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Eyewitness in Prague

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  • Clore Daniel C
    News for Anarchists & Activists: http://www.egroups.com/group/smygo Eyewitness Prague By Soren Ambrose 50 Years Is Enough Network
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 14, 2000
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      News for Anarchists & Activists:
      http://www.egroups.com/group/smygo

      Eyewitness Prague

      By Soren Ambrose
      50 Years Is Enough Network
      http://www.50years.org/ejn/index.html

      "Europe’s Seattle"

      The 2000 Annual Meetings of the International Monetary Fund
      and World Bank in late September in Prague, Czech Republic
      became the occasion for what might become known as "Europe’s
      Seattle." Thousands of activists from just about every
      country in Europe (and many others) descended on Prague for
      demonstrations and related events in opposition to the
      policies and practices of the international financial
      institutions.

      More important than the media coverage garnered or the
      strength of the demonstrations staged was the opportunity
      for people from around the continent to meet and work
      together toward a common goal, overcoming different
      languages, histories, and traditions. Several experienced
      European activists remarked that although the size of the
      demonstrations was not unprecedented for Europe, the variety
      of nationalities represented was.

      There was, of course, communication among the various
      European activist groups before Prague. But I suspect that
      as the movement for global economic justice and against the
      corporate globalization guided by the IMF and World Bank
      builds and achieves more success, Prague will be looked upon
      as the moment when groups from around Europe -- especially
      those within the former Soviet bloc and those without --
      really started to understand each other and find ways to
      work together.

      Even before people in Washington conceived of the
      "A16"/Mobilization for Global Justice demonstrations at the
      spring meetings of the IMF and World Bank, activists in
      Prague had met and formed a coalition, known as the
      Initiative Against Economic Globalization (usually referred
      to by its Czech acronym, INPEG), to make plans for the fall
      annual meetings of the institutions. Indeed, the first
      international planning meeting was held in early December
      1999, just days after the hugely successful demonstrations
      in Seattle at the meeting of the World Trade Organization.
      The actions in Prague, then, were not conceived as an
      attempt to follow up on the actions in the U.S., but they
      did naturally end up building on the momentum established
      here.

      Counter-Summit and Other Meetings

      Quite a bit was happening in Prague, and there is far more
      to report on than space will allow. Some of the highlights
      follow.

      On September 20, the Central & Eastern Europe Bankwatch
      Network began its series of "skill-sharing" sessions aimed
      chiefly at an audience of about 70 activists who from
      Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union who were
      relatively new to campaigning on the international financial
      institutions. Russian translation was provided for most
      sessions.

      On Friday, September 22, INPEG opened its three-day
      "counter-summit," with an audience of about 300 listening to
      speeches and panel discussions featuring academics and
      activists, mostly from Europe and North America. Speakers
      included myself and Walden Bello and Nicola Bullard of Focus
      on the Global South (Thailand) and the 50 Years Is Enough
      South Council; Canadian columnist Naomi Klein; and Russian
      political analyst Boris Kagarlitsky. Dennis Brutus, a
      long-time supporter of 50 Years as well as a renowned South
      African poet and anti-apartheid activist, was part of the
      closing panel.

      Bankwatch organized a public forum from the evening of the
      24th through the 27th. Attendance at the forum was probably
      inhibited by the mass demonstrations on the 26th, but
      otherwise a fairly impressive number of Czechs showed up to
      learn about the IMF and World Bank and related issues like
      debt.

      Counter-Strategy: The IMF & World Bank Engage Their Critics

      With Prague, the IMF and World Bank evidently decided that
      the best way to counter the onslaught of criticism their
      opponents were leveling at them was to seek to engage us in
      public as often as possible. To this end they arranged and
      engaged in several meetings with NGOs.

      Czech President Vaclav Havel, a renowned former dissident
      whose role as an international statesman far exceeds his
      very limited powers as President, hosted the first event at
      his official residence, the Castle, on September 23. This
      debate featured Walden Bello, Ann Pettifor of Jubilee 2000
      U.K., and Katarina Liskova of a Czech environmental
      organization on the "civil society" side, and World Bank
      President James Wolfensohn, IMF Managing Director Horst
      Köhler, and South African Finance Minister Trevor Manuel,
      the current chair of the joint IMF/World Bank Board of
      Governors, representing the institutions. The 50 Years Is
      Enough Network was not invited to be in the audience of
      about 300, but by all accounts Wolfensohn and Köhler were
      utterly vanquished by their opponents. Among the best
      soundbites were Bello’s summation of the institutions’
      public relations function in light of structural
      adjustment’s devastation: "So why does the Bank continue to
      pontificate about going about its ‘noble mission’ to end
      poverty? Because it has learned from Joseph Goebbels that a
      lie repeated often enough eventually attains the status of
      truth." Liskova asserted that if the World Bank and IMF had
      applied their current economic policies to Europe after
      World War II, "we'd still be living with food rationing
      today."

      In another forum at the Congress Center, the site of the
      official meetings, to which the 50 Years Is Enough Network
      declined to seek official accreditation, Wolfensohn made
      pointed statements to distinguish the "good" NGOs that were
      seeking to dialogue from those not in attendance -- like 50
      Years, which Wolfensohn said has been working to "close it
      [the Bank] down" since its founding. Several representatives
      from European NGOs were dismayed by this attempt at
      division. One commented, "I’ve never felt so co-opted in my
      life," and another aid that his organization was considering
      abandoning future attempts to engage the Bank in
      conversation. Indeed, in a debate hosted by Bankwatch,
      Tomasz Terlecki of Bankwatch indicated that he felt the Bank
      was not taking the input of NGOs seriously and the overall
      sense from these encounters was that the Bank and the Fund
      were merely putting on window-dressing to improve their
      public image.

      Throughout the preparations for the annual meetings and
      during the meetings themselves, a clear Bank strategy
      emerged. They want to engage with their critics in order to
      appear open to criticism and debate. However, they counter
      every criticism with plaintive expressions of their good
      intentions. Wolfensohn, on at least five different occasions
      in the months leading up to Prague and in Prague itself, put
      forward a version of this line: "I [or we] do not wake up in
      the morning and start thinking about how we can screw the
      poor today." At the Prague Castle, he insisted, "I have a
      heart." Mats Karlsson, a public relations officer with the
      Bank, also adopted this approach, announcing at the
      Bankwatch debate that he and his colleagues at the IMF are,
      we should know, working to improve the world, that they took
      their jobs to do good.

      However, despite the realistic, even childish, exasperation
      Wolfensohn sometimes displays when making his stands, there
      is, I think, a very clever strategy at work here. Instead of
      dealing with the questions about World Bank policy head-on,
      instead of having to defend the global economic structures
      that give institutions like his the power to impose economic
      policies further impoverishing people in country after
      country, year after year, with no accountability, Wolfensohn
      and his employees can divert the media by talking about
      their hurt feelings, about their good intentions, about
      their personal reactions. These officials are taking
      advantage of journalists’ tendency to go for the "human
      face" of the story by talking about their own face, their
      own feelings. The real failure is on the part of the
      journalists who become diverted, who print a stock line
      about the World Bank president’s morning routine instead of
      recalling that their original question was really about the
      fate of millions of "human faces" that can’t be in the room
      for the interview or the press conference.

      The question is not what a few people think about when they
      get up in the morning, or even their individual moral
      character, but about how the institutions and the systems
      they’re a part of are thoroughly skewed: without a complete
      transformation, the IMF and the World Bank will always work
      for the benefit of the corporations and the wealthy and
      against the interests of the great majority of people in
      borrowing countries. One person’s character or a morning’s
      intentions cannot change that.

      The Demonstrations

      And of course there was the mass action. A crowd I would
      estimate at about 15,000 gathered at Namesti miru (Peace
      Park) near downtown Prague beginning at 9 a.m. on the
      morning of Tuesday September 26 -- the same day that
      solidarity actions were going on in cities across the U.S.
      and the world (see p. 4-5 & x).

      The atmosphere was decidedly festive, with large balloons,
      banners, and dance music. The composition of the crowd was
      amazingly cosmopolitan: look in one direction and see 300
      Greek workers marching; look in another to find a group of
      Dutch and British environmentalists in clever outfits; look
      in others and find Turks, Germans, French, and others. The
      most remarkable characters, by far, were those from Ya
      Basta!, a citizens resistance movement in solidarity with
      the Zapatistas that began in Italy but has now begun
      spreading to Spain as well. Members of Ya Basta! protect
      themselves by wrapping foam, such as that used for camping
      mattresses or old couches, around their bodies, then
      covering themselves with sheer white "overalls." Thus
      protected they practice their version of assertive
      non-violence, attempting to march through police barricades
      while accepting any blows aimed at them.

      The march kicked off at about 11:15. Marchers were
      designated as belonging to one of three groups,
      distinguished by color. The march proceeded as one group,
      peacefully winding through downtown Prague in the direction
      of the Congress Center. The bulk of the crowd went to a
      bridge connecting central Prague with the Congress Center,
      which lies on the other side of a deep ravine. The police
      had blocked off the bridge with tanks and hundreds of riot
      officers. The Ya Basta! troops approached first, got
      involved in minor skirmishes, but made little headway.
      Meanwhile, the other two groups scurried through the valley
      below and up toward the Congress Center. It was these groups
      that engaged in the most heated encounters with the police.
      A group of about 50 succeeded in nearly getting to the
      Center itself. A few days later I was astonished to see
      graffiti on buildings a mere 50 meters away from the Center.

      By the time those encounters took place, I was safely back
      at a computer terminal, relaying updates to the U.S. (My
      asthma having been stirred by something in the Prague air, I
      was eager to avoid any interaction with tear gas.) A recent
      report by INPEG states that a total of 350-400 were treated
      in the streets for injuries, of which 30 needed to be
      hospitalized; and that 859 people were arrested, of whom 17
      were charged. As of this writing, we believe that 2 people
      remain in jail for reasons stemming from the Sept. 26-27
      actions.

      While the vast majority of demonstrators on September 26
      were peaceful, there were people who threw rocks and paving
      stones at police and towards delegates attending the
      meetings or their vehicles. There were also several Molotov
      cocktails used. Some 18 police were injured badly enough to
      require hospital treatment. Of course many more protesters
      sustained injuries, many of them after being arrested. In
      fact, while the Czech police were remarkably circumspect in
      public (more so than those in Washington, Seattle, etc.),
      acts of great brutality were committed against those who
      were arrested once they were in prison and out of public
      view.

      Reports of provocateurs -- in many cases Czech skinheads
      (neo-Nazis) in disguise -- were too numerous and substantial
      to be dismissed. Indeed, for one short period I found myself
      crouched down on the floor of INPEG’s downtown press center
      as skinheads attacked it during the spree of evening
      violence that was largely attributed in the media to
      IMF/World Bank protesters. But it is probable that at least
      some of the Molotov cocktails and rocks were thrown neither
      by provocateurs nor in defense.

      The 50 Years Is Enough Network rejects the violence
      perpetrated by some of the protesters in Prague. However, of
      greater concern to us is the structural violence of the
      global economy. There is no foolproof way to exclude
      provocateurs or people who have made a deliberate decision
      to use violence from public actions. Our responsibility lies
      in focusing greater public and media scrutiny on the
      violence of structural adjustment and the burden of debt. We
      must not allow ourselves or the media to be distracted by
      trivial acts of destruction committed by a handful of
      protesters.

      The demonstrations certainly caught the attention of the IMF
      and World Bank. For weeks before the meetings, delegates
      were warned to exercise extreme caution and be
      inconspicuous, and during the protester’s offensive on the
      Congress Center, delegates were ordered to stay inside. They
      eventually left the site by closing the entire subway line
      serving the center and bringing in special trains for the
      delegates. Their suffering was quite temporary and mild
      compared to that of the protesters and by-standers arrested
      by the Czech police, or to the plight of those living under
      structural adjustment programs in Southern countries.

      After closing the meetings a day early (see the "Prague
      Declaration" on p. ), there was speculation, from Wolfensohn
      among others, that the large fall meetings had become too
      unwieldy and should perhaps be scaled down or abandoned. The
      fact that many in the Czech press were questioning the
      wisdom of hosting the meetings no doubt frightens the
      institutions, as must the decision by Qatar a few weeks
      after the Prague meetings ended to withdraw its offer to
      host the next ministerial meetings of the World Trade
      Organization. The IMF/World Bank annual meetings are held
      outside Washington every third year; the 2003 meetings are
      scheduled for Dubai, in Qatar’s neighbor, the United Arab
      Emirates. Until then, we plan to continue making the voice
      of opposition heard at both their spring and fall meetings.

      The Official Results of the Meetings

      The IMF and World Bank chose Prague in order to highlight a
      region of the world -- the formerly communist countries of
      Eastern Europe and the USSR -- where they have been active
      for only the last ten years. In 1997 they held their joint
      meetings in Hong Kong and scheduled special seminars on the
      "East Asian miracle" -- seminars which assumed an ironic
      character in light of the fact that the East Asian financial
      crisis erupted in Thailand just over two months before the
      meetings. In 2000 they did not make the same mistake.
      Indeed, rather than attempt to say that IMF-style capitalism
      had led to economic nirvana, the World Bank issued a report
      on the "transition economies" in conjunction with the
      meetings and reported that the ratio of people living in
      poverty had increased from 2% to 21%.

      Another high-profile World Bank report released at the fall
      meetings was the World Development Report (WDR) on Poverty.
      The WDR is an annual document that the Bank highlights as
      its major policy and research statement for the year. The
      2000 report was supposed to be especially important,
      focusing as it does on the Bank’s stated core mission,
      poverty reduction. After an extensive series of
      Internet-facilitated consultations with civil society as
      part of the preparation for the WDR, the lead author, Ravi
      Kanbur abruptly resigned in June, saying that the report was
      being compromised by demands from the U.S. Treasury
      Department that the final version emphasize the role of
      market-oriented growth and de-emphasize what Kanbur’s
      research had led him to, the need to empower impoverished
      people. The final document, watered-down as it apparently
      is, nonetheless still supplies a strong critique, from
      within, of the Bank’s historical emphasis on growth as the
      cure-all for poverty.

      The meetings themselves did not produce great decisions. In
      fact, they seldom are deliberative, "working" meetings, but
      rather an occasion for seminars, cocktail parties, and
      informal gatherings of finance ministers, their staffs,
      institutional staff, and private bankers. Much of the
      official discussion concerned the price of oil and the value
      of the euro. Thus, the meetings themselves only further
      illustrated what the protesters were proclaiming in the
      streets: that the World Bank and IMF are functionally
      illegitimate and in dire need of transformation.

      Jubilee 2000

      The morning of Sunday, September 24 offered a remarkable
      Jubilee 2000 event. Starting with a service at an ornate
      church in Prague’s beautiful Old Town, a crowd of about two
      thousand proceeded across the Vltava River to a hilltop
      park, led by a band playing funeral dirges and featuring 19
      long poles topped by death masks, symbolizing the 19,000
      children UNICEF estimates die every day because of
      preventable causes that could be eliminated with funds freed
      up by debt cancellation. At the hilltop park, the Jubilee
      2000 organizers suspended large puppets over a three-story
      concrete wall to symbolize the IMF and World Bank. Seven
      individuals with t-shirts emblazoned "G7" and wearing masks
      of the different G7 heads of government manipulated long
      poles connected by string to the puppets: the puppet
      masters. Powerful speeches from representatives of Jubilee
      2000 Czech Republic, the World Council of Churches, and
      Jubilee 2000 U.K. preceded the march back to Old Town and a
      closing ceremony featuring a symbolic break in the "chains
      of debt."

      --
      ---------------------------------------------------
      Dan Clore

      The Website of Lord Weÿrdgliffe:
      http://www.geocities.com/SoHo/9879/index.html
      The Dan Clore Necronomicon Page:
      http://www.geocities.com/SoHo/9879/necpage.htm

      "Tho-ag in Zhi-gyu slept seven Khorlo. Zodmanas
      zhiba. All Nyug bosom. Konch-hog not; Thyan-Kam
      not; Lha-Chohan not; Tenbrel Chugnyi not;
      Dharmakaya ceased; Tgenchang not become; Barnang
      and Ssa in Ngovonyidj; alone Tho-og Yinsin in
      night of Sun-chan and Yong-grub (Parinishpanna),
      &c., &c.,"
      -- The Book of Dzyan.
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