by Sam North

The IMF has said it cannot guarantee that delegates will be able to leave the building once the demonstrations start.

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One doesn’t 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 Prague’s 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 it’s 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 doesn’t seem like a genuine tourist. The protesters rightly point for this being reminiscent of Soviet style politics, but the criticism isn’t 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 let’s 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 thrown.
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.’

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