, and after protesters were covered in tear
gas after the more radical types smashed storefront windows in
the Wenceslas Square neighborhood, Czech police abandoned the
restraint that had been so admirable the first day of the
protests. Come the second day, the 11,000-member force rounded
up activists for no apparent reason and put them in jail. There
things got decidedly worse. Among the 859 protesters in jail,
many were denied food, water and phone calls. In numerous
cases, they were severely beaten. Reports were flooding in of
broken limbs and ribs, black eyes and other kinds of abuse.
Suddenly, the benign image of the fledgling Czech democracy
had endured some serious tarnishing.

"I was pleasantly surprised by the professionalism of the police at
first," said Marek Vesely, a legal observer with Citizens Legal Watch,
a Czech nonprofit. "But it seems that the emotions repressed were
released elsewhere." In addition to investigating a range of human
rights violations, Citizens Legal Watch is tying to determine if
police provocateurs urged on the crowds and -- as was widely rumored
-- if the FBI provided names of those activists who were not allowed
to cross the Czech border.

With almost a tenth of their number in jail, Prague activists
spent the latter part of their stay in Prague protesting not
the IMF and the World Bank but the Czech police system. It was
not unlike Seattle, Washington, D.C, Philadelphia or L.A. But
there was an increased sense that violent protest -- and
police brutality -- can no longer take center stage of
anticapitalist demonstrations.

"If we're really serious about doing an action," said Tedd Cain, an
INPEG activist from Chicago, "then we need to make certain there are
de-escalation teams, people who are responsible for breaking up the
violence." Other activists were not so sure of this possibility. They
talked about different traditions of protest, particularly those of
Europeans, some of whom see violence as a means toward radical reform.
"You cannot control who comes to the protests," said Scott Codey.

What activists uniformly would like to control is their media
presentation. They are deeply frustrated the press describes
them as ignorant and rebellious simply because of their youth.
Also among activist frustrations is the way the term
antiglobalization is used against them. Activists argue they
are not against the benefits of globalization: speedy travel,
mass communications and quick dissemination of information
(especially through the Internet, which is a key weapon in
the activist arsenal.) "We have a fleet of messenger pigeons
and we'll be using them in the next protest," joked INPEG
organizer Patrick Twomey in reference to the usual Luddite

Rather activists say they seek to get out a complex message:
that multinational corporations and the institutions that
support them (the WTO, the World Bank, the IMF and many a
Western government) are causing vast economic imbalances
between rich and poor and tremendous third world debt. They
are anticapitalists not because they are against private
business but because they believe capitalism has gone too far.

It is unclear what the reactions to the Prague protests will be.
Certainly, many in the United States are horrified by protesters'
brawls with Czech police and the $2.5 million in property damage
Prague incurred. But among the financial elite there are signs that
opinions about economic globalization are changing. Even before the
Prague protests Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve,
acknowledged there is a "deep-seated antipathy toward free market
competition." And the day after protests sent delegates scurrying to
the safety of their hotels, World Bank President James Wolfensohn told
an audience of central bankers, finance ministers and financiers:
"Outside these walls, young people are demonstrating against
globalization. I believe deeply that many of them are asking
legitimate questions, and I embrace the commitment of a new generation
to fight poverty. I share their passion and their questioning."

Whether or not Wolfensohn's statement is the stuff of empty
rhetoric remains to be seen. But what is clear is that the World Bank,
largely because of Wolfensohnn, is taking steps toward reform. In the
Bank's World Development Report 2000/2001 the focus was on reducing
poverty not only through macroeconomic restructuring but also through
attention to health, environmental and educational issues. This is
what the NGO community has been advocating for over 30 years. And
though very few Bank critics felt change was happening quick enough,
350 of them were permitted to attend this year's annual meetings (as
opposed to the two NGOs who were let in five years ago).

As for the International Monetary Fund's declarations of reform
-- encapsulated by IMF Managing Director Horst Kohler who said
"we need to make the globalization work for the benefit of all"
-- the response among institutionalized activists was generally
bleary-eyed. Ryan Hunter, who works for Friends of the Earth,
Slovakia, told me, "We cannot do needed environmental research
because the IMF refuses documents on its Slovakian programs,
even though the Slovakian government has written to Kohler in
support of our request." Unlike the World Bank, which has begun
to make some documents available for public scrunity, the IMF
remains an institution with zero transparency.

Whither the antiglobalization movement? you might ask at this
point. Will it continue to hopscotch from protest to protest?
Will it remain mired in police brutality scandals that shed
harsh light on the limits of civil disobedience? The best
answer I heard was from an environmental activist from Seattle.
"I think many people from many international communities will
go back home and organize against corporate power and corporate
control," said Robin Denburg. "Prague has created connections
that we can use to organize ourselves."
Dan Clore

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