Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Prague: The True Story

Merrick, 2nd October 2000ce

This was written as an email in a hurry in a net cafe in Prague on 28th September, 2 days after the protest. It does little analysis or commentary, aiming instead to be hard facts to counter the mainstream media reports.

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There's been a group of people working in Prague for months on organising/co-ordinating the protests called INPEG. They'd rented an old empty dusty disused factory as a Convergence Centre, where there were meetings in the week running up to September 26th (S26).

Activists have been staying all over the city in hostels and rented apartments, and some took up the camping space in a stadium that the authorities sanctioned at the personal behest of President and often-imprisoned-by-the-Communists bloke Vaclav Havel. Quite what sport is played at the stadium is unclear, it's got no grass only rock. More like a gladiator arena really.

There were meetings at the Convergence Centre all day every day (and meetings about meetings about meetings), with a mass meeting in the evenings.

There were a lot of UK activists, a lot of Spanish (especially Catalans), and many from USA, Germany, Holland, Greece, Italy and Poland and also some from Norway, Ireland, Slovakia and Czech. Reuters reported that the bad weather was putting many activists off coming. The weather has been lightly overcast in the morning and sunny in the afternoon every day since Friday. Lying fuckers.

Many Czech activists supported what was going on, but were scared of reprisals from the police if they were seen to be involved. The police force is still to fully realise that the Velvet Revolution took place. There is an active Secret Police, and activists are frequently harassed and beaten.

The plan was that there would be a mass meetup on S26 at 10am in a square called Namesti Miru, about 2km north of the Conference Centre where the WB/IMF were meeting. The IMF/WB would already be in the Centre, the plan was to block them in. The demonstration in Namesti Miru was approved by the authorities, but not any marches. As soon as people marched out of the square it would become an illegal demonstration.

There would be three predominant colours of clothing and flags, pink, blue and yellow. The three colours would take different routes to the Centre. The UK folks had turned up with a load of pink and silver stuff, and decided to be a fourth route, which, unlike the other three, wouldn't have a predecided route plan.

There was a central communications place called Centrum. They would receive phone calls from people on the streets and relay the information to other sections of the marches and the autonomous groups roving the city. Centrum was to be in a secret location, with a similar set-up in a vehicle ready to take over should the police raid Centrum.

There were also CB radios and a pirate radio broadcast to help relay information (the pirates sadly never got up and running), so that if the mobile phone networks crashed then communications could still happen.

There were also cycle couriers for scouting areas ahead and around marches, and also as medics. Cycles are unfollowable by police - they go down alleys that cars can't follow, and they are too fast for people on foot, and following on bike would be too conspicuous. I think that once we have our own cycle medics we are, by definition, rocking.

The total number of people is not reliably reported, but seems to be between ten and fifteen thousand. marches went off, the blue west, the yellow south and the pink and silver south-east. The pink followed on and joined up with the yellow.

The yellow was largely composed of activists from Ya Basta, a full-on Italian group. They wear as much protective padding, helmets and gas masks as the riot cops. They can, and do, behave in the same fast and effective way at riot cops. When the police blocked their way, they repeatedly charged the lines, immune to batons, and actually took the batons off the police!

However the road, Legerova, was a four-lane bridge, so the police lines easily held. But the Yellow line was also easy to hold, and it blocked the main route north from the conference Centre, crucial to blocking the delegates in.

The blue route had gone west to the river, then south and were now coming back in towards the Centre along Vnislavova/Slavojova. The police put barricade fences in their way, which the marchers charged at and pulled back into *their* lines to make a barricade. The police charged, and were met with a hail of cobbles and other missiles. The police responded with loud firework stun-grenades that have a powerful freak-out panic-causing effect. Several Molotov cocktails were thrown by the blues, and the police fired CS gas and water cannon. An old woman in a residential building on the street poured buckets of water on to the police, while at the back of the crowd an old local man passed cobble stones to the stone-throwers. The charges went back and forth for an hour or so.

Meanwhile the pink and silver march, led by their own very loud and groovy samba band had circled clockwise round to the south east of the Centre on the main road south, Kvetna, and were 200m away before they met police lines. The road was occupied by armoured vehicles and water cannon, so they moved across to the smaller streets directly south of the Centre, after deploying the Tactical Frivolity squad to go and dance by the police and dust them with feather dusters.

The march pushed up to the police lines, the police batoned those at the front and threw stun grenades, the march retreated then returned and some missiles were thrown. The police water-cannoned.

This now meant that the Conference Centre was encircled at a distance of 200-500m.

There was some back-and-forthing for the rest of the afternoon, but basically these positions held. They were clearly in sight of the delegates in the Centre - many of whom will have been at the previous WB/IMF/WTO meetings that have had this reaction.

There were some police with minor injuries, and many protesters with minor injuries. One protester was seriously hurt in a police baton charge, getting a head wound and a broken arm. Like many she was grabbed by police and taken to hospital against her will. She rang friends who came and took her to a safe house and gave her attention from a qualified nurse. Like I said, when we do this stuff we are rocking.

The social event for delegates at the National Opera was due to start at 6pm, but this was cancelled and delegates were ordered not to leave the Centre. Some Blue group had found a way to the railway running under the bridge that the Yellow group were blockading. This led them to the walls of the Centre, which they started to climb. A number of activists - thought to be in double figures - made it into the Centre complex itself. A few windows were broken, others spoke to delegates.

Because the roads were closed, the Metro station in the Centre complex was starting to be used to ferry delegates out. Activists went to the stations either side and the line was shut down. Eventually, a group of ambulances were used to ferry delegates out. I mean, not even the armoured personnel carriers, but hiding behind a Red Cross! This is so unbelievable cynical! Of course, all protesters cleared the road because they might have actually been carrying sick people, and the chance couldn't be taken.

As it got dark people dispersed. In the city centre several hundred people went to the Opera house until there was confirmation that the delegates event was cancelled. In Wenceslas Square a number of the protesters joined a large group of Czechs who systematically trashed McDonald's, KFC and banks. Other smaller and local businesses were largely untouched.

Over the day there had been dozens of arrests, but in the evening the police came in in force and the total went quickly up into the hundreds. Figures released this afternoon by Czech police say 859 arrests in total over the two days. Of these 230 were foreign and 629 were Czech. 130 of the foreigners have been expelled from the country. They also say that a female Austrian activist got a broken hip when she jumped from a first floor window while being interrogated.

Some activists have been released and report huge human rights abuses. They were kicked if they fell asleep, they were given no food whatsoever, some were beaten by gangs of police, including some people being tied up first. They have been held in cells 4m square with over 20 people in. They have been refused legal advice. All of these things contravene basic human rights and have no place in a supposedly civilised country. This isn't 1970s Czechoslovakia, this is 2000 in the country that's next in line to join the EU. None of this is reported over here, and I bet it's not being reported where you are either.

The Czech media have focussed on police injuries. A policeman with a broken nose is the image we've seen again and again. Of course we can assume they'll be going for the most dramatic and brutal image they can find, and a broken nose is the worst they've got. Activists with that level of injury didn't even go to hospital. Always bear that in mind when you see figures for police injuries and protester injuries. And yet the protester injuries are invariably greater. Yet the protesters are criticised for violence. It was the police who came armed and armoured, the police who dealt the first blows, the police who inflicted the real injuries. Oh, and the gang of 50 fascists who briefly pelted a march with stones got no mention either.

The WB/IMF cancelled today's meetings saying it was nothing to do with the protests, honest guv, it was just that they had nothing more to talk about. Like 10,000 financiers charged with relieving global poverty and inequality and securing a global free-trade system have nothing to talk about.