An article from Do or Die Issue 9. In the paper edition, this article appears on page(s) 1-8.
Against the IMF and the World Bank
Thousands of people converged on the Czech Republic at the end of September 2000 for the 55th Annual Meeting of the World Bank Group and the Board of Governors of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which was taking place in Prague from the 26th-28th September. There were about twenty thousand of the world’s bankers, economists and investors; about ten thousand of the world’s anti-capitalists, socialists, anarchists and anti-globalisers; and about eleven thousand cops (a quarter of the total Czech police force) trying to stop the one getting to the other…
It was supposed to be a defining moment for globalised capital – the first time the IMF and World Bank annual meetings had been held in a former Eastern Bloc country. They picked Prague as the jewel in the crown of Eastern Europe – the city most successfully colonised by Western corporations.
The build-up to ‘S26’ in Prague was characterised by ever-increasing levels of hype about what was going to happen on the day. The Czech Ministry of the Interior published recommendations to the population to stockpile food and medicines, and to the owners of small shops not to try to defend their businesses from demonstrators. The government encouraged people to leave Prague for the duration of the protests and the city was like a ghost town as about a fifth of the capital’s 1.1 million inhabitants followed this advice. All 1,100 state schools in Prague were closed for one week and in many cases families were asked to declare in writing that their children would spend that week outside of Prague, in order to ‘protect’ young people from the protests. Children, pensioners and students were offered compensation from the IMF conference budget if they agreed to move out of Prague into holiday resorts. Those that did remain were warned not to speak to the protesters. The Mayor of Prague, Jan Kasl, declared that some of the people who were coming to Prague to participate in the protests “will kill if possible, if allowed”. The tension generated by all this reached such a level of intensity that Czech President Vaclav Havel said that the situation was “as if we were preparing for a civil war and looked forward to it being over”.
The Czech Republic might not be as rich as some of its Western neighbours, but they certainly weren’t scrimping on this one. $30 million was spent on preparing for the conference on top of the $90 million already spent on refurbishing the Conference Centre. An extra $10 million alone was pumped into security for the week.
The Czech Republic has no real history of dealing with this sort of public disorder and so the government was very anxious to demonstrate to the West that they could both manage the situation and still maintain the appearance of a Western liberal democracy. However, instruction in the ways of ‘democracy’ was on hand: the FBI has recently launched a new office in Prague. And when FBI chief Louis Freeh met with Czech Interior Minister Stanislav Gross, one of the “main topics of discussion during Freeh’s visit was the upcoming joint IMF/World Bank annual meeting in Prague in September”. The FBI and 600 other foreign specialists, including police from Seattle and Washington DC and many of our own flat-footed friends from Scotland Yard, spent 6 months training their Czech counterparts in surveillance and riot control. There was even a ‘media specialist’ from the British plod sent to advise the Czech cops on their PR strategy.
The BiS, the Czech secret police, who specialise in ‘anti-activist’ disruption and are trained for undercover work, had the number of their agents boosted up to 190 for the duration of the protests. The Czech police had special training camps for months beforehand, training up the necessary thousands of cops and teaching them ‘restraint’. On the day the protesters who came faced 11,000 cops backed up with 5,000 soldiers, armoured personnel carriers, troop trucks, fire engines, helicopters, concussion grenades, along with tear gas grenades borrowed from Germany and water cannons borrowed from Greece.
With the Czech Republic being ever conscious of their image with the EU, Western activists were mostly allowed in, but the East European borders were closed a couple of days before S26 and lots of East Europeans weren’t allowed through. Also, in the days just before the 26th, a blacklist of known activists prevented large numbers of people from crossing the borders (the Czech government admitted to 200 but the real figure was much higher). The close collaboration of the Ministry of the Interior with specialists from Interpol and the secret services of several Western countries sent in to train the Czech police forces probably helped to create this list, one more piece of evidence of the global character of policing.
The call to converge on Prague in opposition to the World Bank and IMF had been made by a coalition called INPEG, consisting of American veterans of Seattle and Washington DC, some Brits and (surprisingly few) Czechs. The plan to shut down the conference was a simple one. The demonstrators would be divided up into three colour-coded groups that would march in different directions and surround the Conference Centre, blockading it and preventing the delegates from leaving. For some reason we weren’t going to try and stop them getting in, as in Seattle, but we were going to try and stop them getting out and going to their evening’s entertainment at the Opera.
Various other things happened in the run-up to S26, most of them not really worth mentioning in any detail. There was an impromptu demo in support of the train full of activists from Italy that was held up on the border when some of the people on the train were refused entry, there was the ‘Art of Resistance’ festival; an illegal anti-fascist demo to counter a legal fascist demo “against the IMF and the left”; a Communist demo organised by the ex-government of Czechoslovakia (!) and a very dull counter-conference.
PULL QUOTE: “Don’t worry, they won’t get anywhere near us here, there’s 11,000 police and only 5,000 protesters….I think we can safely ignore them today” – IMF delegate on the morning of the 26th. 
By 9.00am on the 26th, thousands had assembled in Namesti Miru (Peace Square) for a Carnival against Capital before beginning the march. However, numbers seemed much smaller than expected. On the day, something like 10,000 people showed up (give or take a couple of thousand) compared to the 20-25,000 that had been predicted.
Maybe this was due to the borders being shut, or people being scared off by all the hype about what a huge confrontation it was going to be, but some of it must have been due to the success of the World Bank/IMF in splitting their opponents and moving some of the more moderate opposition off the streets and into the Conference Centre. There was no recognisable union presence in Prague – in Seattle the numbers were boosted massively by the presence of the unions. Apparently in Prague the unions had been ‘included in the process of dialogue’. The conference programme of the IMF/World Bank meetings was full of speakers from NGOs (Non-Governmental Organisations) who had been invited to join the bankers’ discussions. Also some NGOs, like Jubilee 2000, which were worried about violence, purposefully held their demonstrations early and removed their supporters before the 26th.
At around noon the crowd split up into groups, each taking a different route to the Conference Centre where the meeting was taking place. The way it worked out, I imagine rather more through people wanting to be together with like-minded friends than through advance planning, was that each of the different groups adopted different tactics. The Pink group included all the socialists and Trots and most of them did their usual thing of marching about with placards and banners, doing their shouting and then fucking off home again as soon as possible without doing anything useful. Some of the remainder of this pink group did stay and divided themselves up amongst the other three groups when their own group dissolved. The Yellow group was headed up by the Italian group Ya Basta!, attempting to break through police lines in padded and protective gear with giant mobile barricades made of inflated inner tubes all lashed together. The Yellow march had the most difficult approach to the Conference Centre – a head-on assault across a huge road bridge only 30 feet wide but 300 feet high. This bridge is the only northern exit from the Conference Centre and a major traffic artery linking the south of the city to central Prague. This was obviously the easiest point for the cops to defend and the hardest to attack. The Blue group was where the majority of the autonome/anarcho black bloc people were and where the most full-on violence was. They also had a very difficult route of narrow uphill cobbled streets. People hurled rocks, cobblestones and petrol bombs at the police. Officers were divested of their sticks, shields and helmets, which were swiftly turned against them. Support teams kept the front line in ammo and made sure that tear gas canisters were swiftly returned to sender while Seattle’s Infernal Noise Brigade played on in the midst of the fighting. The mostly British Earth First!/Reclaim The Streets Pink and Silver march formed an unplanned 500-strong fourth group complete with samba band and Rio-style carnival costumes that went to the south of the Conference Centre and tried to breach police lines there.
Both the Blue and the Pink and Silver groups got within spitting distance of the Conference Centre by finding smaller, less well-guarded entrances with only a few non-armoured-up cops guarding them. But neither group was able to break through, as police reinforcements soon arrived on the scene. Some World Bank delegates tried to sneak out by some of the quieter exits on foot. Protesters soon sent them scurrying back inside, one reporting: “you could see the look on their faces when we sent them back. Their safety bubble had been burst”.
Activists operated in clusters of affinity groups, keeping in touch through a sophisticated communications network, in the face of police using water cannons, tear gas, CS gas, rubber bullets and flash-bangs (stun grenades) in large quantities. Groups split off from the main blocks and roamed around the base of the castle-like Conference Centre, reinforcing other groups where needed. There were baton charges against peaceful protesters, as well as pitched battles between the police and tooled up black bloc affinity group clusters. Despite all this, people were able to maintain blockades around the Centre, locking in the delegates for over 8 hours.
As it was getting dark, the conference organisers tried to evacuate the delegates on a special underground train from the metro station inside the Conference Centre complex. Ya Basta! activists went and sat on the tracks and stopped it going. A couple of busloads of delegates got out but many of those attending the IMF/World Bank conference didn’t get back to their hotel rooms until very late. One protester reports seeing weary delegates finally getting to their hotel: “they were still in their business suits. It was 12 o’clock at night. They had been stuck at the Congress Centre all day”.
The protesters moved off into the centre of town to disrupt the evening social events at the Opera House. Thousands of people took over Wenceslas Square – the scene of mass protests when the old regime was overthrown in 1989 and now a gaudy symbol of Western capital’s victory in Prague with its overpriced restaurants, McDonalds and 5-star hotels for Western businessmen. Protesters targetted banks and American fast food restaurants and smashed them up. The event at the Opera House was cancelled as it was surrounded by 1,500 protesters and also the banquet for 6,000 delegates attracted attention from the black bloc. There were hardly any police on the streets of Prague Old Town throughout all of this until about 10.00pm when they shipped in another 2,000 cops to add to the 11,000 they already had protecting the Conference Centre. All over the city there were confrontations between police and large groups of demonstrators that went on into the evening.
During most of the day the police hardly made any arrests at all, although people carrying medical supplies were targetted and snatched. They started nabbing larger numbers of people later in the evening around Wenceslas Square as numbers in the centre of town dwindled. This carried on into the next day, when large numbers of people were almost arbitrarily picked up off the streets. Police dressed as masked-up protesters were used to start fights within the crowd and to snatch people. There were also similar actions from fascists, supported by the police. Radislav Charvát, the head of the police operation, has admitted there were “several hundred” undercover police on the demonstrations. According to Lidové Noviny, a respected broadsheet newspaper, the majority of them were dressed like those who rioted. Apparently OPH, the Czech legal observers, have video footage of some of the undercover cops throwing stones at police lines (!). Many eyewitnesses, including the legal observers, reported seeing undercover cops engage in violence and property destruction and then disappear safely behind police lines. The masked-up stone-thrower next to you in the crowd could have been a cop.
By the time the conference was called to a halt a day early on the 27th, the police had arrested 859 people, 600 had been injured and more than 100 protesters had been deported. 142 activists and 123 police officers needed medical attention. 13 activists were taken to hospital with broken legs and ribs, with wounds on their head or in a similarly serious condition. Reportedly, a Russian and a Japanese delegate were also injured.
Many of the people who had been arrested and were being held in jail were denied food, water and sleep. Legal observers and solicitors were denied access to jails and the Czech Ministry of the Interior broke off relations with OPH, the Czech-based legal monitoring group. Access to injured people (including some with severe head injuries) was frustrated by the police. Protesters were beaten, tear gassed, tied up for hours on end and sexually harassed while in prison. Some were kept isolated in the dark for days, handcuffed so they bled, sexually and racially insulted, strip-searched and made to perform ‘exercises’ for the amusement of the police. There were reports of people having limbs broken and teeth knocked out. One woman got a broken spine. There is clear evidence of torture by the police.
PULL QUOTE: “This was as much a real anti-capitalism, anti-US thing as anything else, and in that sense maybe the US kids got fooled,” said a US State Department official familiar with the situation. “These people play hardball.” 
September 27th and 28th
On the days following the main action on the 26th, activity was mainly focussed on prisoner support, although some activists also did actions on the delegates’ hotels – infiltrating them and setting off the fire alarms late at night. The police really cracked down after the 26th, and the balance of forces shifted quite a lot. Lots of protesters left on the 26th or the 27th and so the numbers of protesters fell as the numbers of police rose. The convergence centre (a huge abandoned warehouse that had been rented by INPEG) was closed down by the police on the 27th. The official meeting point for the next day was Namesti Miru again. However this time there weren’t so many people and those that did turn up were quickly surrounded by cops and took several hours to negotiate their way out. The cops were randomly stopping and arresting people on the streets and carting them off to jail. Some people were held for weeks. The people in jail were allowed no way of communicating with the outside and no one on the outside had any way of finding out who was in jail or what jail they were in. The police would not give out any information about how many people they had arrested, who they were, where they were being held or anything. The result was that lots of people just ‘disappeared’, presumed arrested. It was a pretty scary situation, people were almost frightened to go outside.
On the 27th and 28th there were actions in support of the prisoners. On the Wednesday protesters gathered in the Old Town Square for a party to keep their spirits up in defiance of a police ban on any further protests. This was a smart move as it was bang in the middle of the tourist area and the cops had their hands tied a bit by the necessity to keep up appearances. In the evening, 1,000 demonstrators gathered outside one jail where people were being held. Police surrounded the crowd, picking out the medics, then removing all the press. Protesters were told to leave one by one giving their passport details. Attempts to break police lines led to the police using gas and baton charges on the crowd and arresting more people.
On the 28th people made a highly visible protest on the Charles Bridge in the Old Town to protest at police brutality and to demand the release of prisoners. Later in the day there was a demonstration outside the Ministry of the Interior at which a large number of (it seemed mostly Spanish and Italian) people purposefully got themselves arrested by refusing to move when ordered to do so. They did this in order to put pressure on the Czech cops to release their comrades. They sang and fasted until their embassy representative came to release them, at which point they refused to leave until all the prisoners of whatever nationality were released. Surprisingly enough this tactic actually worked, perhaps because it was timed to coincide with an attack and occupation of the Czech consulate in Barcelona.
The Attitude of the Czechs
Reports of the attitudes of the inhabitants of Prague (and indeed of the rest of the Czech Republic) were mixed. There were instances of the Czech people assisting protesters – an old man handing out cobblestones, water being poured from apartments on to riot police and friendly shop-keepers serving masked-up customers. September 26th involved the largest and most brutal police presence on streets of Prague since the weeks leading up to the Velvet Revolution. The Czech people seemed to be fairly used to the idea of police brutality and were mostly none too fond of the police. There were reported to be lots of Czechs involved in the property destruction around Wenceslas Square in the evening – centred around the same avenues that were the focus for the 1989 Velvet Revolution.
However, it seemed to me that apart from a few Czech anarchists there were very few Czech people on the actual demonstrations – almost everyone there seemed to be an activist from abroad, and it felt weird to be on a demonstration almost entirely composed of international activists. But according to Czech anarchists ORA-Solidarita, they have been able “to familiarise workers with the anti-capitalist ideas of the S26 protests. In at least two factories rank and file unionists demanded a collective participation in the Prague demos.” They also say that “all the various groups involved in the mobilisation got some 28% of the entire population to support the S26 protests and bring about 2,000 young Czech workers, unemployed and students to the demos in Prague”. This all sounds pretty impressive, but is not really confirmed by most people’s experience of the Prague actions.
The Leninist presence on the demonstrations definitely had a negative impact on public perception of the protests. As a Ukrainian activist reports: “When the signs and insignia of the old Communist enemy made their appearance on the streets, carried by a variety of leftists from 40 different countries, it was already clear as common sense that the ordinary Czech person would take the side of repression against the protesters.”
It also seems that we have had a negative effect on people’s attitude towards the police. In a country where the police are effectively a law unto themselves and many can still remember the old ‘Communist’ police state, it seems we have been responsible for the biggest PR boost the Czech police have had in a long time. Ladislav Bríza, the director of the state riot police said: “For the first time people are thankful for the police, instead of spitting at them”.
After S26, Czech revolutionary anarchists find themselves in a very difficult position. The State and capitalist media are doing their best to stir up mass hysteria aimed against anarchism. However, Czech anarchists ORA-Solidarita report that the reaction of working class people when they set up their info tables hasn’t been so bad and write: “Nevertheless, a certain percentage of those 28% of Czech people we had been able to get to support S26 prior to the demos can see beyond all the police and media mystifications and to some extent still support us and the protests. In relation to the police attack on Wenceslas Square on S26 in the evening, when the police were firing tear gas grenades against people gathered in front of the National Museum building, relatively many older working class people from Prague have recalled the memories of 1968, when Soviet tanks were firing against the National Museum.”
The police, however, are definitely using the protests as an excuse to crack down on radicals. Since S26, now all the international activists have gone home, there has been a large police operation against members of the Czech anarcho-syndicalist group, the Federation of Social Anarchists (The Czech section of the International Worker’s Association). On Monday 23rd October, in three separate towns, special units of the political police surrounded and arrested three of the main dedicated members of the FSA-IWA. The fact they were picked up by commandos, in a perfectly coordinated and planned operation, has also to be linked with the violent press campaign against anarchists in the Czech Republic after S26. Even though the Czech section of IWA has not been named, it is clearly the real target of these attacks. The day before the arrests, computers belonging to the organisation were totally destroyed by a hacker attack. Police from the ‘anti-extremist’ department interrogated the anarchists, trying to link them with organising illegal demonstrations. The three people arrested were finally released after 48 hours of questioning by the police. One has since been charged with ‘public rampage’.
PULL QUOTE: “The protesters are right of course. We are just interested in the money. The World Bank and IMF are just helping people like us to cream it in. Isn’t it great?” – American Deutsche Bank employee from New York. 
Despite the low turnout, the demonstrations and actions in Prague seem to have been almost as successful as Seattle in terms of shutting down the conference. There weren’t actually enough people to blockade all the entrances to the Conference Centre but what we lacked in numbers we made up for in violence. Luxurious banquets were cancelled and the conference itself closed down early after its second day, which was itself only attended by few financiers. We had first hand reports from sympathetic people inside the Conference Centre that they were unable to leave and large amounts of the social programme for delegates was cancelled. Many delegates were too scared to leave their hotel rooms.
Despite media reports attempting to cover up how successfully the protests disrupted the World Bank/IMF conference, a senior World Bank staff member’s report from inside the conference confirms the effect we had: “I saw ex-World Bank presidents walking around not knowing what to do. I asked one former president how he was doing… He didn’t know what was happening. When I told him about the protests, he became totally disorientated.”
He continues: “As you know the meeting got cut by a day. During the press conference the next day, they denied that 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… the whole conference was dominated by questions about the protest… the agenda had been taken over by the protesters.” Our mole inside the conference also offers a tip for the future: “What is most significant about these meetings are the informal business parties. There were at least 15 lavish parties given by the commercial banks for the delegates. Very, very lavish. For many delegates, those were the prime events of the conference. The actual official functions were just pro forma. If I were a protester, by the way, I would have gone to these venues because they were not secured at all. These were the events that everyone went to in the evenings. These were very open venues. And they were listed in the schedule. Now, that would really have stopped the real business of the conference.”.
(BOX) Reflections on Prague
Another Reflections pamphlet collecting together diverse views on what happened in Prague and on the state of the ‘new anti-capitalist movement’ is due out in early 2001. For details email: email@example.com
(BOX) Financial Crimes
This spoof newspaper was produced by people in Reclaim the Streets to coincide with the Prague protests. Contents include: international news of resistance, understanding the IMF and World Bank’, history of Reclaim the Streets etc. For a copy, try asking nicely and sending some money to: Reclaim the Streets, PO Box 9656, London N4 4JY, UK.
(BOX) Prague Prisoners
Only one Polish man has been sentenced and imprisoned for the Prague protests and there is only one other – a Danish man accused of police assault – still known to be in jail. He is Mads and would like to receive letters to: Madsthordal Trcrup, Pankrac Prison, Vazebni Veznice, Taborska 988, 14000 Praha, Czech Republic. However, there are others who have been arrested and charged and who still need support.
Donations for legal defence (cheques/POs) can be made out to ‘Prague Prisoner Support Fund’ and sent c/o RTS, PO Box 9656, London N4 4JY, UK.
For more information on prisoners and trials or to contribute to the defence fund direct contact ORA-Solidarita.
1) Prague Post, September 27-October 3, p.B1
2) Action South West Prague Extra.
3) ‘What is Growing on the Grave of Socialism?’ by Olga Samborska, October 24, 2000. See: http://www.ainfos.ca/
4) Quoted by the Prague Post, August 2, 2000.
5) Quoted in Hospodarske Noviny, August 1, 2000.
6) Prague Post, October 4-10, 2000, p.B2
7) The Central and Eastern European Review, quoted in ‘FBI to Monitor European Activists’ by Ezekial Ford, August 8, 2000. See: http://www.alternet.org/story.html?StoryID=9595 and in September 26 Collective Bulletin, No. 2, June 2000, p.3
8) Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!, No. 157, October/November 2000, p.8; Op. Cit. 6, p.A4; Earth First! Action Update, No. 71, October 2000, p.4
9) SchNEWS, No. 277, Friday 6th October, 2000.
10) September 26 Collective Bulletin, No. 3, July 2000, p.2
11) Op. Cit. 10, p.3
12) Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!, No. 157, October/November 2000, p.8
13) ‘Call to Global Action’ by Some people in Prague, October 10, 2000. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
14) ‘A Personal View on S26 Prague’ by ‘M’, October 8, 2000. See: http://www.j12.org/ps/pragtrip.htm; Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!, No. 157, October/November 2000, p.10; Counter Information, No. 55, Winter 2000/2001, p.1
15) Op. Cit. 9.
16) Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!, No. 157, October/November 2000, p.10
17) Op. Cit. 2; ‘Rioting all the way to the Bank’, Loaded, November [?] 2000, p.101
18) Op. Cit. 2; Op. Cit. 1, p.A4
19) ‘S26 Global Action Report’ by HMVPPM, MSC-Box 111, 8490 W. Colfax, Denver, CO 80215-4090, USA. Email: email@example.com The pamphlet version (with pictures) is available for a 33 cent stamp to this address; Op. Cit. 2.
20) ‘A Personal View on S26 Prague’ by ‘M’, October 8, 2000. See: http://www.j12.org/ps/pragtrip.htm; Op. Cit. 2.
21) Op. Cit. 2.
22) Information taken September 28, 2000 from: http://prague.indymedia.org/; Op. Cit. 19.
23) Op. Cit. 1, p.B12
24) ‘A Personal View on S26 Prague’ by ‘M’, October 8, 2000. See: http://www.j12.org/ps/pragtrip.htm
25) Op. Cit. 19.
26) Op. Cit. 22.
27) Op. Cit. 19; Op. Cit. 22; Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!, No. 157, October/November 2000, pp.8-9; Op. Cit. 9; Op. Cit. 6, p.A4
28) Resist@nce, No. 19, November 2000, p.3; Op. Cit. 6, p.A6
29) Op. Cit. 6, p.A1
30) Op. Cit. 3.
31) Earth First! Action Update, No. 71, October 2000, p.4
32) Counter Information, No. 55, Winter 2000/2001, pp.1-4
33) Op. Cit. 22.
34) Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!, No. 157, October/November 2000, p.10
35) Op. Cit. 6, p.A2
36) Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!, No. 157, October/November 2000, p.10
37) Op. Cit. 22.
38) Op. Cit. 22.
39) Op. Cit. 19.
40) Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!, No. 157, October/November 2000, p.8
41) Op. Cit. 22; Op. Cit. 9.
42) ‘Globalisation of the Anarchist Resistance: Prague S26 and the Anti-Capitalist Movement’ by Organisation of Revolutionary Anarchists – Solidarita, October 24, 2000 [Article to be published, in French, in the French monthly Alternative Libertaire]. See: http://www.ainfos.ca/
43) Op. Cit. 3.
44) Op. Cit. 6, p.A4
45) Op. Cit. 42; Op. Cit. 28.
46) ‘The Czech Police is Looking for its Revenge’, October 26, 2000 (from information given to the IWA secretary by the Czech section of the IWA). See: http://www.ainfos.ca/; Resist@nce, No. 20, December 2000, p.3
47) Op. Cit. 42.
48) ‘A World Bank Staffer’s Odyssey in Kafka’s Prague’ from Focus on Trade No. 55, October 2000 See: http://www.focusweb.org/focus/pd/apec/fot/fot55.html
49) Op. Cit. 48.
50) Op. Cit. 9.
51) Resist@nce, No. 20, December 2000, p.3
PO Box 12, 751 52 Prerov 1, Czech Republic.
Your humble editors.