One doesnt readily think of
bloody revolution anymore when you think of Prague. We choose to recall
it as the city of Mozart, or a force for cultural change and excellence
in 17th and 18th century Europe. Their present President Vaclav Havel,
the playwright is a vivid example of a city that turns their cultural
heroes into Presidents and then, later, statues. But the darker side
of Prague is about to be unmasked. The novel The Trial by
Franz Kafka tells of endless bureaucracy, the fruitlessness of questioning
authority, the utter powerlessness of a citizen against rulers and petty
officials who care nothing for your plight and trial by innuendo is
normal, your very protestations of innocence proves you are guilty.
It is also the city of The Castle, a story of deep machinations
and abuses of power, another novel by Franz Kafka, who used to live
within the very castle walls. His books were a foretaste of what it
would be like to live under communism, something that the Czech people
had to endure for fifty years.
There was a moment of unbearable lightness in the Prague
Spring of 1968. Alexander Dubcek led the rebellion against the Masters
of Control in Moscow, there was moment when the press was free and people
began to discuss everything, questions everything. It was a perfect
Kafkaesque moment. Freedom crushed by the iron fist of the people,
invited in to restore order. Antonin Kapek, wrote a letter
to Brezhnev, the Russian President at the end of July 1968 and urged
the Soviet leader to extend fraternal assistance to our Party
and our whole nation in dealing a rebuff to the anti-socialist
and anti-Soviet forces that had taken over the KSC and were posing
a serious danger to the very fate of socialism in Czechoslovakia.
Brezhnev complied. The Prague Spring was painfully crushed by tanks,
the West looking on in despair and frustration.
So it is right and proper that the International Monetary Fund and the
World Bank should meet in such a place in the fall of Year 2000. The
glory of Pragues architectural legacy has survived 50 years of
brutal rule, only because, as with everything else in the Soviet Union,
they ran out of the money and will to destroy it. Travel just five miles
outside the city and you can see what the Czech Republic actually looks
like. Dreary concrete tower bloc suburbs fed by a relatively cheap Metro
system. It must be galling for Czechs to leave the the city for the
suburbs, but perhaps, as the nation recovers its prosperity they
will recover the confidence to demolish this functional, depersonalized
surbanscape for something more lasting and user friendly.
The Czech Republic is recovering. The Czech past is one of excellence
in engineering and design. They were stripped of investment for fifty
years, but now the old preeminence is returning. Already Skoda cars,
once a joke, are recognised to be the best in their class in Europe.
German investment has been key, but there is the will in this country
to revive and exel. Yes they can trade on their history and bring in
tourist dollars, but they can reply on a well educated people who are
desirous of joining with the best of the West.
This also means that it is a magnet for trouble. The Mafia have moved
in on the tourist trade and are probably present in manufacturing. However,
the Mafia, rather like the Government, any government, likes stability
of income and hates disruptions. So quite how they will take to the
thousands of protesters who are coming to barrack the IMF and World
Bank this week will be interesting. Predictions by the protesters are
that it will make the Seattle protest look like the Teletubbies by comparison.
Some people I know are going for fun to break a few heads.
These are not poor downtrodden farmers in India with one bullock and
ten kids to feed, but ex-students with jobs, mortgages, cars and a lifestyle
none of them known for their altruism. Some think of their protesting
as a natural extension of football hooliganism. The anarchist will use
the event to further their own rather uncomfortable aims - the genuine
protesters will find their heads broken along with the mob who dog them.
The Czech authorities have deployed 11,000 police with riot gear and
have 5000 army troops on stand-by. They already have evacuated pensioners
from the town centre and sent schoolchildren on holiday
to a rather muddy campsite. (Forever they will associate the World Bank
with wet holidays).
There is a security zone around the conference centre. Shops are boarded
up and closed. At the border guards are carefully scrutinizing passports
and refusing anyone who doesnt seem like a genuine tourist. The
protesters rightly point for this being reminiscent of Soviet style
politics, but the criticism isnt fair. There are people going
to this event with hostile intentions. They want to see repression and
bloodshed on TV. The want the IMF and World Bank to be associated with
repression. They believe that the IMF and World bank are organisations
that are American dominated, actually promote poverty and alienation
and are guilty of not wanting to relieve the third world of their huge
debts; debts they they encouraged them to incur. With a background of
rising oil oppresses, the Euro falling and third world debt rising,
their is a risk of inflation returning to blight our lives and with
it comes a recession.
We are about to enter familiar territory, and alienation of the worlds
poor by the richer nations can only get worse, particularly as the world
populations are rising in the places where they can least afford it
and often lack the will to deal with it. Prague could be a battle ground,
heads may be broken, but lets hope the anger is controlled, the
IMF and World Bank are better at listening than the British or German
governments right now.
Right now the protests are loud, Molotov cocktails are being
On Tuesday 26th of September the BBC was reporting:
A third group of protesters reached within a few hundreds metres
of the rear of the complex before being beaten back by police armed
with water cannon, tear gas and police dogs. A BBC cameraman said he
saw several people who were injured by stones, including a photographer
with a head injury, and several arrests.
The protesters say their aim is the abolition of the two institutions,
which they blame for growing poverty, inequality and environmental deterioration
around the world. There are reports that a MacDonalds restaurant has
been attacked by anarchists.