More than a month after the anti-globalisation demonstrations on the occasion of the annual summit of the IMF and the World Bank which took place in Prague, the event still exercises Czech minds, demonstrating that the impact of the event was extremely strong in the republic's relatively closed, parochial environment.
CER has already reported on Czech police brutality against the demonstrators and has also registered official denials of this brutality. Since the end of September, the only Czech-language media outlet to discuss the issue in any depth has been the Czech Internet daily Britské listy, of which I am the Editor.
Amongst its coverage, Britské listy has published a number of individual testimonies of police brutality against detainees, obtained by the independent civic initiative Občanské právní hlídky (Civic Legal Observers), whose lawyers have now started a number of lawsuits against the police for their actions. In publishing these testimonies, Britské listy was going against the prevailing atmosphere not just in the Czech media but also in Czech society—President Václav Havel even thanked the police for its actions against the anti-globalisation demonstrators.
With hindsight, the events surrounding the IMF/World Bank summit in Prague can be summed up as follows: While most of the more than 10,000 demonstrators in Prague behaved peacefully, there was a hard core of several dozen demonstrators who threw paving stones and several Molotov cocktails at the police.
These people also broke about ten shop windows in the Prague city centre and damaged local branches of Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonalds (whose shop windows for an unknown reason remained unboarded up—some more cynical observers argue that television footage of a broken McDonalds shop window, broadcast on CNN, was valuable publicity for the company).
Civic Legal Observers also reported on the presence of police agents provocateurs in the city centre, some of whom allegedly took part in violence against property. Cases have been recorded in the past when police agents provocateurs infiltrated peaceful demonstrations and the police could use their actions as a pretext for an attack against the demonstration. It is not clear yet to what extent this technique was used in Prague at the end of September 2000.
On the evening of 26 September, after the main demonstrations of that day, the Czech police arrested almost a thousand individuals, most of whom were picked up arbitrarily amongst people in the streets in Prague city centre, roughed them up and held many of them incommunicado for up to three days. (One of them, as Lidové noviny reported, was a South Korean economics professor, who is a supporter of the IMF and the World Bank.) The Czech Helsinki Committee has produced a report which confirms authoritatively that the Czech police did commit acts of brutality against those detained.
Although the police and the Czech authorities originally denied this, gradually they have admitted that there is a problem. 320 complaints against the action of the police have been received by the police inspection authority, which is trying to investigate them.
The Czech media grossly exaggerated the volume of the violence and created a hysterial atmosphere in the country against foreign marauders, degenerates, left-wing weirdos and drug addicts who came to destroy "Prague, our capital city." At the same time, the media painted a mythical, chivalrous image of brave Czech police lads, who in a civilised and reasonable way stood firm against the foreign invaders.
As a result of this campaign, Czech girls started to regard Czech policemen as sex symbols (See Britské listy's report). Practically no space was given to the views of the foreign demonstrators in the media, so Czech society did not learn why they were protesting.
No Czech TV station broadcast a shot, transmitted by global news service BBC News 24 of policemen kicking and beating a person who had tripped and fallen to the ground. Even after this footage was displayed on the Internet, some Czechs flatly denied its authenticity. Generally, dozens of angry reactions were received from Czech readers by Britské listy for publishing evidence of police brutality against the demonstrators.
Many correspondents argued that the police were fully entitled to beat up the aggressive foreigners and that it should have beaten them up more. Views were also expressed that the main writers for Britské listy, Tomáš Pecina and yours truly, are deliberately damaging the good name of the Czech Republic abroad. Jan Čulík and Tomáš Pecina should be hung by the balls for what they are doing to the country, opined one reader of the Internet daily.
First reports of police brutality
Nevertheless, as time went by, the public reception of the event started changing, at least slightly. Quite early on, the daily Lidové noviny published reports of police agents provocateurs as well as an article including testimonies of police brutality. An article about the police brutality was also carried by the weekly news magazine Respekt and some information about this was disseminated by the Czech News Agency.
Eventually, even the semi-tabloid Mladá fronta Dnes, which originally was in the forefront of creating the myth of brave and decent Czech policemen, admitted in a commentary by Martin Komárek, one of its less thoughtful authors, that "it seems that many policemen went beyond what they are permitted to do and that they behaved brutally and unnecessarily beat up some people." [my emphasis]
Only the police can investigate the police
Eventually, on Saturday 4 November, in a relatively dramatic turnabout, Mladá fronta Dnes pointed to the fact that over the past month, the Czech Interior Ministry Inspection Department has managed to investigate only one complaint concerning police brutality. Mikuláš Tomin, the Head of the Inspection Department rejected the argument that the police should be investigated by an independent body, not by the police itself. He told MFD:
In my view, specialists can only be investigated by specialists. If I had civilian investigators, even if they were very good, they would not penetrate into the police circles. And that is the basis of our work. If you are to be able to investigate criminal activity, perpetrated by the police, you must have contacts within the police.
This is an interesting argument, indeed: similarly, you could perhaps argue that in order to investigate crime, you must be a part of the criminal underworld, because without the right contacts, you will not get anywhere.
In another article, also published in Mladá fronta Dnes on Saturday 4 November, the paper now surprisingly openly described instances of police brutality. On Saturday, 4 November, MFD wrote:
Beatings, psychological torture, hours spent without the right to make a telephone call or to go to the toilet. Dozens of people have for more than a month been describing the experience they had from the police during its actions against antiglobalisation demonstrators during the IMF and the World Bank summit.
However, says the paper, the results of investigating these abuses by the Interior Ministry Inspection Department have been particularly meagre. Normally, when investigating alleged criminal acts perpetrated by the police, the Inspection Department uses its own internal police contacts and knowledge of the police environment. In this instance, though, there are dozens of testimonials of police brutality from the detained individuals, but the police denies these allegations.
Mladá fronta Dnes is widely read in the Czech Republic: if it has now abandoned its previous attitude which attempted to create a glorification myth about the Czech police (the popularity of the Czech police had risen by about ten per cent after the antiglobalisation demonstrations, as a result of the pro-police campaign of the Czech media), maybe a gradual change is under way.
In spite of these slow changes in the perception of the "work" of the police, it is probably still rather unlikely that the whole episode will break into the open and cause a cathartic public discussion which might lead to a much needed reform of the Czech police, many of whose members sympathise with racists and skinheads.
Sentenced to prison without trial
Although it now transpires that the police has managed to gather together very little evidence against the individuals detained during the anti-globalisation demonstrations, the judicial process continues apace with sometimes rather startling results.
A sixteen-year-old boy from Vienna broke off wipers from a car parked in Prague, thus causing damage to the vehicle, estimated at less than USD 200 dollars. For this, he was held in detention for a month. The parents of the boy offered the Czech authorities a substantial sum of money as bail, but their offer was refused. Eventually, the boy was pardoned by President Havel. But the Czech press released his personal details, these were picked up by the Austrian press and the boy has been sacked from his apprenticeship for a confectioner in the Sacher Hotel.
On Friday 3 November, the Czech News Agency reported that an eighteen-year-old Pole, a youngster before his final exams at secondary school, was given, by a direct "judge's order," without court proceedings, an unsuspended sentence of a year's imprisonment for "hooliganism" and "assaulting a public official."
The sentence is based on the young man's own testimony during his interrogation after his arrest (he says that the police behaved brutally against him). During this interrogation, he testified that he was hit in the head by a paving stone and suffered a head injury. On being hit by the stone, he says he picked it up and threw it in the direction of the police.
"There is no other evidence or a witness to confirm that the Pole has really thrown the paving stone. There is no information whether the paving stone fell somewhere in the vicinity of the police or whether it has hit them," said the Pole's lawyer. The wound on the young Pole's head was not sewn up until ten hours after his arrest. He was interrogated first before being given first aid. The Pole's lawyer will appeal against the sentence.
The institution of a judge's direct order was introduced into Czech law in 1973 and is normally used when evidence of a criminal offence is absolutely without a doubt. The Czech law makes it possible for judges to sentence individuals to up to one year's imprisonment, but the practice is regarded as controversial in the European context.
Eight other individuals are in danger of being given similar summary sentences on the basis of the testimony of four policemen, who have described in detail the violent actions of eight participants of the anti-globalisation demonstrations, whom they allegedly watched for more then an hour (See Britské listy's report). It seems highly likely that these individuals were arrested first and then fabricated criminal offences were added to the detailed descriptions of their persons and what they were wearing.
As a result of this testimony, the eight individuals have been held in detention for a month and six of them have been accused of assaulting a public official without having confessed and without the investigators obtaining any objective evidence about their guilt.
Some of these detainees do not have legal representation and they are in danger that if a judge sentences them to an imprisonment term without court proceedings, as in the case of the above-mentioned Polish youngster, they will have to serve the sentence. In such cases, the verdict is delivered to them by post, in Czech (seven of these individuals are Hungarian, one of them is German), and if they do not appeal within eight days or if they do not collect the verdict, it will come into force.
"Political activists are sexually deprived"
Such behaviour of the Czech authorities is perhaps not terribly surprising, considering the public attitude towards the demonstrators which still prevails, in spite of some admission by the Czech press that police excesses did take place.
It is perhaps eloquently summed up in the arguments of a well-known Czech public figure, sexologist Radim Uzel, a frequent participant in Czech radio and television debates, who is now standing for the Senate, the upper chamber of Czech parliament, in an election, due to take place on 12 November. Uzel has recently published an article in the Czech left-wing daily Právo, in which he argues forcefully that anyone who is politically active and voices criticism of the establishment is very likely a sexually and emotionally deprived person. The article, entitled "The Mutiny of the Deprived," argues:
The connection between sexuality and vandalism is, perhaps, deeper than it might seem at first sight. Even the spraying of graffitti on walls is a sign of sexual frustration. It is exactly those feeble individuals who are unsuccessful in finding sexual partners who destroy the fronts of houses. They substitute the lack of their own ejaculation by spraying colour paint on walls... Most of these young people who protest against such things as the International Monetary Fund, the killing of seals, the felling of forests, nuclear power stations, motorway bypasses and garbage incinerators and for the rights of laboratory animals or fur-bearing animals are primarily motivated to do this by their own unsatisfactory lives, by lack of parental love and by the absence of emotional education.
Such arguments are frighteningly close to official beliefs held under Communism, according to which any dissenter was psychologically unbalanced. (Political protesters ended up in lunatic asylums in the Communist bloc.) No wonder that in an atmosphere like this, judges will summarily sentence youngsters to long prison terms without substantial evidence.
Jan Čulík, 6 November 2000
Also of interest:
- "You fucked-up anarchist bastards are destroying Prague!" by Jan Čulík
- Hard Cell Techniques by Jan Čulík
- Pictures of Protest, Part I arresting images of the anti-globalisation protests
- Pictures of Protest, Part II
- Browse through the CER eBookstore for electronic books
- Buy English-language books on the Czech Republic through CER
- Return to CER front page