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(en) Media, Czech, NATO: Despite Security Checks, Protesters Flow Into

From "Andrew" <andy@dojo.tao.ca>
Date Thu, 21 Nov 2002 07:48:13 -0500 (EST)


Prague
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Activists and self-declared anarchists have been passing through tightened
security at the Czech borders to travel to the capital Prague to protest
at this week's NATO summit.

Prague, 19 November 2002 (RFE/RL)-- Despite increased security on the
borders of the Czech Republic aimed at keeping demonstrators away from this
week's NATO summit in Prague, hundreds of foreign activists have been slipping
into the country in small groups and are converging in the Czech capital.

Small groups of newly arriving activists can be seen in pubs, youth centers,
and empty buildings across the city. An initial protest on 17 November drew
about 300 demonstrators -- many of them Czechs. Many more demonstrators
are expected to gather for the main protests, expected later this week.

Among them is Erik, a 23-year-old self-declared anarchist from Slovenia,
one of the seven countries expecting to receive an invitation to join NATO
at this week's summit.

Erik, who agreed to be interviewed on condition that his last name not
be
used, told RFE/RL what can be expected from the demonstrations. "We will
peacefully march in the streets and demonstrate against the
militarization of
the world, capitalist exploitation, and NATO's imperialistic wars," Erik
said.

Czech security officials say they have made preparations to control
crowds as
large as 12,000 people, about the same number as authorities say
gathered to
protest the IMF and World Bank meetings in Prague two years ago.

But some Czech officials say that despite the enormous number of police
and
soldiers on the streets of the capital, they don't expect more than a
few
thousand demonstrators.

Czech Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Vondra, the government's
commissioner
for the NATO summit, told reporters today he does not think the protest
rallies this week will reach the size of those seen at the IMF and World
Bank
meetings.

Those meetings were cut short by one day after demonstrators blockaded
Prague's Congress Center and temporarily prevented high-ranking
delegates from
leaving.

Vondra said he doesn't expect anyone to threaten the summit "in a way
that
would seriously impair the course of events. There will be protests, but
I
personally don't think they will be as big as they were two years ago in
Prague during the IMF and the World Bank meeting."

Indeed, many of the more mainstream activist groups that were in Prague
two
years ago to protest against globalization have said that they will not
join
this week's demonstrations.

The true extent of this week's protests will start to become apparent
tomorrow
evening, when scattered groups of demonstrators converge on Prague
Castle,
where senior officials from NATO states will be attending a
state-sponsored
dinner.

Events tomorrow also will be an indicator as to whether there will be a
repeat
of the widespread vandalism and violence seen two years ago.

Organizers say they hope to carry out a "creative occupation" of Prague.
They
won't elaborate on what they mean by "creative occupation," other than
to say
that the tone of events is up to each individual protester.

The anti-NATO organizers also say their largest and "loudest" protests
will be
on 21 November, the day of key summit events.

But like the demonstrations seen two years ago, all plans for now are
being
called "a draft" and are subject to last-minute changes in order to
disrupt
police.

The location of an anti-NATO "convergence center" that is dispersing
instructions on where and when the demonstrators should gather was
announced
only yesterday. Authorities raided a similar convergence center two
years ago
near the end of the demonstrations.

Last night, more than 100 activists -- most of them males under the age
of 30
and many of them from abroad -- gathered at an arts center on the west
side of
Prague for the screening of a film called "Prague 2000: Rebel Colors."
The
film, which was produced by the Independent Media Center of Prague,
documented
violence between police and protesters at Prague's IMF and World Bank
meetings.

After the screening, members of the audience spoke informally with each
other
about their plans and expectations for this week.

Many complained about what they see as collusion between Czech
authorities and
the mainstream Czech media to discredit their demonstrations, in
particular,
by stoking fear among ordinary Czechs with warnings about radicals bent
on
vandalism and violence.

Erik, the Slovenian protester, said he does not anticipate that the
protests
will turn violent, but added that he is prepared for any eventuality. "I
am an
anarchist. I am not here to be violent. I am here as an activist
concerned
about the situation in the world today. I cannot sit or stand by and let
these
things happen. So I am here to protest peacefully. But if necessary, we
will
protect ourselves. We have information about police provocateurs," Erik
said.

Erik said he arrived in Prague 10 days ago in order to enter the country
before border security was stepped up. He and others at last night's
screening
say they were able to enter the Czech Republic by traveling in small
groups
rather than with large, organized tours. "Many activist groups are
trying to
find a way into the Czech Republic, to get across the border. We thought
of an
idea about how to get in because we are known activists, at least in
Slovenia,
and we expected trouble at the borders. We took a local train because we
heard
that [trains between major European] cities are checked more than the
local
trains," Erik said.

Still, Erik admitted that it was necessary for him to lie to the Czech
border
police before being allowed into the country. "The border police asked
us if
we were going to Prague and we said: 'No. We are going to Krakow.' The
border
police made no problems for us. They said: 'OK. Go,'" Erik said.

Since arriving in Prague, Erik has been joined by more than a dozen
friends
from his native Slovenia. He said Slovenian anarchists are determined to
protest the Prague summit because their country is among the seven NATO
candidate states expected to be formally invited to join the alliance.

The chief NATO spokesman, Yves Brodeur, said today that the Prague
summit
should be a time for celebration rather than protests. "This
organization has
been able to guarantee security and maintain peace in this part of the
world,
and in other areas, for more than 50 years. All these leaders are coming
together here to make sure that it can continue to do that excellent
job. So I
think there is a lot more to be happy about than sad about," Brodeur
said.

But anarchists like Ondrej Slacalek are not happy. Slacalek is the
editor of
the Prague-based publication "A Kontra." It is an information bulletin
of two
local groups planning protests this week: the Czechoslovak Anarchist
Association and the Czechoslovak Anarchist Federation.

Slacalek said he does not personally endorse violent demonstrations. But
he
insisted that street violence is a legitimate tool of protest. "It seems
to me
a bit like a double standard. Here one can hold a session of a military
alliance, which is really responsible for wars. But if there is any
violence
in the streets, it is immediately condemned, even though in most cases
the
violence is against property. Certainly in the antiglobalization
demonstrations [in Prague two years ago], there was no instance of
beating
police, at the most there was a case of the police beating a
demonstrator. I
haven't claimed here to be an advocate of violent acts, but on the other
hand,
I think [the demonstrators] have their reasons and legitimacy," Slacalek
said.

Czech human rights activist and newspaper commentator Petr Uhl said he
finds
Slacalek's stance disturbing. "The fact that here [in Prague] there will
be
people who are responsible for unleashing wars or other conflicts still
doesn't justify anyone's use of violence in the streets of Prague. In no
case
can violence be legitimized," Uhl said.

For now at least, anti-NATO organizers say they do not plan to march on
the
Congress Center, where the main summit events will be held.

For their part, Czech authorities say they will be far less lenient
toward any
march on the Congress Center than they were two years ago.

(RFE/RL correspondents Jolyon Naegele and Ahto Lobjakas contributed to
this
report.)


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