[Praha] Prague: a view from the inside
Per I. Mathisen
Per.Inge.Mathisen at idi.ntnu.no
Tue Oct 10 16:54:25 CEST 2000
En interessant artikkel om hvordan demonstrasjonene opplevdes fra
insiden. Forslaget helt på slutten av artikkelen tror jeg godt vi bør ta
alvorlig, noe til neste gang :) - Per
---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Mon, 9 Oct 2000 16:09:58 -0400 (EDT)
From: Robert Weissman <rob at milan.essential.org>
To: stop-imf at venice.essential.org
Subject: [stop-imf] Prague: a view from the inside (fwd)
MANILA, PHILIPPINES | Monday, October 9, 2000
A World Bank economist's odyssey in Kafka's Prague
By ANTONIO ANDRADE
(Columnist Walden Bello met an old contact
from the World Bank during the World Bank-IMF
joint annual meetings in Prague, Czech
Republic, on Sept. 26 to 28. The following is his
account of the events that unfolded around him
during that fateful conference. Antonio Andrade
is not his real name.)
Coming into Prague was impressive because
they had the system all set up.
Right at the airport, you were accredited. As soon
as you stepped out of the plane, you were
fast-tracked out of customs.
Everything was so systematic. Everybody got into
And you got escorts. As you know, they closed all
universities that week. And one reason was to get
students to act as escorts and guides to
delegates. For the whole week. Very
good-looking escorts. Extremely good looking. In
fact, I dated one of them later.
I have to say that my impression was there was no
inkling -- at least among the people I was in touch
with -- what was going to come. In fact, the
dominant reaction from IMF-WB delegates was
that the police were overreacting.
I got there Saturday the 23rd. On the 24th and
25th, nothing was happening. Lots of activities,
but everybody still felt nothing would happen. I
think among the delegates and among the private
bankers no one was really expecting anything to
happen that coming Tuesday.
The debate between (James) Wolfensohn, (Horst)
Koehler and the NGOs that President (Vaclav)
Havel organized on the 23rd was not well
publicized. People I was with had not heard about
There was a daily schedule called "Emerging
Markets," and it was listed there, but it wasn't
played up. Only those like me, who had been
tipped off before coming to Prague, understood
I told my boss I wanted to attend, but he said there
were more urgent things to pay attention to.
Anyway, Saturday and Sunday were so uneventful
that everybody felt it would stay this way
throughout. Really calm.
Then all of a sudden, you had this very dramatic
turn of events on Tuesday.
Tuesday was the opening day. On Monday, the
security system warned something might happen
the following day.
But even when the security system started issuing
flyers to the delegation rooms, no one believed it.
We were warned by the flyers that if we were
going to the Congress Center on Tuesday, we
would have to be prepared to stay there for a
while because a protest could lock in delegates at
But even then I had the sense that no one took that
seriously. And I believe that because everybody
came to the opening ceremonies the next day.
Had it been taken seriously, some people would
probably not have shown up. I saw ex-World Bank
presidents there coming in with their spouses and
big-time private bankers, and nobody, it seems,
had taken the warnings seriously.
Then close to noon, all of a sudden you had this
announcement that the transport system was
shutting down. Usually you had these shuttle
services between the Congress Center to the
hotels every 15 minutes, but all of a sudden these
services were shut down.
The bridge leading to the main entrance was
blocked, and the two other entrances to the
Congress Center were also blocked by riot police,
who were now very visible at the center.
But the action was still taking place at quite a
distance from the Center.
In any case, we couldn't leave. One incident was
reported. A young delegate from the Japanese
government wanted to go out and he just stepped
out and tried to go through one of the side
They said he was beaten up and sent to the
hospital. All of us were warned not to transit in and
out, not to even attempt to walk out.
There was no clear sign or indication of what
would happen next. I saw ex-World Bank
presidents walking around not knowing what to
I asked one former president how he was doing,
and he told me that his wife had managed to skip
coming to the Center by joining the Prague tour,
but he was left behind.
He didn't know what was happening. When I told
him about the protests, he became totally
In any event, what was happening was everyone
was waiting to get out. They had long run out of
numbers in the program.
At around 7:30 p.m., there was a sudden oral
announcement. Everybody should go straight to
the metro. The metro had been stopped all day.
Now, they told us that the metro had been opened
and we all had to go, quickly. What happened was
they got this special train to get the delegates to
the very last station on the line, where buses were
waiting to take the delegates to the reception at
the exhibition hall.
We were brought in to this big exhibition hall -- I
don't know what you call it. But when we got there,
we were surprised to see that the protesters were
already there. This big exhibition hall was
supposed to be secure, but to our great surprise
the protesters had beaten us to the place. And the
authorities had not planned for this.
When the reception was over, they just wanted to
disperse all the delegates, so they ended up
bussing us to different parts of Prague, where we
were left to our own devices.
Many of the people with me were really, really
worried, but I was having fun.
We finally got to our hotels around midnight. But
we still had not known the extent of the protests,
and, of course, once everyone got to the hotel,
everyone tuned into CNN and that's when we
learned about McDonald's being trashed.
PLEASURE OR PAIN?
I was staying at the Renaissance near the Old
I had this friend who was staying at the Hilton
about 10 minutes away who was still with me, and
I just wanted to make sure he got to his hotel
So I took off my suit and got into my jeans and
more comfortable wear. But he was still in this suit
and had this bag with a big IMF logo.
While we were walking to his hotel which was 10
minutes away, we met a group of French
protesters who started harassing us. Actually if I
was actually threatened with physical harm, I
would have called out your name and screamed:
"I'm a friend of one of your leaders!"
I was ready to do that. The guy I was with comes
from a Third World country, but I told him that
saying that you're Third World wouldn't work -- not
with your IMF badge.
Fortunately, there was a restaurant nearby and I
shoved him inside. We had a couple of beers and
waited till the French protesters went away and we
On the way back from his hotel, I ran into another
problem. Two prostitutes sidled up to me, and the
one to the right of me started rubbing my buttocks.
I guess they knew I was a delegate.
I don't think they were Czechs. They looked like
Italians. Maybe they came in with the Italian
protesters, since we heard that the Czech security
had driven most of the regular prostitutes out of
So that evening, it was a question of who got to
the delegates first, the prostitutes or the
protesters. If you were lucky, you got pleasure. If
you were unlucky, you got pain.
In any case, we never got to the price. I ran away:
who knows, they might have been protesters in
The following day, very few people went to the
Congress Center. Most stayed away. They just
stayed in their hotel rooms. They didn't even want
to go out.
But those who did went out in their suits. I couldn't
figure that out.
Those of us who were brave enough to go to the
Center had to go by a completely different route.
Our bus stayed at the back of a tram and it
followed this all the way. This was fine with me
because I hadn't seen the sites of Prague, and the
city was beautiful.
At the conference center, I got to talking to the
student guides. They really didn't know what was
happening. These kids actually didn't know who to
side with -- the protesters or the delegates? They
just wished the whole thing would end.
By the way, I noted this attitude even with the
police. Whenever I asked the police for directions,
they very seldom answered me. I had a sense that
they were just as wary of the delegates as they
were of the protesters.
I think one personal dilemma that both the
students and the police had was that they were
too young to have experienced the protests of late
1980s and didn't know what to do about it.
As you know, the meeting got cut by a day.
During the press conference the next day, they
denied the protests were the reason. They actually
said the reason was that things had run so
efficiently that they were able to compress
everything into two days.
The press laughed at this.
END OF THE AFFAIR
The real conclusion was the press conference the
following day, the 28th.
At this press conference, both Wolfensohn and
Koehler were there to field questions. There was a
corps of press reporters keen to pounce on them.
The questions from the first were quite pointed.
Ranging from very specific to very basic. For
instance, one reporter from India told Wolfensohn
and Koehler they had been accused of causing so
much misery in the Third World and asked what
did they have to say about that. Wolfensohn said,
"I don't think I am responsible for all that, and if you
think so, you're misinformed."
But the whole conference was dominated by
questions about the protest and not issues. Which
means -- at least from my perspective -- that the
objective of the protests had been achieved. They
had really distracted the proceedings.
A number of the press people said the annual
meeting was obsolete and out of control and what
did the IMF and WB want to do about this?
Wolfensohn responded that although they could
have virtual meetings, the personal interaction
was still quite important.
So, the Bank would actually continue to have
annual meetings. Wolfensohn and Koehler
insisted they had "gotten through" to the NGOs
and pictured the Saturday debate at Prague
Castle as a big success for them.
On the other hand, from my experience watching
Wolfensohn for several years, he appeared to be
very tired. It seems he had run out of things to say
and even his statements to the press were very
He didn't look like the "Elvis" Bono described him
He appeared to be much less enthusiastic. He
was repeating many of the old formulas. Maybe
the futility of it all had finally gotten to him.
As for Koehler, he was upbeat and very light.
No, light is not the word. He appeared to be very
naive, that's what I want to say.
I don't think it's just his lack of mastery of English.
He was talking like a college student about the
issues, repeating the same line about him not
being a banker but somebody with a heart.
Both of them said the violence had come from a
very, very small minority, and that the majority of
the protesters were really there because they had
something to say. And there were a lot of
legitimate arguments being made by them. And
that the WB and the IMF would now pay greater
focus to their concerns.
It was very difficult for me to distinguish between
reality and rhetoric because all the time
Wolfensohn was playing with his watch.
From my vantage point, in the end, the agenda
had been taken over by the protesters.
I think Prague created quite an impression with
the World Bank-IMF bureaucracy, although this is
a much more entrenched bureaucracy than the
I sensed that after Prague, the words of civil
society will be taken much more seriously, but
whether this will mean real dialogue we still have
to find out.
THE DESERT BECKONS
The next two annual meetings will be in
Washington and the third one will be in Dubai.
And the head of the Dubai organizing committee
said the temperature would be higher in Dubai
than in Prague!
He was saying basically that prior to the Prague
proceedings, he didn't foresee problems in Dubai,
but after this, there has to be some rethinking.
So it's three years away, but the impact is already
I have a feeling that when the WB-IMF
bureaucracy assesses Prague they will wind down
the annual meetings. Because their only function
is for governors to deliver their speeches, and
more and more governors now simply submit
So, I think more and more they will turn it into a
And they will probably try to separate the unofficial
events from the official meeting.
Because what is most significant about these
meetings are the informal business parties. There
were at least 15 lavish parties given by the
commercial banks for the delegates. Very, very
lavish. For many delegates, those were the prime
events of the conference. The actual official
functions were just pro forma.
If I were a protester, by the way, I would have gone
to these venues because they were not secured at
all. These were the events that everyone went to in
the evenings. These were very open venues. And
they were listed in the schedule.
Now, that would really have stopped the real
business of the conference.
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