Report from the Prague September 2000 World Bank riot

Blue block ready to charge

This is my personal report on the demonstrations in Prague to shut down the IMF/World Bank on Tuesday September 26 2000. I marched near the front of the anarchist (blue) section of the demonstration.

1. Prelude

The demonstration formed up in a square in central Prague around 2km from the IMF congress centre. A meeting at the Convergence centre (a large industrial space in the suburbs) of some 3,000 people had taken place the afternoon before to discuss the plan to blockade the congress. The Czech organisers of the demonstration (INPEG) had decided to allow the delegates into the conference centre and then blockade it in order to prevent them leaving and attending a special Opera that evening. [Translation of draft into German] [Translation of this version into French]

The convergence center for S26 Prague

A view of the convergance centre on the Saturday before the protest composed of three joined pictures. The open building on the left is where the final assembly of 2,000 took part on the Monday, the central building behind the trees and vans was used to prepare banners and the building on the right was used for lots of smaller meetings (eg individual blocks) and also as an information centre. All weekend there were cops on the road this picture is taken from checking peoples passports on their way to and from the centre. [Source: author]

However, at the meeting it became apparent that no plan had been made to shut down the congress centre metro station inside the police cordon. It was very obvious that the delegates would be brought in and out this way (and later the media reported they were). The planned blockade would therefore be ineffective. However the INPEGs response to questions about the metro was to say that we couldn't shut this down as ordinary citizens needed to use the line. There was little time for detailed discussion at thist meeting but when one of the 'Ya Basta' delegates announced that they would try and push through the police line and reach the centre this received an enthusastic response (indicated by waving your fingers above and to the side of your head).

Attempts to get an anarchist block together were fairly haphazard with the first and only meeting being called for a time after the final convergence meeting. However the day before a number of us had started to put around the idea that we should march as a 'Red and Black Block' in the blue section of the march. The Blue block meeting was at the same time and in the same venue as the anarchist meeting, in the large enclosed industrial space. The accoutics here made discussion very difficult with the result that two meetings happened, the main blue block to one side and the Czech anarchists who would head up the blue block alongside them. It was decided that rather than stopping at our appointed blockade point (which would have left us in a vunerable position between cliffs and a river), we would march as close as we could get to the Congress centre and then attempt to non-violently push through the police lines. Napoleon said a battle plan never survives first contact with the enemy, as we shall see below.

The stratergy for the day was that the march would split into three colour sections, blue would blockade the valley, yellow would blockade the bridge directly above the valley and pink would go on a long march around the centre to block the back exits. In addition another group would attempt to blockade the hotels in the morning to delay the delegates and a small group would start off behind the conference centre in case the pink march was blocked en route. Finally a 'pink and silver' group around the pink Samba band would move between the various blockades behind the centre.

Heading up the yellow block would be the Italian group 'Ya Basta', which had been delayed 24 hours on the border along with 2 other Italian groups as the police had tried to stop 17 of them coming in. This was because they were on a (FBI) list of people who had attended the Seattle demonstration, the FBI had been in Prague for months advising the Czech police on how best to disrupt the demonstration. With the train from Italy this stratergy back fired as all of the 1,000 people with them said 'either we all get in or we all stay here' and proceeded to build barricades on the train lines. This a solidarity march in Prague and media attention forced the border police were forced to give in and late on Monday those from Italy arrived.

Like the anarchist block there intention was to try and push through the police lines. They had come prepared with suits of padded 'armour' and helmets that those in the front would wear to wade off police blows. Although the attempt to stop 'Ya Basta' crossing the border received the most attention the same thing was going on with other groups and individuals. One hundred people from the Swedish 'Syndicalist Youth Federation' spent ten hours on the border before they were allowed in. Many individuals were refused but the more determined of them obtained hiking maps and crossed the border on foot.

In Prague itself low level police harassment of activists had gone on throughout the weekend. People travelling to and from the convergence centre were stopped by police and told to produce their identity documents. Some Czech activists were harassed after demonstrations out of sight of the media and legal observers. The anti-fascist demonstration on the Saturday was infiltrated by undercover agents dressed (badly) as demonstrators. In addition we knew on Tuesday we faced 11,000 police with riot equipment, dogs, stun grenades, tear gas and water cannon.

Some scenes early on Tuesday as people gather for the protest. [Source: author]

Views of the start

The conference centre itself stood at the top of a steep hill overlooking the city and was unapproachable from most angles due to sheer cliffs. It's choice by the World Bank was quite symbolic as it had been built by the pre 1989 ruling class as the venue for their party congresses. Their clear message was 'we are in charge now'.

Both yellow and blue were headed up by groups who had stated their intention to push through the police lines. Pink who had the longest march but much easier access to the centre with level ground and wide roads included the pacifists and was supposed to include the majority of the Leninist parties.

One side note worth mentioning is that many of the Leninist parties chose to march in Prague with red flags emblazoned with hammer and sickles. Flags associated with the Soviet occupation and the old regime are hardly 'popular'. The Czech media on the day of the protest had been sure to include front page pictures of them. As the yellow block formed up in front of us the Eastern European anarchists greeted each of these banners with a chant that obviously translated as 'Bolshevism is Fascism'. I didn't join in as apart from the difficulty of chanting in a language you don't know I don't feel the equation is accurate even if in the context of Eastern Europe it's an understandable reaction.

As we gathered in the square it was obvious that the hoped for 20,000 plus protesters would not materialise. However, we probably had over 12,000. In this account I've tried hard to give accurate figures, I've seen some mainstream media report 15,000 and others as low as 5,000. The march was headed by pink, followed by the yellow and then blue blocks. When we reached the first splitting point the yellow and pink sections continued and blue split off and headed for the approachs to the conference centre from the valley beside the river. Later yellow was to split from the back and take a second route to the centre, leaving pink to encircle the rear of the centre. As we shall see thanks to the sabotage of some Leninist groups in particular the International Socialists this was not quite what happened.

Blue block starting to form at S26 Prague

The head of the Blue block starting to form up before moving out onto the road. Visable faces have been blurred in this picture and it is composed of two pictures taken 5 secs apart joined along the vertical blurred line. FSA-IWA banner (left) reads "Anarchist communism - an alternative for world in crisis", AFA Germany banner (centre) reads "Resistance knows no borders"
[Source: author]

I had chosen to march with the anarchist block that headed up (and indeed comprised the majority of) the blue march. The front of this was taken up by Czech anarchists, followed by anarchists from the other Eastern European countries numbering perhaps a thousand in all. Holding the banners down one side of the march and taking position behind the eastern Europeans were anarchists from all the western European countries and a large number of autonomen from Germany. This anarchist block probably numbered at least 3,000 but we may have had as many as 5,000. An exact estimate is difficult as I could never see the back of the block from the front and counting numbers in such a tightly packed formation (see below) is difficult. There were also large numbers behind the anarchist block and, of course, a least a thousand anarchists who choose to march with their affinity groups in other sections of the march. This last number could be larger and is based on the number of anarchist flags, badges and other marks of identification I saw in the other sections.

At the head of the blue section we marched in tightly packed rows with our arms linked and banners stretched across the front and down the sides of the march. The majority of those on the blue march wore masks to protect their identity and offer some limited protection from tear gas. Some of those at the front also wore construction helmets to protect their heads and many had gas masks. Six or seven rows back marched a medical team also equipped with gas masks and helmets as we didn't expect the police would respect the prominent red crosses marked on their bags and satchels.

 

Anarchists at S26 protests Prague

The blue block continues to form up on the road, note the IS/SWP placards with the tops(party name) torn off, a common feature in this section of the march, this visable section is mostly Eastern European anarchists [Source: author]

I chose not to wear a mask and to speak to any press looking for interviews about why we marching that day - making it clear this was only my view as we had no agreed press spokes people. I had spoken at the counter summit over the weekend so this seemed like the most useful contribution that I could make. It also means that I can report on events with more safety then the more active participants.

On the day the Workers Solidarity Movement and other anarchist groups also distributed 5,000 copies of an international anarchist statement from a number of anarchist groups around the world. It explained why we were taking part in / supporting the Prague action and what alternative we had. The full text of this statement, which was distributed in a four language leaflet including Czech, can be found at http://flag.blackened.net/revolt/inter/s26.html

And there off

As the march set off our block chanted a huge range of slogans, mostly Czech but also in French, English and Spanish. The most popular included 'international solidarity', 'smash, smash, smash the IMF' and 'no pasaran'. It was quite a feeling being part of this massive block of anarchists with people from every corner of Europe and beyond marching towards what we knew would be a tough confrontation with the police.

 

Black block starting to march

The Blue block starts to march, the blue flags and banner are at the front, the red banner forms a side to the block to restrict movement into and out of the block from the side. Most of the fron back to the Black flag with the circled A is made up of Czechs, that flag marks the start of a couple of hundred Polish anarchists. Behind them come more Central / Eastern Europeans and then in no particular order Germans, Swedes, Greek, Turks, Spainards, Britons, French, Belgians, Italians, etc. [Source: author] Below a view of the march minues the front section as it leaves the square (the twin towers of the church are in the background) - this picture is from indymedia

Blue block leaves square

The tactic of the march splitting off from the back worked beautifully, catching the police and media who were clustered at the front of the march by surprise. Now we wound our way down into the valley below the conference centre. Once the march split up we jogged for a while and then, in order to avoid breaking our formation, slowed to a fast march trying to get as close to the IMF as we could before the police could react. In particular, we were concerned that they could trap us at the bottom of the valley where we needed to take a tunnel under a railway line. In fact the police later admitted they had been caught off guard by the splitting of the march - despite the fact that maps of the planned split and final destination points had been circulating amongst protesters since at least the day before.

In the event though the police failed to react and we got closer and closer to the IMF building. Finally, we stood at the bottom of a steep hill [Slavojova Street?] slopping up towards the centre. 150m away at the top we could see riot police behind a line of police barricades. On the right four storey buildings stood on the street, on the left a park opened up in a funnel shape with the wide end at the top of the hill. We advanced rapidly up this hill and then stopped about 30m from the waiting police line. Here we waited for a minute to allow everyone to form up and remove the banners at the side of the march. At this point the non-combatants (including myself) moved into the park. Then the front charged.

Blue block ready to charge

Above: The blue block prepares to charge, this is almost certainly the second or subsequent charges as the police barriers are already scattered and a haze of tear gas is in the air to the left of the picture. The police line is out of view to the left. All these pictures show the battle at the top of the hill [Source: Indymedia]

Below: The blue block charging the police as viewed from the side, the police line is beyond the man in the red press top on the left, the park is visable beyond the block. [Source: Indymedia]

Blue at top

For the next couple of minutes row after row hurled themselves against the riot shields, before moving to the side as the next row flung themselves forward. The shield wall started to buckle and then break and demonstrators started breaking though to the crest of the hill, perhaps less than 100 m from the centre. The police brought up a water cannon and the first hail of stun grenades detonated amongst the front rows. Then the police baton charged forcing those who had scaled the fence to hastily retreat least they be trapped.

As the baton charge reached the fence it was driven back by a hail of cobble stones and by demonstrators armed with sticks and protected with helmets. More demonstrators charging through the park itself began to scale the wall at the end nearest the congress or to try and force down the doors in the wall. Other observers indicated that at least some of them succeeded in this and got within 50m of the IMF before being driven back by riot police. According to the Prague Post at this time the police were trapped between the two groups, they quote their commander Briza as follows "What the protesters showed [in that incident] I have never seen in my life, I tell you that in that moment ... I, for the first time in my life, really felt fear -- not just for myself."

At the top of the hill a furious battle was being waged by the anarchists. The police were now firing round after round of tear gas filled stun grenades into the massed ranks below them. The water cannon continually housed from left to right against the front rows who had some protection from the large blue PVC banner that headed up the march. From the park above the road I could see someone holding a massive anarchist flag in the centre of the row, soaked and deep in tear gas but refusing to be driven back. A second massive charge began, driving the police back before being again driven back itself as the police brought up two Armoured Personnel Carriers and counter charged. Half a dozen or so Molotov cocktails were hurled into the police lines which brought them to a halt but had little other effect as they were obviously wearing flame proof suits. According to Czech TV the engine of one of the APC's was briefly set on fire allowing someone to spray paint a circled A on the front of it.

Water cannon

Above: Police and water cannon facing the blue block. The edge of the sign on the bottom right is the same sign that can be seen in the pictures above at bottom left. The blue ball in the centre had been pushed from the start point to the top of the hill. The central flames are one of the half dozen molotov cocktails that were thrown. [Source: Indymedia]

Below: Again the same bit of street, a little bit later. Two Amoured Personnel Carriers have come up to protect the watercannon (the top of which is visable to the rear). The riot police have sought cover in the trees beyond the APC's. [Source: Indymedia]

APCs advance

At this point stalemate was developing along the barricade with the police being driven back whenever they tried to cross it by stick welding demonstrators and hails of the now plentiful cobblestones. [There is some suspicion that the first cobble stones were thrown by police 'Agent provoceteurs in the crowd - if so this turned out to be a mistake on their part]. Volley after volley of stun grenades and tear gas rained down, the noise apparently interrupting the speeches inside the hall. As the battle raged across the fence more and more demonstrators were coming to the rear injured or suffering the effects of the tear gas. In the front lines demonstrators could be seen wearing captured police riot helmets and wielding captured shields and batons.

Meanwhile, somewhere above us the front of the Yellow march had reached the police lines. The Italian 'Ya Basta!' collectives who headed the yellow march had come prepared to push through the police lines with body armour. There are plenty of reports elsewhere about this. The other real attempt to penetrate police line was carried out by the 'Pink and Silver' march which, although weak in numbers, did manage to catch the police by surprise and break through on at least one occasion.

The pink march which was the first out of the square doesn't seem to have made any effort to break through - most of the Leninist groups were on this, presumably in a bid to get their banners on the media by being in the first section to march. The pink section was probably under strength as the Leninist 'International Socialists' had lied about the number of people they were bringing at the planning meetings. They put themselves down as contributing 2,500 to the pink section but in fact had about 1,000 on the day, this may have contributed to the need for blue to send re-enforcement's (below).

[Later note: In fact the situation turned out to be worse then this. The International Socialists and a number of other Leninist groups had decided to unilaterally ignore the agreed plan to surround the centre. They had argued at INPEG committee meetings earlier in the year for a single march on the centre (which of course could not have shut it down). They failed to win this argument and so had betrayed the rest of the protesters on the day by simply marching directly onto the bridge themselves (in the yellow sector) instead of continuing into the Pink sector as they were supposed to. As the bridge was a very narrow front this resulted in a huge amount of people stuck behind 'Ya Basta!' with nothing to do except sit around.

The IS strategy seems to have been purely based on trying to get their placards on the evening news - they were furious afterwards that they failed. At the time they demanded to be allowed up alongside Ya Basta' for this reason but when later in the day Ya Basta pulled out and the IS was invited to take their place in the front they refused to do so. Presumably they wanted the press coverage but were not willing to actually play their part.. Ya Basta in withdrawing from the front line announced that the delegates were still inside so the blocade must continue. But others at the scene report that the IS were telling people to leave the bridge for the Opera despite the fact that the agreed plan was to only move to the Opera once it was known that the blockade was broken.

At the Opera they held a rally of their members which got a little news coverage (presumably why they had moved there) but refused to return to the bridge. Then later when it was known the Opera was cancelled (sometime around 5pm) they didn't tell their members this but kept them there to 6.30. The section of the Blue Block that had arrived at the Opera by this point tried to get people to march on the third target, the exhibition centre where a banquet was being held but the IS refused to implement this part of the plan either and instead marched into Wencelas square before dispersing (some of their members were arrested in the police riot there). Meanwhile only around 200 anarchists marched to the Exhibition centre but the police, probably mistaking them as the vanguard of a bigger force, panicked on their arrival, cancelled the banquest and started shipping the delegates out packed onto buses.

The leadership of the IS is not to be trusted and the bulk of the membership not only went along with these betrayal like sheep on the day but in the aftermath are defending it.]

Map of battle

This map gives an approximation of the route I took (Black line with arrows). We arrived at the top left side of the map and advanced up the hill to the centre left Blue box at around 1pm. By around 3.30pm we had been pushed off the hill and the front had penetrated to the centre right blue box with a series of barricades built along the route of the railway line (line that crosses river at top left). Some time after this we marched down to the river and around the centre nearly reaching the centre (below) at around 4.30pm. This is where the pink march should have been. Finally we moved to the bottom right and from there back towards the city centre. The dotted line that runs past the centre on the right hand side is the dual carrigeway, the 'Yellow' box at the top is the point on the bridge reached by 'Ya Basta'. This all happened far above our heads. The M beside the centre is the metro station used to ferry the delegates out to the suburbs under the protesters.

The battle of congress hill

The top of the hill in blue section settled into stalemate. Some protesters tried to flank the narrow riot police front by going though thickly planted pine trees that ran from it up along the wall of the park. They were driven out as volleys of stun grenades and tear gas were fired into the trees at point blank range. However, it appears that further up in the park a group of about 100 succeeded in breaking down a door in the wall and making the first penetration to within 50m of the centre before being driven back by riot police with dogs.

On the left, the frontal assault on police lines continued, but made no progress because of the water cannon and APC's. More and more people were streaming back with injuries. The police demolished their barricade and the APC's edged forwards. A gap opened up between the lines of riot police and the demonstrators as they tried to stay just out of water cannon range, occasionally dashing in to let fly with a volley of cobbles or with paint bombs at the windscreen of the water cannon in the hope of blinding it.

The riot police moved into this gap and the water cannon inched forwards behind them, opening up a gap into which more of the riot police poured. Eventually, enough had come through for them to attempt their first mass charge of the day against the people in the park (these people were mostly watching rather then participating). As the charge was anticipated most people made a hasty retreat to the back of the parkfollowed by a rather dangerous scramble down a steep wooded slope. The trick was to try and use the tree below you to arrest your decent without colliding with the person who had just bounced off it. A number of people stayed in the park and continued to hold the lower end against the riot police to prevent the road below being flanked.

Gas is in the air

Above: This view is looking straight up the hill towards the spot in the last four pictures. The heavy haze of tear gas is in the air and people seem to be retreating calmly down the hill. [Source: Indymedia]

Below: Concussion grenades and tear gas explodes amongst protesters, to the right it appears a barricade has been constructed although this may also be the barrier in front of the police [Source: Indymedia]

Stun grendades

At this point returning to the intersection at the bottom of the valley, I observed that a couple of hundred riot police had formed up down the other side street parallel with the run running up the hill. While the battle was still raging around the corner on the road up to the hill I remained at the intersection below watching events unfold.

Initially, the only obstacle in front of this second squad of riot police was 100 or so people sitting on the road. There was an obvious danger that if the police charged those still fighting on the hill would be cut off. Therefore some demonstrators started to tear down signs and tree branches to construct a barricade in front of those sitting down. Others stood in a line facing the riot police but without moving towards them. At some point those sitting down stood up and moved on - later the riot police brought up a second water cannon into this street.

In the meantime, a freight train arrived on the railway line running parallel with and indeed forming a wall along the park at the bottom of the valley. This was somehow stopped and a number of demonstrators climbed onto it and triggered the brakes by , opening the fail safe break pipe effectively blocking one side of this railway line.This was done in order to prevent moving trains being on the track if a riot police charge forced people onto the track.

Back at the intersection, a river of water was now running down from the hill and around the corner, presumably from the water cannon. The constant detonation of stun grenades and the occasional billow of tear gas confirmed that a furious battle was still being waged. On the side street the barricade was rising and a further barricade was being constructed on the road through the park that connected both roads. In front of the first barricade a couple of demonstrators stood waving anarchist flags and even bits of captured police riot equipment at the police lines. The windows of what looked like a bank or insurance office behind the barricade were smashed with demonstrators climbing in and passing out more material for the barricade.

Meanwhile, in the park at the bottom of the hill the medical teams were performing first aid on head wounds, broken fingers and arms. I heard one person being advised to go to a hospital. Of a less serious nature there was a constant stream of people who had been in the centre of tear gas bursts and needed their eyes washed out with water. I would be inclined to agree with the Blue column medics who left comments on the indy media site to the effect that one of the most remarkable aspects was the discipline and co-operation of these anarchists who had come from all over Europe and beyond. But the role of the medics was particularly heroic as it was obvious that the police had singled them out for 'special treatment'. I talked to one medic wh, when helping a local 50 year old resident who had been hit by tear gas, had been repeatedly blasted by the watercannon as he sought to aid the old man. More disturbingly still, he reported that an ambulance had refused to take the old man to hospital.

Up the street

Above: This view again looks up the street towards the fighting at the top. This is perhaps 45 minutes into the confrontation, I've enhanced the top central section of the picture to make the tear gas in front of the trees more visable. To the right behind the trees a steep hill leads into the park. [Source:Author]

Below: This level street is parallel with the street above the bulk of the fighting. A large block of riot police have advanced down it, threatening to cut off the people if the street in the picture above. The congress centre is visable at the top of the hill at the end of the street. The picture near the start of the blue block charging from the side was presumably taken from the street at the end by the trees that connects [to the right] with the street where the fighting was taking place. The two are only about 50m apart. [Source: Author]

Riot line in Prague

During the demonstrations that weekend, plain clothes secret police men were pointed out to me. Once they were pointed out they were very recognisable by their dress alone. While in the park I observed a group of three of them standing at the back of the demonstrators being driven off by a group of activists who had spotted them. Later the Czech papers published photos of more of these characters, dressed like demonstrators (including raggy balaclavas) arresting people. Rumours from other sections insisted that some more of these characters actually initiated property destruction at other 'quiet' sections that day. I've no idea of the truth of this but they were very definetly present.

The barricade in the side street was set on fire to hold back the riot police. Meanwhile, news came through that one of the gates in the pink sector had not been blockaded and re-enforcements were requested to block it. This would involved a long and vulnerable journey down the side of the conference centre between a cliff and the river. The pink sector was where the International Socialists were meant to be, I now know they delibretly left this area unguarded forcing us to split our numbers at the height of the battle.

The black clad 'anarchist samba band' formed up and led approximetly 300 people off to attempt this blockade. This caused some dissension as some of those remaining felt that everyone should stay where we were and defend the existing barricades.

Shortly after they left, the front of the water cannon finally showed itself around the corner at the bottom of the hill. It had taken maybe two hours for the riot police to drive the demonstrators 200m down a steep hill. Now however, they had reached the wide open park at the bottom where the railway line and cliff acted to form a funnel with our line of retreat at the narrow end of the funnel. As hundreds of riot police formed up at the wide end we began a slow retreat that threatened to turn into a rout when they charged, No one fancied being caught in the crush that might form in the narrow end of the funnel. Also the charge was coming diagonally towards the railway line, those of us at this side feared being trapped against it.

After a brief panic, a lot of people slowed again to a walk. In my opinion it was at this point that up to a thousand people decided they had enough and left for the city centre. Then, the narrow end of the park was reached and the task of constructing barricades was resumed. I decided to move down to the blockade by the river, in the hope of getting some food as I hadn't eaten so far that day.

This wasn't possible as all the shops in sight were shut. I didn't fancy going past the twenty or so cops present about 300m down the road in order to find an open one. Our numbers had very visibly thinned, about 100 people mounted a half hearted blockade at this point and built a barricade of sorts across it. At one point a group wheeled a car down which because it lacked two tires it looked like it might have been abandoned. They wanted to turn it over onto its roof but others disagreed, arguing that it was almost as effective upright and that way the owner could recover it only slightly damaged. In the end it stayed upright and later, as we were forced to abandon the area someone sprayed 'sorry' on the windscreen.

After resting here for a while I headed back to where the sound of grenade detonations and a thick pall of smoke told me the action was continuing. I was heading up towards the park on the inside of the railway line when a small group coming the opposite direction warned us there was nothing but burning barricades and hundreds of riot police that way. I headed back to the intersection at the railway bridge just as about a hundred people came charging down the other side of the railway line. At this stage the blue blockade in this areas seemed to have broken up into several groups of 100 or more, each constructing barricades and harrassing the advancing riot police.

In turned out that somewhere two junctions up the riot police had just stormed another barricade and this group were fleeing back from there. At the next intersection 150 m away we could see another group of 100 or so hurriedly constructing a new barricade using advertising hoardings torn off the walls. Then in a surreal touch, a granny in an old beat up Skoda drove into the area, carefully weaving around the groups of demonstrators. She reached a barricade which blocked her way ahead and, seeing the burning barricades up the street to the right and the barricade by the river to the left, thought better of it and made her way out again.

The group at the intersection began a hurried discussion about what to do next. It was obvious that the area they were in was being closed in on and that they were been driven slowly back towards the river. It was now about 4.00 PM. News came through that the blockade had been broken elsewhere. I hindsight I suspect this story was false or related to the area in the pink sector that was still open. Most people wanted to re-group and head into town before they were sealed in. The discussion broke up suddenly when a limousine suddenly appeared less then 50m away in a side street. About 50 people charged it and as it hurriedly reversed back the way it had came threw cobbles at it and hit it with sticks. Then the debate resumed.

It was decided to first try and find the section of the blue group that had gone with the Samba band down along the river as they feared otherwise they would be cut off once the riot police hit the river. A cyclist headed up to the burning barricade to tell those there that they were withdrawing and the rest of us set off down to the group still blockading the road at the river. A steady drift of people had been heading into town throughout this period so less then 200 started on the long march down between the river and the cliff. Others may have stayed behind.

The IMF congress centre stood on top of the high cliff to our left, on the site of an old fortress. To our right was the river and ahead the road passed through a rock archway that ran to the river. As we neared the arch we could see two figures standing directly on top of it, perhaps 100m above us. Those at the front started a chant of 'jump, jump' first in English and then in Czech as it was realised the two figures were riot cops, put there in case anyone tried to scale the sheer rock face. Above us a police helicopter circled, presumably reporting our position to those on the ground.

The barricade behind us meant that the road was clear of traffic, with only one or two groups of locals watching us as we walked past. After about 1500m we reached a fork that turned up the hill to the right, towards the congress centre and into a residential area. The streets here were quiet, the weather fine and sunny and before long we came across an open supermarket where people stocked up on food and water. The water I had brought to wash tear gas from eyes was by now finished, the hot weather made all this marching around thirsty work.

Our little column continued up the hill. We were now clearly in the sector assigned to Pink but as yet we had not come across any other protesters. Finally, up the hill ahead of us, we spied another small group just beyond a series of residential tower blocks. The presence of blue flags confirmed that we had found at least some of those we were looking for. As we approached the entrance to the residential blocks (a side street running up the hill) a number of fancy cars suddenly accelerated out and shot down a side street. In retrospect, these were almost certainly delegates making their get - away through the last unblocked entrance.

Visiting the congress

I was too exhausted to pay much attention to what was going on at this point and collapsed under a tree. A guy appeared on a bike and told everyone that the road that went up behind the tower blocks was the last unblocked entrance to the IMF congress. Somewhat reluctantly I followed the little band. once more led by the Samba band, up the road. At this stage I figured the wisest thing was to get out before the police went on the rampage in particular as I considered the dwindling band had little chance of breaking though police lines. How wrong I was!

After about 200m the road reached a ridge on the hill and headed straight for the congress centre. This was my first clear view of it, this time more or less on the same level and not up some impossible hill. It was 200m away. What's more, all that lay between us and the centre was a single line of police barricades on the other side of an intersection 100m away. This amazed me as we were still being followed by the helicopter. From later interviews published with the police it seems the mass assult had dis-orientated them and their command structure had broken down a little. They were to actually blame this on someone managing to jam their radio communications! I suspect the real reason was panic.

That sight of that narrow line of cops in front of the centre was enough to get the remaining 150 or so masked up people to charge the thin police line. They stood and watched for all of two seconds and then turned and ran, right back to the centre, around the corner and out of sight. Knowing that a massive counter attack was inevitable I walked only a little beyond the intersection. Those at the front reached the centre itself, and proceeded to lob cobblestones at the building and at the delegates watching from the balconies above. [in earlier versions I had thought the building we reached was the hotel beseide the congress centre but in fact it was the congress centre].

Behind me, someone at the intersection yelled 'quick, police come back'. I returned to the intersection and sure enough a couple of hundred riot police were jogging towards us. Those at the hotel started to sprint back down the street and I wasn't long in joining them. As I looked over my shoulder I saw a water cannon come zooming around the corner by the hotel accompanied by hundreds more riot police. At the end of the street they joined the riot police we'd seen jogging up the side street and yet another water cannon.

One big disadvantage that the riot police have is that because of all their armour they can't run for very long or very fast. All day long people had been running back 50m which was enought to open a small gap and then stopping to see if the police were still chasing. And people behind the front had been diggin up cobble stones and leaving them in piles at these intervals so the police could be discouraged from continuing the chase. This sort of tactic prevented the police routing us early in the day. So when we rounded the corner and reached the top of a very long very steep grassy back that ran down by the tower blocks to the road we had originally come up we paused. Less than 50m away the water cannon and all the riot police were pouring around the corner.

I charged down the path that zig zagged down the bank with everyone else. Once the riot police gained the top of the hill above us they proceeded to lob stun grenades and fire tear gas down at us as we scrambled down the slope. We made it the bottom and looked around for the next place to run. Some people didn't wait and just headed straight down a street that ran directly away from the building.

Once things had calmed down we headed back to the intersection that led up to the side road that led to the centre. Hundreds of riot police were still visible up this road so we decided to keep moving. At the next intersection we met up with some more missing sections of the blue block, and collectively decided that we should get the hell out of the area before the riot cops came down after us. As we moved up the hill we finally met up with some of the pink sector and I chatted with some people I had met at the counter summit about the days events so far. Moving on we came across the first pink section action, a non-violent blockade on the duel carriage way that passed the centre. The bridge that Ya Basta had tried to force their way across was the same duel carriageway at the opposite side of the centre.

There was a tense moment as our segment of the blue block arrived, mostly masked up, flying anarchist flags and many carrying cobble stones. The pacifist blockade were obviously not keen on this element breaking up the friendly atmosphere they had generated with the police. At our approach they started up a chant of 'please sit down - no violence'. A few of the more hot headed types on the blue side threw a couple of cobble stones over the heads of the pacifists sitting on the road at the line of robo cops beyond. Fortunately, they were quickly restrained the cooler heads in the blue block before the police could use this as an excuse to charge.

A row broke out between a couple of the crazier blue elements and the leaders of the pink pacifists sitting on the road. They seemed to consist of a scattering of Leninists at the back and a lot of very young Swedes at the front. I thought it was a bit out of order to embroil them in a violent confrontation they didn't want and as I was completly exhausted I decided to sit down with them, at least for a while.

Although things remained tense for a while, no more projectiles were thrown. The tensest moment was probably when some twit in the pacifist mob started a group singing 'give peace a chance' - I felt sure this would provoke a reaction from people who had been getting battered by tear gas, stun grenades, truncheons and dogs for several hours at this point. But luckily they stopped and began to sing something more soothing. Some of the rowdier blue elements moved off out of sight to the right while the anarchist flags stayed back down the road a bit. The pacifists kept up the chants of 'no violence -please sit down' for a bit longer but eventually seemed happy enough that the immediate threat had moved on.

Something was obviously going on out of sight to the right as the same chants were heard and then a big squad of riot police went sprinting out from behind the barrier to return a couple of minutes later.

I stayed with the pacifist protest for half an hour or so, in part because the police suddenly brought up a water cannon and switched the white helmeted riot police in the front row for a bunch of identical robo cops clad in black helmets. I guessed at that time these black helmets were some sort of heavy squad and figured I'd stay around and if necessary get arrested here if they waded into the pacifists.

The leaders of the pacifist pink section went forward to talk to some of the leaders of the riot police. He then announced there was to be an affinity meeting to one side and that each affinity group should send its spoke (delegte) over to it. The cops relaxed a little and resumed an 'on standby' look rather then the 'about to charge' one they had a few minutes earlier. Then the black helmeted cops were taken out and replaced with the white helmeted ones. At this point the pacifists actually started a round of applause - I'm forced to assume this was for the riot cops!! Amazingly the constant sound of stun grenades and the clouds of tear gas coming from the other sectors still left them in a cop friendly mode.

Later, I found out that at one point there were negotiations with one of the blockades to allow the catering and other workers out of the centre. I guess this was probably what I saw but I headed off at this point as all the clapping had convinced me that these were not really the people I wanted to get arrested with.

Subsequently I have discovered that the eposiode above has become quite controversal with a claim that the Blue block had thrown cobble stones over the heads of the pacifists (who were Norwegians not Swedes) in an effort to get the police to attack them. There is very little truth in this claim, as related above the Blue section in fact was fairly disciplined and stopped the couple of hot heads attacking. However I suppose the people sitting on the road just saw the blue block appear from no where and didn't realise the manic state of some of the particapants was due to the events they had gone through in the minutes before they arrived.

It was also around this point that the story began to circulate that the police had told the delegates that the night at the opera was cancelled as they could not guarantee their protection in the city centre. As the stated objective of the blockade had been to stop this opera we had succeeded - not as it happens, by a non violent sit down - the delegates would have got out underground on the metro - but by wearing the police down.

As I continued on my long march around the centre I caught up with the blue block once more. This time they were fighting a pitched battle on a side road that ran off a major road with a tram lines. Numbers had again grown to perhaps 300 but it still seemed like a foolishly small number to be taking on 11,000 riot police.

On the other side of the main road a large number of Czechs were watching the riot in progress. Suddenly, somewhere down the road from me, a car deliberately swerved into a group of protesters by the side of the road. this may possibly have been an attack by a fascist, they had been hanging around looking for victims all weekend. Whatever the cause, the results were interesting - the Czechs at the other side of the road all started shouting and pointing out the offending car. This enabled a small group prising up cobble stones further up the street to stone the car as it sped away.

After this, protesters tore up the long railings that separated the road from the pavement and moved them to block off the road itself. At this stage I saw a 'pathological pacifist' giving an interview in English (from the accent he was from the US) to a TV crew about how all these rioters were nothing to do with the protests - a line that was to be repeated by some of the IMPEG organisers afterwards. Meanwhile a couple of hundred metres away a few hundred of these rioters who had presumably sprouted overnight from the ground continued the running battle with the police.

At this stage night was beginning to fall and there was a clear feeling we should lift the blockade and get into town before the inevitable police riot broke out. The anarchist Samba band re-appeared and just about everyone started to fall in behind them. Something interesting happened at this point because the numbers that marched into the city centre rapidly grew to about 2,000 or so again with all the visible flags and banners being anarchist ones.

Leaving the barricades in place we marched into the centre in one big column. The Samba band played (very well) at the front and this combined with the car free streets turned the whole march into a victory carnival. As we went past the residential buildings on either side of the streets people came out on their balconies to watch this strange procession and quite a few people waved at us. My exhaustion lifted, suddenly it felt like we were in control of the streets and indeed we were - except for the ever present helicopter, not a single cop was visible for the entire march.

As darkness fell, a fire breather started up somewhere near the front of the march and the band slipped into an easy rhythm. In the breaks the crowd punched one fist into the air and shouted 'hey'. As we came upon stalled trams the drivers rang their bells in greeting. It all came to resemble something out of an Eisenstein film. At the sides of the march masked individuals demolished the windows of as banks we passed them but overall the day long spirit of confrontation had faded into the joy of victory.

[In fact we were a little premature - we had forgotten about the plan to march on the exhibition centre but in the event another section of the blue block that had earlier left for the Opera was to do this and result in it also being shut down].

Wenceslas Square

After a long march we arrived at the top of Wenceslas Square where McDonalds was swiftly trashed by some at the front of the march. [These might have been the work of undercover cops to provide an excuse for the later police riot - this was later suggested by some Czech newsapers] There was a brief retreat when some police charged up the square which quickly turned into a counter charge when it was realised there were only twenty of them. People flocked into the square to and mingled with the Czechs, tourists and other demonstrators that were already there. At the top of the square the terrace of the National Museum was packed with people who had turned out to see the sight.

Some time after we had arrived a new march of a few hundred arrived on the streets leading to the top of the square. This initially received a cheer until it was realised that those at the front were chanting 'no violence'. It had obviously come all this way from the pink blockade to police the rest of us. They were generally ignored and I was amused to see the same US 'pathological pacifist' I had seen talking to the TV crew back at the last blockade making a big show of standing in front of the McDonalds as if he was protecting it - a pointless exercise as there was little left to protect and no one to protect it from - unless that is you count the camera crew who were filming him.

[Later note: Someone who was part of the group above sent me the following which suggests the reason they arrived is both more complex and better then the version I present above. They siad they had argued to go to the square as
"a) act as a example for non-violent action (in retrospect a naive idea, but at the time it seemed quite alright to me - I might also have shifted my ideas on this issue a little by now) by sitting down and chanting 'no violence',
b) act as a de-escalating force when the police attack, which was clearly imminent, would begin (if point a) was naive, then this was absolutely infantile!), and
c) (my favourite, now and then) show solidarity with our fellow demonstrators, even if some of us disagreed with their strategies. The suggestion was accepted by the remainder of the march, and we sat down below the museum"

I'd decided it was time to go home and started to head down the square to the metro station at the bottom. As mentioned above we had forgotten about the exhibition centre but as it turned out the police were so paniced that the arrival of a mere 200 anarchists caused them to cancel it. Apperantly the majority of hospitalised delegates were actually suffering from the the effects of stuffing themselves with a 'pork feast' closely followed by the panic of being crammed onto coaches and driven past the lines of demonstrators. The IMF and Czech police humiliation had been completed by this last 200 - when the police realised how few of them there were they chased them all the way back into the city centre.

Meanwhile we reached the half-way point in the square and suddenly noticed hundreds of white helmets pouring into the bottom of the square and starting the long charge towards the top. The long expected police riot was now materialising. With the delegates back in their hotels, the police were determined to arrest and batter anyone they could in an act of revenge. We decided to head for the top of the square and then out by whatever road was possible.

We retreated. Fortunatly we had enough of a lead on the wave of riot police to do so calmly. We passed the pacifist block which stood front of the museum still chanting 'no violence'. As I passed I told those at the edges that the riot police were on their way and they would be wise to get the hell out of there fast. For this advice I just received some perplexed and hostile stares and as I wasn't about to hang around to argue the point I headed on.

A couple of hundred metres down the road I looked back into the square just as a huge salvo of tear gas and stun grenades rained down on the front of the national museum, right where the pacifists and hundreds of Czech had been standing. A Czech I was with commented that this was the first time the National Museum had come under first since the Russian invasion of1968. It was definitely time to go home!

The next day the IMF meetings were almost empty, photos show speakers addressing halls that should have had thousands of delegates in them with only a dozen or so present. Then they announced the cancellation of the last days meetings. An actual World bank delegate reports " During the press conference the next day, they denied the protests were the reason. They actually said the reason was that things had run so efficiently that they were able to compress everything into two days. The press laughed at this." Prague was clearly our victory and we should remember it as one!

Written for the WSM web site in the week after the protest, October 2000

WORDS Andrew Flood (Follow Andrew on Twitter )

[Translation of draft into German] [Translation of this version into French]


  


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