Balloons Over Prague

Thousands disrupt Prague IMF/World Bank meeting

The IMF and the World Bank (WB) were created by rich nations after WWII supposedly to stabilize national economies and pull them out of poverty. Now over 50 years later they do the opposite. They continue in colonialism\’s footsteps, keeping some countries very rich while forcing two-thirds of the world\’s population into poverty. However, protests continue to gain momentum and pressure continues to mount on these institutions. They\’ve now hired public relations experts and James Wolfensohn, head of the World Bank with personal wealth of over $100 million, is quick to tell anyone who will listen how much he cares about the world\’s poor. Every four years the IMF and WB hold a giant meeting. This time the 14,000 bankers chose the Czech Republic. As an ex-communist country it is trying hard to show how much it embraces capitalism.

Organizing protest in Czechoslovakia was a challenge. There has only been an activist scene there since 1990. So with almost no funds and no NGO support a small group of Czechs and foreigners did what we could. September 26th, the first day of the meeting, we gathered at Namesti Miru (Peace Square). The government\’s threats worked to some degree: only 5-8,000 came. They were, however, the most militant protesters from all over Europe. There were 11,000 police, the entire police force of the country. The rally ended at 12:00 pm and we split into three marches. Our plan was to surround the Congress Center and block in the delegates.

The Congress Center is perched on a hill, bordered by a river and a deep valley. The Yellow march took the bridge over the valley. They were Belgian, French and others, led by Ya Basta from Italy. They used inner tubes and foam armor for protection, and at one point released balloons into police lines. They were well organized but were unable to force their way through 500 police with armored personnel carriers and pepper spray.

The Blue march went through the valley. It consisted of about 1,000 anarchists from the Czech Republic, Germany, Poland, Spain, and Greece. Two blocks from the center they met a wall of heavily armored police with water cannon tanks. A huge battle began. Protesters threw rocks and an occasional molotov. Police continually used water cannons, tons of concussion grenades, batons and teargas. After about two hours protesters were pushed back, and built burning barricades in the streets. Some reached the Congress Center and spray painted it.

The Pink March had several factions including many socialists. The main highway was occupied all day. In another place Spanish protesters were beaten and arrested. Pink and Silver was a big Samba Band mostly from the UK. At one point they got right up to the Center.

The delegates finally escaped by taking the subway. At 6:30 over 1,000 of us went on an energetic march downtown. At 7:30 we met another group that had blockaded the delegate\’s opera, forcing it to be canceled. At this point some people went to a main square and smashed symbols of capitalism: a bank, Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonalds. Others marched to the delegate\’s banquet: it was also canceled. The IMF/WB were so scared that they quickly wrapped up their meetings the next day and fled the city, canceling the last day. We shut them down. We won!

In all, several hundred protesters, 120 police and 2 delegates were injured. That day police arrested 422 people, mostly as they left protests. The second day\’s small march was surrounded by police; most were eventually let go. Police swept the city. They stopped, searched and arrested 468 more people. Once in jail, hundreds were beaten, many severely. No prisoners were allowed phone calls or a lawyer, and most were denied food, water and sleep.

On the 28th there was a protest for the release of those in jail. Riot police surrounded and arrested 70 people. They were released that night with pressure from the Spanish embassy and jail solidarity. Most of the other prisoners were released over the next few days, many with bruises and injuries. 230 were foreigners, who were driven to the border or given 24 hours to leave the country, making it hard for them to file official complaints. Six are still in jail. In all 20 face charges such as assaulting police or criminal damage.

We demand the release of the activists still in prison, and the dismissal of all charges. We further call for investigation into police actions and beatings in the jails.

Support: Solidarita, L.K. , P.O. box 13, 679 21 Cerna Hora, Czech Republic.

Phone +420603-310170.

For legal info: