Global Policy Forum

Protests Create a Scene


By Brian Whitmore

The Boston Globe
September 27,2000

Prague - From the middle of their street, Martin Palan and Honza Novak stood stunned yesterday as black-clad demonstrators pelted police with rocks and firebombs, set barricades ablaze, and later trashed banks, two McDonald's restaurants, and a Mercedes-Benz dealership.

The whirring of police helicopters and the wafting black smoke and tear gas were reminiscent of protests past in Prague, broken up by Soviet tanks or ending in triumph with the fall of the hated communist rulers. But yesterday, as up to 9,000 people, most of them foreigners, sought to prolong the cry against global capitalism, Palan and Novak felt outrage and anger toward those who were stripping the cobblestones from Prague's historic streets and hurling them at police. By last night, scores of people were injured.

''I respect everybody's right to express their opinions,'' said Palan, a 20-year-old student, ''but people should not come here, to our country, to destroy things.''

Those protesting yesterday's opening of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank meeting included environmentalists, human rights activists, and labor groups. But also present - and much more visible - were radicals of various stripes, including anarchists, communists, and right-wing skinheads.

''It is a paradox. A decade ago our people demonstrated peacefully and successfully against communism. Now there are foreigners coming here waving Communist flags demonstrating violently against capitalism,'' said Novak, 20. ''They don't know what it means to live under communism.''

The number of protesters was less than half the 20,000 that organizers had hoped to gather. Authorities, determined to prevent the violence that erupted at World Trade Organization talks in Seattle last year, kept hundreds of people with arrest records from entering the country.

In trying to storm the meetings yesterday, activists pelted police with bottles, rocks, and firebombs. Police fought back with tear gas and water cannons. Several stick-wielding protesters got within yards of the Prague Congress Center, where the meetings are being held, injuring a Japanese and a Russian delegate. They also stormed a hotel, pelting delegates with rocks until truncheon-wielding police repelled them.

Protesters had hoped to barricade IMF and World Bank officials inside their meetings. But at the end of the day, police herded the delegates into a subway station, where they boarded specially prepared trains. The Czech Republic president, Vaclav Havel, a playwright who led a bloodless revolution that overthrew Czechoslovakia's Communist government in 1989, called on protesters to end the violence. IMF and World Bank officials said the annual meetings, which conclude tomorrow, would continue on schedule.

''We're really disappointed. We were really hoping for a nonviolent protest on the basic issues of the IMF and the World Bank. But instead now the focus has shifted,'' said Chelsea Mosen of the Initiative Against Economic Globalization.

Other demonstrators said the violence should show the world how angry people are about the policies of the IMF and the World Bank. The two organizations, they say, perpetuate poverty by forcing developing countries to cut social programs to receive loans.

''Today people trashed some sidewalks and broke some windows. The IMF destroys entire countries,'' said Genevieve Moore, 23, a Seattle native who also participated in the protests in that city.

But most locals were unimpressed by such logic. ''I am so frustrated that I could just kill them,'' said Andrea Macurova, 25, wiping tear gas from her eyes as she made her way home around police barricades. ''They are a bunch of idiots and they should just leave our city.''

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