Protest generation vows to grab reins of power as they prepare for battle of Prague

Anti-globalisation campaigners attend training camp as bankers and ministers gather for IMF meeting
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The Independent Online

The world has a new protest generation, and it has arrived in Prague. As the city's five-star hotels fill up with the besuited bankers of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, the people who have vowed to wreck this week's summit and wrest control of the world's economy from their grip are gathering on a disused farm in the village of Dolni Slivno, three miles north of the city.

The world has a new protest generation, and it has arrived in Prague. As the city's five-star hotels fill up with the besuited bankers of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, the people who have vowed to wreck this week's summit and wrest control of the world's economy from their grip are gathering on a disused farm in the village of Dolni Slivno, three miles north of the city.

They have come from across the world: not only dreadlocked veterans of anti-capitalist campaigns, but many who have abandoned highly paid, white-collar jobs to be here, sleeping in the shell of a wrecked bus, or in an old barn with holes in the roof, and washing from a communal bucket. Protest is back, and it is uniting the young from across the social spectrum.

Unlike the World Trade Organisation (WTO) meeting that protesters ruined in Seattle last year, the summit opening tomorrow is being held in a country directly affected by globalisation. Nowhere in the post-communist world has embraced the global economy as eagerly as the Czech Republic: Prague is full of McDonald's restaurants and Tesco supermarkets, and thousands of Czech activists are expected to demonstrate alongside international campaigners from across Europe and North America. Those at the camp are just a tiny fraction of those expected to arrive in Prague this week - and, unlike many who are coming, they are all committed to non-violence.

Chelsea Mozen gave up a well-paid job in Washington DC's local government to come to Prague. Immaculate in designer clothes, she reels off statistics to support her case against the World Bank, while behind her a guitar lies against a sign pointing the way to the "compost toilet".

Scott Codey talks to journalists about the history of nonviolent protest. His conversation is lucid and educated, full of references to Gandhi and Martin Luther King. He quotes Gandhi, saying that the protesters are "walking in truth".

This week Mr Codey and Ms Mozen, clean-cut, well-read Americans, will probably be tear-gassed and beaten by police for the first time in their lives, as they form a human chain around the congress centre where the IMF and WorldBank meetings are being held.

"Being tear-gassed is a sacrifice I'm willing to make," Mr Codey says. "This is something I feel morally compelled to speak out against." These are the young people the IMF and the World Bank should be afraid of.

The protesters may look clueless as they practise their human chain, but they are the proof that the anti-globalisation movement has spread far beyond the hardline fringe groups who want to tear down the entire economic order.

They will stand hand-in-hand with veteran campaigners such as Martin Shaw, an electrician from London who gave up his job to "get out of the capitalist economy", and now lives in a housing co-operative in London.

But, unlike Mr Shaw, a committed anarchist who says he wants to tear down the consumer society and live without "interference" from any government, Mr Codey and Ms Mozen are not revolutionaries: they want to reform the system, not destroy it.

Ms Mozen says: "We're not saying we don't need a body to govern global trade. We're saying we want an equitable system, where people can decide for themselves if they want to grow food, so their children can eat, instead of coffee beans for export."

This time, it is not all about the sort of street protests that wrecked the WTO summit in Seattle and humiliated President Bill Clinton last year. The Initiative against Economic Globalisation, the Czech umbrella group for NGOs, which set up the training camp and plans to blockade the official summit, is also holding its own counter-summit this weekend, while the IMF and World Bank delegates are in town.

The protesters will not only condemn global economic policy, they will set out their alternative vision. Revisionist academics, including the sociologist Walden Bello and the Egyptian neo-Marxist economist Said Amin, will address counter-summit meetings.

Mr Codey says: "We're trying to decentralise power so local communities have a say in their own lives." He first became interested in the anti-globalisation movement on a trip to Nicaragua in 1995. "I'd never heard of the IMF or the World Bank before I went to Nicaragua," he says. "But every Nicaraguan had. I saw what they had done, how they went in and decimated the local economy. Thousands were forced into poverty because instead of growing food they were forced to grow products for the world economy."

Ms Mozen's story is similar. "I first started to think about these issues when I studied in Bolivia," she says. "The Bolivian family I was staying with was adamant I should learn about the IMF and the World Bank. Since I left there were massive protests on the street where I lived. People were killed."

Ms Mozen rejoins the human chain of young protesters from all walks of life. But these are not like the well-equipped demonstrators of Seattle, who came with gas masks to withstand the tear gas. Sit down if the police charge on horseback, the instructor tells them.

From tomorrow, they will face a police force renowned for its hardline tactics under communism, and with a reputation that has barely improved since. These young idealists have their ideas sorted out - but are they ready to face the police on the streets of Prague?

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