archives of global protests

GLW: Boris Kagarlitsky on Prague (S26)

The following article appears in the current issue of Green Left Weekly


September 20

S26 Prague

CZECH REPUBLIC: Prague 2000: Diary of the people's battle

PRAGUE - The following is the first in a three-part eyewitness account of the large anti-corporate tyranny demonstrations outside the meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank in Prague in September by Russian writer and socialist activist BORIS KAGARLITSKY.

From a memorandum to participants in the meeting of the World Bank and the IMF:

September 20

Photo from a demonstration rejecting the
violent image of protestors, Prague, August 2000

Ordinary Prague citizens have been issued with instructions that recall warnings of a nuclear attack. The police have leafleted people's letterboxes appealing to them not to go out into the street and, if possible, to leave the city for the period of the summit.

School holidays have been extended. Police also instructed people not to speak to protesters and not to read protesters' fliers, books or magazines.

Meanwhile, radical left groups have postered walls calling on Prague residents to come into the streets and express their disagreement with the people "violating our social rights and freedoms".

In Prague, an opponent of the IMF and a critic of capitalism who decides to join in the demonstrations faces an unexpected problem: there are too many demonstrations and other actions. Each group has come up with its own initiative.

Left intellectuals have refused to go to communist meetings, and non-government organisations (NGOs) have vied with one another. The anti-fascists have, for the most part, held independent actions, without informing anyone else. The humanists have been unwilling to collaborate with anyone either.

September 21

The more established NGOs are conducting their seminars under the aegis of Bankwatch, which monitors the actions of the international banks. Some of the participants are turning up in ties. People constantly stress their professionalism, and call for discussions with the heads of the IMF and the World Bank.

More radical groups have united around the Initiative Against Economic Globalisation (IAEG) [it's INPEG in Czech — Note by the editor]. Here the atmosphere is quite different, with men in torn jeans and women with tattoos.

The Convergence Center, where People involved in INPEG's activities did gather

Each group regards the other ironically. Nevertheless, they stress: we have common goals and we are not going to quarrel.

There are reports that in response to the actions of the left and the "informals", a demonstration has been called by the ultra-right. Quite spontaneously, a new idea is beginning to take hold of left-wing youth, an idea formulated in the simple slogan, "Beat up the skinheads!".

Putting this into practice would not be hard considering the huge numerical superiority of the left, strengthened by reinforcements in the form of German anarchists, for whom the week would be wasted if there were no fights with fascists. Fortunately, the police have kept the left and nationalist demonstrations far enough apart to avoid street fighting. A few fascists have nevertheless been beaten up.

September 22

We are received by World Bank director James Wolfensohn. He gives an impression of sincerity and reminds me of Gorbachev: the same goodwill, the same desire for dialogue and the same helplessness when it comes to the practical question of carrying out reforms.

"Wolfie" reassures the representatives of civil society and tries to justify himself. As proof of the changed character of the bank he cites that earlier, the bank had two employees working on the problems of civil society and now there are several dozen. New departments and new posts have been created.

Among the representatives of civil society, the news of a massive growth in the bureaucracy fails to arouse the expected enthusiasm. "Give us a chance", Wolfensohn repeats.

Everyday political life here is terribly like that in Moscow in the late 1980s. Informal organisations, perestroika, the same stormy meetings, queues for the microphone, cacophony of demands behind which lies a general discontent, understood and formulated in different ways. And the same helpless promises from the authorities, who already understand that carrying on as before is impossible, but who cannot manage anything new.

September 23, 9am

At 11am, President Havel is to lead a discussion in the castle between movement participants and IMF heads.

The city is still almost empty, but sometimes groups of young people are to be seen on the streets, their appearance leaving not the slightest doubt as to why they are here: T-shirts with pictures of Che Guevara and threadbare jeans.

Closer to the centre of town, making their way through the streets are cavalcades of Audi cars, protected by police cars with flashing lights. Inside the Audis are the conference delegates.

Meanwhile, the police are taking up their positions. Helicopters circle over the city. Blue uniforms are everywhere. On the flanks of many of the uniforms I notice sickeningly familiar canvas bags containing gas-masks, the same as those that used to be given to us in school during elementary military training exercises.

The thought strikes me: they are firing off "cherry" gas. It feels as though a war is about to break out.

I ask a middle-aged policeman the way. He immediately apologises: he doesn't know a short route to the castle. He and the other police standing there have been brought in from Moravia. Police have been brought from the whole country, and the armed forces have been put on alert.

The meeting with Havel reminds me of last talks before the outbreak of armed hostilities: the sides are still meeting for negotiations, although the troops are already taking up their positions.

We go up to the castle. There are numerous stops for document checks and metal detector scans. Soldiers of the presidential guard stand in booths, just as in London, only their bearing isn't as erect, their uniforms don't fit well and they're not particularly well fed.

In a medieval hall built for ball games, about 100 NGO representatives are assembling, together with a similar number of functionaries of international financial organisations ... and numerous television cameras.

The first address is from Katarina Lizhkova, speaking in the name of the demonstrators gathering on the streets. "There will not be any dialogue.

You talk about dialogue, but the police have already prepared water cannon and tear gas. Thousands of people have been illegally held up at the border and here in Prague, thousands more are being subjected to police persecution simply because they want to exercise their legal right to protest. But we will not stop until the anti-democratic institutions of the financial oligarchy are abolished."

The left side of the hall applauds, while the right maintains a gloomy silence.

Walden Bello, the movement's most popular ideologue, takes the microphone. "The international financial institutions are a danger. They aren't answerable to anyone. Don't believe what they say.

"They talk of fighting against corruption, but they supported Yeltsin in Russia! They talk about democracy, but they gave money to the dictator Suharto in Indonesia.

"Now that you've lost your authority, you start talking about social justice. But the words and the deeds part company. If you want changes, then cancel the debts of Russia, cancel the debts of Indonesia.

"You've made your loans conditional on policies that have brought these countries to ruin and collapse. The programs that are being implemented under the dictates of the IMF almost invariably fail. What right do you now have to demand this money back?"

The leftists applaud, while the rightists keep silent.

Trevor Manuel, a one-time communist and revolutionary and now South Africa's finance minister, objects to Bello's words. "Without the international financial institutions, things would be even worse for poor countries."

The right-wingers applaud. Someone among the leftists mutters "Traitor!".

In the hall, the atmosphere of confrontation is even stronger than on the street.

Faced with a hostile audience, Wolfie has become completely self-effacing. Crushed, he hangs his head, again trying to justify himself. By contrast, new IMF director Horst Kohler holds forth aggressively. "I have spoken with Third World leaders and they have had a mass of questions, but no-one has demanded that the fund be dissolved. On the contrary, they want to work with us!"

"You mean they want to thieve together", mutters the British journalist Alex Callinicos, who is sitting next to me.

George Soros takes the stand and unexpectedly begins to expound the general positions of Marxism on the nature of the capitalist system. Then he declares: "So long as the rules are as they are, we are going to play by these rules. You should not expect anything else from us financiers. I don't want to lose." He finishes up with an appeal for reform of the system, while there is still time.

Bello once again flings himself on Kohler. "Why are you unwilling to reorganise the administration of the IMF? The structure is completely undemocratic. Where are your promised reforms?" Kohler replies that the fund is making efforts, and is improving its work.

"That's not a reply", Bello shouts. "I asked a concrete question. You are simply not willing to reorganise the system of administration! So what is there for us to discuss with you?"

Havel thanks all the participants and the two sides go their separate ways until the demonstrations begin later that day.

September 24

I attend a seminar on problems of globalisation, conducted by the Initiative Against Economic Globalisation (IAEG), which unites the more radical protesters in Prague. The hall is full of a polyglot crowd. Only the Russians are missing; no "suspicious elements" have been granted visas.

The average age in the auditorium is about 25. People laugh, applaud and use the microphone to make wordy declarations. The chairperson grows nervous. "Let's have fewer declarations and more discussion. We have to show the gentlemen from the establishment an example of real democracy!"

A small group of young women from Latvia sit in a corner on the floor. They chew gum and enthusiastically applaud the speeches on the tyranny of transnational corporations.

Various people from the United States arrive late; they are coming directly from the airport. They exchange remarks: who was allowed in, who was taken from the plane.

The FBI gave the Czech authorities "blacklists" of US citizens who it recommended should not be allowed into Prague. The word nevyezdnye - people denied the right to travel abroad in Soviet times - flashes through my head.

A report arrives that a further 1000 or so people have been held up at the border by the Czech authorities. Walden Bello interrupts his speech. English journalist Alex Callinicos backs him up: "Eleven years ago in Prague, the people came out onto the streets demanding freedom of movement, and at that time President Havel was on our side. Now his police are illegally closing the border!"

These people have been from Italy, involved in "Ya Basta!"
The picture shows their train which has been stopped at the Czech border for many hours

It is announced that a spontaneous demonstration against the police's illegal actions is under way at the interior ministry. But the protesters are few, 200 at most. The chairperson appeals to everyone who has nothing else to do to join the picket line. People from the back rows get up and head for the exit.

On the border, total confusion reigns. Some people are being held up, while whole columns of others are getting through without the slightest hindrance. The border guards are searching each car thoroughly, rummaging in suitcases and leafing through printed material.

Meanwhile, the demonstrations are continuing. Today, about 2000 people form a living chain in support of Jubilee 2000, a movement demanding the writing off of the debts of the Third World and the former Communist countries. A similar number gather for a meeting of the Humanist Alliance.

The main events, however, are expected on September 26, when a protest march will take place. Reports come through that the march has been partially banned. Some districts of the city are closed to the demonstrators.

Lawyers for the protesters argue that the ban is illegal, but this is no longer the main thing. The general mood has taken a definite shape; we know we will go there anyway, and that no-one will stop us.

Bello is like Lenin in October. Since the demonstrations in Seattle, he has been transformed from an academic into a real leader. Now he is on the platform. "Everything is decided on the streets! All available resources must be mobilised. We need living strength, you understand, everything depends on living strength! We need bodies!"

"Living strength" continues to arrive. Everywhere there are groups of young people, speaking in every imaginable language from Hungarian to Basque. The language of international communication is, of course, the same as among the bankers: English.

Alongside the Lidensky Bridge is the Convergence Centre, the organisational headquarters for the march and where placards and effigies are made. Here, as well, instruction sessions are held, maps of Prague are distributed and suggestions are made as to where people might find places to stay. People are told how to give first aid to the wounded and what to do if they are affected by tear gas.

When the work ends, an improvised concert begins. Along with the activists, rock groups are arriving, and street theatre troupes from throughout Europe. Elsewhere, at a "Festival of Resistance", about a dozen groups from the Czech Republic, Holland, Britain and Italy are playing.

Dusk has already fallen and people are still coming. Some are carrying placards.

A group of young Germans seated on the grass next to the tram stop is discussing something. Several hundred Swedes discuss how to act in the case of a clash with police or if arrested, and where to phone in Stockholm, since one in three of them has a mobile telephone. One woman is returning to Sweden; on September 26 she will spend the whole day at home by the telephone.

The tension is growing. The feeling is like before a battle. Everyone is waiting for reinforcements.

News reaches the "Standart" and the Convergence Centre: 300 Austrians will arrive tomorrow. It is unclear where the Hungarians are; they are expected any minute. The Slovaks have already arrived, but fewer of them than were expected. The Spaniards and Greeks are due to come on special trains.

The advance guard of the Italian contingent appears on the Charles Bridge. More than 1000 of them have come. Four people were not admitted; the rest sat at the border for several hours, demanding that their comrades be admitted, before deciding to carry on to Prague. Now the most active of them, 100 or so, are sitting directly on the Charles Bridge singing Bandiera Rossa and partisan songs from the second world war.

September 25

I drink my morning coffee on Wenceslas Square. Unfortunately, I am not allowed to finish it. My mobile phone sounds. It is Lee Sastar, a US radical journalist, who has been detained in the airport.

He has refused to fly back and is now sitting in the border control zone, interned for the second day. In one hour he will hold a media conference.

I make my way to the airport. A small group of activists has already gathered, with placards reading "Freedom for Lee Sastar!" and "Defend journalists' rights!".

A huge American named Ahmet speaks with Lee by telephone, and repeats his statements for those assembled. The journalists record everything.

There are representatives of Czech publications, Associated Press and Greek television, and some Britons I do not know. Instead of asking questions, Mark Steele of the London Independent joins the demonstrators. He and Callinicos call for the formation of a Defence Committee for the Rights of Journalists.

In the Standart, meanwhile, the seminars and discussions are continuing. The World Bank and the IMF are also holding their meetings. The two sides, of course, are behaving quite differently.

The officials of the World Bank are still trying to justify themselves, meeting with representatives of the non-government organisations, promising to investigate matters and to put them in order.

The IMF ignores the protests. US treasury chief Larry Sommers has already warned the heads of the World Bank that he will not permit any serious concessions to the developing countries or to critics of the system.

By evening, around 8000 activists from various countries are in Prague. Most of the Czechs appear at the last moment.

The police are preparing to meet the demonstrators on the bridge that leads to Visegrad, where the Conference Centre is located. In the neighbourhoods nearby, residents are being asked to remove their cars from the streets.

The ambulances and hospitals are preparing to receive casualties. The schools have already been shut for a week.

In all, 11,000 police and riot troops have been mobilised. Around 12-15,000 demonstrators are expected.

In the Convergence Centre, a battle plan is worked out. When the demonstrators approach the bridge, they will split into three columns. One will go onto the bridge, the two others will try to outflank the police on the sides. The column going onto the bridge is not supposed to get into a fight with the police; its job is only to stand and chant slogans.

This decision does not suit the Italians. "We're going to force our way across the bridge", they declare. "We're not here to pay compliments to the police". The Italians were not in Seattle and want to show what they are capable of.

A few French people from the older generation explain how in Paris in 1968 they built barricades. There is just one question: in those days, demonstrators had cobblestones to use for these purposes, but what are you supposed to do with asphalt?

The leaders of the groups are given maps of the city with the traffic routes marked on them. On the reverse side, a brief plan of action is printed in several languages. The proposal is that, irrespective of the outcome of the fight at Visegrad, in the evening the protesters will blockade the opera, where the bankers and bureaucrats will be assembling. First the protesters will try to stop them getting into the hall, and if they do get in, then not to let them out again until morning.

Other groups will go to the expensive hotels where the delegates have installed themselves, and will keep up a barrage of noise the whole night. Around a dozen rock groups and bands will take part in the action. Sleepless nights are nothing new for the protesters.

There is to be a meeting at 9am. At 11am the march on Visegrad will begin.

September 26

It is 8am. At the entrance to the metro there are police patrols. Over the radio comes the announcement that Visegrad metro station is closed.

At 9am we are in Peace Square [= Namesti Miru — Note: Editor]. About 10,000 people are speaking all the languages of Europe at once. Turks, Greeks, Kurds, Spaniards and Basques are standing next to one another.

This photo was taken at Namesti Miru during the Action Week,
but not at S26 (don't ask me for the exact date!)

A huge balloon, symbolising the IMF, rolls over the crowd, and everyone can push it. Among the crowd are comic effigies and revolutionary placards.

From time to time, new columns arrive, often accompanied by small bands or musical groups. Here there are Scandinavians, and behind them, Britons and Spaniards. In the back rows are a dozen Dutch people in white coats painted with pictures of a huge tomato, the symbol of the Socialist Party.

Trade union activists from northern Europe carry their banners looking like the icons carried in old-time church processions. The Italian column, with its banners unfurled, surges onto the square. Heading it is a minibus, and behind it are members of the "Ya Basta" movement, which has already distinguished itself by breaking up several international gatherings.

The Italians are all wearing helmets and carrying shields. They are dressed in white coats of the type worn by chemical clean-up squads. Some are wearing home-made body armour of fibreglass or cardboard. And, of course, there are protective masks, in some cases even real gas-masks. The people on the square applaud them.

At 11am the action gets under way. On the plan, the three columns are marked in different colours: blue, yellow and pink.

The strangest of the columns is the pink one. Here there are very few political placards, and party banners or ideological symbols are totally absent.

Many participants are dressed in pink, and have painted their faces pink. In place of banners, there are pink balloons. In the middle of the column is a pink cardboard tank, with flowers sticking out of its make-believe guns. On police recommendation, the shops and cafes along the column's route are closed.

The yellow column, which has the menacing-looking Italians at its head, includes around 300 Hungarians, French, Americans and Turks. From time to time, someone encounters a friend and rushes to embrace them. We swap stories with Hungarian friends, and hear the latest news from New York.

Here there are more journalists than anyone else. They are following the Italians, hoping to photograph clashes with the police.

I prefer the yellow column because it is obviously safer: no-one will attack us until the approach to the bridge, but in the two other columns it is still not clear what might happen.

At the final turning before the bridge the column stops. From a loudspeaker on the Italian minibus, there are orders and instructions, in Italian, then in English, Spanish, Czech and French; the main thing is not to do anything without coordinating it with the organisers.

Drums begin beating. A group of people in blue protective jackets appears, wearing armbands with the red cross. Many demonstrators don gas masks. Someone communicates with the other columns over a mobile phone, trying to work out what is happening with them. We approach the bridge.

The bridge has been blockaded by the police. Behind metal barriers stands a front rank, all in body armour, with shields and clubs. The most modern equipment has been made ready especially for this encounter, to the order of US specialists. The feeling arises that we are faced with several dozen Darth Vaders.

Behind the first rank of police are armoured personnel carriers! The bridge is totally blocked, but not even armoured vehicles are enough it seems: behind the APCs, along the whole length of the bridge, police cars, trucks and minibuses are parked bumper to bumper. There is no possibility of getting through here, but neither are the police going to attack

On the bridge, the police feel confident, but who knows what might happen if they have to fight the fearsome Italians on the streets? Both sides push and shove one another a little with their shields, but do not shift from their positions.

An order to disperse immediately is read out to the demonstrators in Czech and English, but no-one moves. The police try shooting off a little tear gas, but this makes not the slightest impression.

From behind the Italians, young Czechs taunt the police, reminding them that not even the Communists used APCs against unarmed demonstrators. Instructions come from the minibus: everyone who does not have a gas mask is to go to the rear of the column, but not leave the vicinity. If there is a clash, it is important for the front ranks to have a rear guard.

The stand-off continues. The journalists are getting bored.

Behind the column, the demonstrators have set up a field kitchen, where they give a bowl of soup and an apple to all who want them. Everyone can decide for themselves whether to pay or not.

By 2.20pm the demonstrators are bored and the police in their armour are getting hot in the sun. Meanwhile, a real battle is under way further north.

It seems that someone from the blue column started throwing rocks at the police. Other people speak of a truck being driven at full speed into a crowd of demonstrators. They also speak of police provocateurs (the next day I am to see four of them, still dressed like anarchists, return to the building that houses the police headquarters).

One way or another, a real battle has broken out. Shots can be heard occasionally, through the screeching of sirens and the clattering of helicopters.

From time to time, ambulances drive past. There are wounded on both sides. The police are using tear gas and occasionally firing their weapons simply to frighten people.

The demonstrators are building barricades, have burned several cars and are throwing stones. The Poles and Germans throw themselves into the fight with particular fury. A number of anarchists prepare Molotov cocktails.

The police drive the "blues" out of one street, but they immediately regroup and appear on another. The yellow column does not move.

The pink column has managed to reach the Congress Centre along a side street and has blocked the exits, but there are not enough people and reinforcements are urgently needed.

It has been discovered that the police barriers are not so difficult to break through: we go down under the bridge by footpaths, cross a street and there we are, at the Conference Centre! The police observe with amazement how our detachment has appeared behind their barricades.

Part three will be published in the next issue of Green Left Weekly.

September 26 (pursuit)

The exits from the Congress Centre [where the IMF and World Bank are meeting] are blockaded by groups of a few dozen people. They sit directly on the pavement, singing and chanting slogans.

Street theatre troupes perform in the "no man's land" between the police and demonstrators. Here there are French, Israelis and a mixed group from eastern Europe. People exchange news. A Belarussian detachment has formed here spontaneously.

Along the police barriers the French activists stretch out ribbons like those used to mark danger zones on a building site. The police are no longer blockading the demonstrators, they themselves are blockaded.

A number of bankers in dark suits, accompanied by shouts and whistles, pass through to the Congress Centre. One of the protest organisers, a huge young Austrian with long hair, runs up. He shouts: "Why did you let them through? Have you forgotten why we're here?" Now, men in expensive suits are no longer allowed through.

Journalists in jeans pass through without impediment, as does an ambulance. So too do several local residents whose doors are beyond the police barrier.

From beyond the barriers, another group of men in expensive suits appears. The demonstrators link arms and block their path. The police start beating demonstrators, and a melee breaks out.

The crowd screams: "Shame!", "Down with the IMF!". The bankers run back in fright.

A few minutes later an apparently very important gentleman emerges from the Congress Centre. A number of police immediately rush to clear a way for him with their clubs. They have almost broken through when, from around the corner there appears a new group of demonstrators. They are singing something as they march and have raised pink balloons.

Despite the group's thoroughly peaceful appearance, the police hide behind their shields and begin retreating. The banker flees. Singing all the while, the demonstrators carry on marching.

At 4.30pm a column of around 1000 people march around the hill, following the same route as a French group shortly before. Once again there are shouts, the beating of drums and singing. At the end of the column, a group of very youthful Britons in ski masks is assembled around their banner: a smiling green skull on a black background.

We are already next to the bridge. Overturned barriers lie where the police had earlier drawn up their lines. The police are retreating up the path toward the Congress Centre. These police, without helmets, shields or armour, are not anxious for a fight.

Pursuing the police, the demonstrators charge up the hill. Everything recalls the storming of a medieval castle.

The police on the hill draw up their ranks and throw themselves into the attack, but from down below comes a hail of stones. These are from the Britons.

The police turn and run. With shouts of "Hurrah!" and "Down with the IMF!", several dozen people rush onward and upward. They have now reached the gallery on the ground floor of the Congress Centre. Others, forming ranks, begin moving up the path that is now clear of the enemy.

Over the building, as a sign of victory, soars a pink balloon. A placard stating "Stop the IMF!" is attached to the balcony of the Congress Centre.

Reinforcements - Italians, Britons and Dutch - come from the direction of the bridge. They build a barricade of overturned rubbish containers and police barriers to block the police vehicles.

Beneath the walls of the Congress Centre, young women in pink gas-masks are dancing. The upper balconies are full of people watching the protesters' assault, some in horror and others in curiosity. I realise that the battle has been won.

The Congress Centre is not taken by storm today, but this was not part of the demonstrators' plans. Riot police rush to the scene, clear the balcony and the entrances to the building and then release tear gas.

The gas disperses quickly, without causing much harm to the attackers, but a certain amount of it drifts up into the Congress Centre, causing discomfort to the delegates and officials. The demonstrators retreat in organised fashion to nearby streets, and continue the siege.

By 5pm the spirit of the defenders has been broken once and for all. The blockade has succeeded. For two and a half hours not a single car or bus has been able to leave the besieged building.

The police have had to evacuate particularly important people by helicopter. The rest, after somehow or another breaking out of the building, reach their hotels by public transport. World Bank director James Wolfensohn, too, is forced to travel by metro, evidently for the first time in his life.

Tactically, the battle went brilliantly. The US instructors of the Czech police were expecting a repeat of Seattle, where the demonstrators first blockaded the hotels, then tried to march along the main street in a single large crowd. But the organisers of the Prague protest decided to do everything differently and, although the police undoubtedly knew of the plans, they could not understand them.

In Seattle, the demonstrators had tried to stop the delegates from getting into the conference hall. In Prague, they did not let the delegates out, and this proved even more effective.

Secondly, the Prague demonstrators, in the best traditions of the military arts, dispersed their forces. While the brunt of the special police attacks was diverted onto the "blue" column of protesters, and while the "yellow" column blocked the bridge and disrupted traffic, the "pinks" were able to make it through to the building by breaking up into small detachments. Once there, they regrouped, and the circle was closed.

Each column had its own national and political peculiarities. Those who were mainly looking for a fight finished up in the "blue" column. In the "yellow" column were the most disciplined and organised elements; including most left political group members.

The Italian activists looked extremely threatening, but when they clashed with police, they broke off the engagement relatively quickly. On the bridge, however, they made the necessary impression on the enemy. The "pinks" seemed the most inoffensive, even absurd, but behind this were cunning and persistence. It was no accident that the dominant forces here were the Czechs and British. It was they who decided what the day's outcome would be.

It is 6pm and several thousand people surround the Opera House, blocking the entrances. There are no police anywhere and groups of demonstrators roam about the centre of the city unhindered. On many streets, traffic is closed off.

At the Opera House an impromptu meeting is under way. Speakers are addressing the crowd over a megaphone, in several languages. Sometimes there is translation, sometimes not.

"The Prague Spring of 1968 was the beginning of the end for Soviet totalitarianism. Prague in 2000 is the beginning of the end for the dictatorship of the international financial oligarchy!" The crowd chants a new slogan: "Prague, Seattle, continue the battle!".

It is announced that the operatic performance scheduled for the summit delegates has been cancelled. The crowd applauds and one of the speakers suggests organising "our own alternative opera". The Britons and Americans break into "We shall Overcome!".

On the Opera House balcony, the Austrian Erich Probsting appears: "Today Prague has belonged to us. We have won a victory over global capitalism. We have united people from eastern and western Europe, people from north and south. We are forcing them to respect our rights. We want to decide our fate for ourselves! Tomorrow we shall go out onto the streets again, to show that the struggle is continuing!"

It is 10.30pm and we are sitting in a pizza shop in Wencelas Square discussing the day's events. A few dozen metres away, a group of Germans and Poles are sacking a McDonald's outlet. These restaurants are favourite targets of all the protest actions; McDonald's does not recognise trade unions as a matter of principle and finances right-wingers in US elections.

Anticipating trouble, the managers of the restaurant have put safety glass in the windows, but this merely excites the young radicals further. They use police barriers as rams.

When we enter the square there is no longer a McDonald's. The windows are broken and the sign has been smashed. Over the square hangs the sharp smell of tear gas. People are having their photographs taken against a backdrop of shattered glass.

Police and demonstrators mingle chaotically on the square. No-one understands anything, or controls anything.

A bus appears, full of summit participants. Its safety-glass windows have been cracked by stones and the windscreen is smeared with something white. The passengers look terrified. The crowd hisses and whoops. Police appear in body armour, with dogs. The dogs are extremely savage - so savage that they start attacking one another. They are taken away.

By the end of the day, the police are starting to behave far more viciously, not only against people using violence, but also against peaceful demonstrators.

The blockade on the Congress Centre has been broken and many of the protesters have been beaten and arrested. The number detained is more than 400; of these, about 300 are Czechs. More than 60 people have been injured on both sides.

Before the demonstration began, participants were given a map with the telephone number of a lawyer to call in case of arrest, as well as the telephone numbers of the fire and ambulance services. The detainees have not been given the right to contact a lawyer.

The Czechs are having a particularly bad time. The foreigners, as a rule, are being deported from the country within a few hours; the rest are being taken to Plzen, where they are beaten, denied food and drink, and are prevented from sleeping.

At 10.30pm, in the Initiative Against Economic Globalisation's (INPEG) press centre, information is being collected. The centre's telephone line was cut off several days ago, but mobile phones are still working.

While we are making our inquiries about the day's events, an uproar resounds from the entrance. With a crash, a metal grille closes in front of the door. The neo-Nazis are attacking the centre. I realise to my horror that the building does not have an emergency exit. The attack, however, is beaten off after three or four minutes.

At 11pm on the Charles Bridge, several dozen weary young people have gathered beneath the statues and are eating ice cream. Several of them have torn clothes and bruised faces. All are indescribably happy.

September 27 (pursuit)

The events of the previous day have provoked differences within the movement. Many US intellectuals are shocked by what has happened. Chelsea, the US press secretary for INPEG, is almost crying. "We aren't violent people, we're peaceful, all this is terrible."

The German press secretary, Stefan, takes a quite different attitude: the violence was inevitable. The police tactics aimed to rule out any possibility of a successful non-violent action.

Those who wanted violence most of all were the press, he says. "If there hadn't been barricades and broken windows, they wouldn't have shown anything at all. The police intended to disperse us from the very first. In West Berlin, clashes like this are commonplace. So what's all the discussion about?"

The demonstrations are continuing in various places, and from time to time they are broken up. The main demand is for the release of the detainees, but the number in custody is constantly growing. In Peace Square, most of those who have assembled are Czechs and Germans. Riot police are dragging a young Czech activist along the ground. The crowd screams, "Fascists!".

It is 6pm and young people are walking about with placards declaring: "I am an activist too - arrest me!".

Demonstrators go onto the Charles Bridge. On the other side of the bridge, police in body armour are drawing up. "There's a McDonald's there and they're scared we're going to storm it", explains an Australian journalist working for an environmental organisation.

People question one another about the details of what happened on the previous day. Maksim, a Ukrainian television journalist, tries to obtain an interview from a young Portuguese woman; she and a few friends bought tickets to Prague just three days ago, setting off, as she puts it, "to war".

She laments that there are almost no Portuguese present: "We're so unorganised!". Maksim suggests that she repeat this on camera, but she refuses and makes off, declaring, "I hate the television!".

It's 10.30pm and I'm drinking beer in a bar with Maksim, one of his colleagues and a number of activists from Germany. The Ukrainians have just completed a direct broadcast in which Maksim was asked to comment on a rumour that the IMF meeting would be cut short. We phone colleagues from the BBC, who confirm it.

Yes, the summit will end a day ahead of schedule, and there will be no concluding press conference. The reasons are not announced. The closing ceremony has been cancelled; the press release says something vague to the effect that all the speeches by the participants have been unexpectedly short. There are also some general comments about the uprising in Prague.

We order another round of beer. At the neighbouring tables, British and Dutch protesters shout with joy and embrace one another. "What the hell", says one of the German women. "It turned out to be so easy!"

S26 Prague
S26 Global Action Day