Prague braced for anti-globalisation showdown

IMF Summit: Protesters who brought Seattle to a standstill and wrecked the world's trade talks head for Czech capital hellbent on causing mayhem
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Ludvic Zifcak was the secret policeman who lit the fuse that toppled Czechoslovakia's Communist regime. In 1989, for reasons that have never been clear, Mr Zifcak, a notorious member of the StB secret police, started the rumour that a student had been killed in protests. The rumour fuelled street demonstrations, prompted the Velvet Revolution.

Ludvic Zifcak was the secret policeman who lit the fuse that toppled Czechoslovakia's Communist regime. In 1989, for reasons that have never been clear, Mr Zifcak, a notorious member of the StB secret police, started the rumour that a student had been killed in protests. The rumour fuelled street demonstrations, prompted the Velvet Revolution.

In a bizarre twist, Mr Zifcak is staging a comeback to organise one of the protests that could turn Prague into a battleground later this month when the streets of the Czech capital are taken over by opponents of globalisation.

The demonstrations will unite an unlikely array of protesters. With Mr Zifcak will march an assortment of Hitlerite skinheads and thoseintent on halting global capitalism, who have vowed to turn Prague into "Seattle II".

The target is the annual summit of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, held in Prague for the first time on 26 September.

For a week demonstrators plan to bring the city to a standstill. Czech sources said some plan to break in and disrupt the meetings. Hospitals have been told to lay in supplies in case of a chemical or biological-weapon terrorist attack.

Simultaneous antiglobalisation protests are planned for 26 September in 30 countries including Britain, the United States, France and Germany. Up to 20,000 protesters are expected in Prague itself. The Czechs have drafted in 11,000 police, and 5,000 soldiers will be on stand-by.

Since the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989 the Czech Republic has been among the most enthusiastic of postcommunist countries embracing capitalism. Securing the IMF and World Bank meetings was seen as something of a coup until it became clear Prague could be brought to a standstill.

If the hard left is turning out against capitalism, so is the hard right. Czech neo-Nazi skinheads have said they too will march, prompting fears of clashes between them and anarchist groups.

Most protesters will be the same diverse mix of pressure groups and individuals behind November's demonstrations against the World Trade Organisation in Seattle, which first brought the anti-globalism movement to world attention.

The protesters back a variety of causes. Jubilee 2000, the British-based group planning a funeral procession through Prague on 23 September for child "victims" of Third World debt, campaigns for the cancelling of the debt. It promised an outpouring of anger on the streets of Prague after the G8 summit in Okinawa failed to cancel Third World debt.

Many of the other groups are co-ordinating under the banner of the Initiative against Economic Globalisation (Inpeg), a Czech-based group planning a blockade of the summit. Its organisers say that they oppose the IMF and the World Bank, which they claim forces developing countries to adapt their economies to suit the needs of the West.

Inpeg and Jubilee 2000 say they oppose violence and property destruction. The World Bank says it has good relations with many of the protesters, and has invited several groups to join it for meetings during the summit. The Czech President, Vaclav Havel, a globalisation critic, is organising a debate between protesters and IMF and World Bank representatives.

Hardline groups descending on Prague include the September 26 Collective and Red Pepper from Britain, the Black Squad Ruckus Society and Earth First from the United States and Projeckt Interkonti and FAU from Germany.

Police from various countries are reported to have infiltrated anarchist groups planning violence and Scotland Yard and FBI staff have travelled to Prague to share intelligence with Czech police.

Most co-ordination of the anti-globalisation protests is via the mass medium of globalisation: the internet.

Estimates of the total number of protesters travelling to Prague for the demonstrations have fallen from original projections of up to 50,000 to between 15,000 and 20,000, apparently because of the cost of getting to the Czech Republic, especially from America, and because many protesters plan to go to the simultaneous "S26" rallies in their owncountries.

Protesters have chartered coaches and struck deals with travel agents. Coaches are leaving from London, Manchester and Liverpool, and one British travel agent is offering a return flight and three nights' accommodation for £300.

Comments