The International Monetary fund and The World Bank
As you probably know Prague had "the honour" to host an annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank between 22nd and 28th of September. As you probably do not know, I had the honour to work during those days as a volunteer for an international campaign for a debt relief for the heavily indebted countries called Jubilee 2000. And in the first place, I really have to say that it was a really great honour that I could take part in all its actions here in Prague and get to know this problem much deeper than I did before.
So what actions did Jubilee 2000 together with CEE Bankwatch and Friends of the Earth do? The whole campaign in Prague was called "A DIFFERENT MESSAGE". As, I will say later it really was a different message ------- much more important than that which most other protesting organisations showed.
Now to bring you closer the situation in Prague before the IMF and WB meeting. The expectation of violence and the possible consequences of the protests were high. Already from the 18th of September, Prague was overfilled with well-trained police; about 11 thousand policemen were collected to Prague from the whole Czech Republic. The policemen were standing in-groups of three to five on each corner and in front of each McDonalds and other similar multi-national places. Senior citizens from the Prague 4 district, where the meeting was happening, were taken out of Prague for a recreation holiday paid for by the government. All Prague school children had a special week of holiday. Many shops had closed or at least covered their shop - windows with boards. The largest Prague football stadium was changed into a campsite for the demonstrators. Prague was literally prepared for a war. The demonstrators started to come to Prague from all over the world.
And into this situation "The Different Message" came with a way of non-violent protest and wanted to bring some more light on the politics of IMF and WB. The whole program started on Sunday the 24th with an inter-religion and ecumenical service in a church of St. Simon and Juda. Jewish rabbi read a message from The Old Testament Lv. 25 about a Jubilee year of old Israel in which all the debts should be cancelled, and then a reverend from Zambia had a sermon on this topic. The service was closed with an agape supper of grapes and bread.
After the service a procession was made. It went from the church up to a big metronome (clock) on Letenska plain. At the head of of the procession there was a brass band playing funeral songs, followed by people carrying 19 big crosses symbolising the 19 000 children who die each day as a result of poverty due to IMF policies. Then about 500 demonstrators carrying small crosses followed. On Letenska plain, the procession was welcomed by two big puppets of IMF and WB whose legs and arms were manipulated by 7 people in masks representing the G7 ministers, who in fact hold the power, not IMF and WB. All the crosses were laid down under those puppets, and some speeches were made. Then the procession went back down the hill to the centre of Prague, and at the end the demonstrators broke a symbolic chain of debt at the Old Town Square. I really enjoyed this procession a lot. The atmosphere in the procession was great and nobody even thought of any violence. The whole procession and the service had a lot of symbolics in it and I really think it brought its message.
But then my first disappointment came. Because it was non-violent, no shop - windows were broken, nobody was hurt, Czech media did not seem to be interested in this great event. There was only one short message on TV news and several short messages in the newspapers next day. The TV news was full of anarchists, communists and other groups who did their demonstrations on Sunday much louder.
But in spite of lack of interest from the side of media The "Different Message" continued. Monday 25th and Tuesday 26th were full of different discussion s, followed by a video festival each afternoon in the municipal library. I heard several of those discussions on topics like effects of Structural Adjustment Policies of IMF and WB on the indebted countries, unfair ecological policies of WB and IMF. The discussions were led by guests from like Sam Kobia >from the World Council of Churches, and key people from organisations in South America, Indonesia, Africa etc., who spoke about the experience of their countries with WB and IMF "help". Other discussions were led about how the situation of indebted countries can be solved. All the guests from South were asking for 100 percent cancellation of their debts, and giving reports on how Jubilee campaign works in their countries. I was surprised how much work Jubilee has done in different countries. For example in Equador many non - governmental organisations and people from the wider public were involved in discussions about what should be done with the situation of poverty in their country, involved in discussion with WB and IMF mediated by Jubilee 2000.
I really enjoyed the discussions and, although I did not understand everything because the problem is very complex, I learned a lot new about problematic of WB, IMF and indebted countries. There were many people from abroad who visited the discussions but I saw also many young Czech people visiting the discussions and I am sure all of us learned a lot.
On Wednesday, there was a final discussion in a church (symbolics again?) with NGO's and representatives of WB and IMF. The church was filled with people and the discussion was long and I am sure not very easy people from WB and IMF. So many critical and concrete questions were given by people from Zambia, Ethiopia, Japan, Mexico, Indonesia etc. I must admit that I did not have too good feeling from the answers given by the representatives from WB and IMF. They were very often answering something else than what they were asked, and their answers often seemed to me insincere and hypocritical. But on the other hand it has not happened for many times before that they would meet with their critics and talk with them. So I think it was a good beginning. At the same time, I think they should start listening to what their critics are telling them. They should start to really listen to people from the countries that are effected by decisions of IMF and WB and not only try to look nice in the eyes of public.
But now let me come back to Tuesday 26th, which was the day of the biggest protests, and unfortunately also fights. On this day Prague was filled with about 15 thousand demonstrators. Jubilee 2000 did not officially take part in those demonstrations. But I wanted to see it, and also support the idea of protest against WB and IMF. So Jana Klepková and I (my staff colleague in ENYA) went to the demonstration. In comparison with the procession of Jubilee on Sunday there was not a clear message given by those protests. There were many different organisations each shouting their slogans, some wanting to Drop the Debt, some wanting to Liquidate the IMF and WB, some wanting a Revolution... But still I really enjoyed the demonstration and the march. We got to a yellow part of the march, a band was playing great music people were dancing and clapping their hands, and the atmosphere was great. I did not feel any violence in the people. When we got to the bridge leading to the Congress centre where the WB and IMF were, the situation changed a little. Police with tanks blocked the bridge, and started throwing tear gas on the demonstrators, who were trying to get to the Congress Centre.
But I still felt that the demonstrators did not want to be violent. Both groups ? the demonstrators and the police were waiting what the other side would do. Some demonstrators were trying to push through the police; some sat on the grass and started eating their lunch, some continued in playing music. The atmosphere was tense but it seemed to me that nothing violent was going to happen. So this was the situation when I left the demonstration. I had a very good feeling from the protests.
It was only when I went home and turned on TV, that I was terrified and disappointed in the same time. As we were going in the march towards the bridge, groups of anarchists took some other way towards the Congress centre and they even did not try to be non-violent, stones were flying in the air, stacks of wood and cars were burning in the streets. And this is what you probably learned from your TV news, or newspapers. As I watched TV, it really looked as in a war. I told myself, that those demonstrators really were trying to "change Prague into Seattle". And why was I disappointed? I really thought that protests in Prague could be different than any time before, I really believed at one moment that the whole Prague meeting could bring a different message. And I think most of those 15 thousand demonstrators were prepared to bring a different message. But again there was a group of several hundred demonstrators who spoiled the whole thought of the protests. I really do not want to defend those violent people with an argument that IMF and WB did much more evil in the whole world so we have right for such a protests. NO, NO, NO those violent protests only spoiled the protests of the rest of the demonstrators. The thought of a rightful protest was lost behind violence; the whole message of the protests was destroyed. I am feeling a great disappointment for all those protestors who really came to express their protest not to throw the stones.
In the end I would like to thank once again those from all over the world who came to support the countries of the South by a non-violent protest. And I really want to thank for "The Different Message" brought to us by Jubilee 2000, CEE Bankwatch and Friends of the Earth. And what each of us can do? We should be more interested in the politics of WB and IMF to see what they are really doing. And we should start being interested in activities of Jubilee 2000 in our own country and get involved. I think they are doing a right thing and they are worthy of our support.
NOTE FROM CATH: THANKS ZUZKA! And a special thanks to Jiri Silny from the Ecumenical Academy who organised a great deal of the programme here and our invitation to the IMF/World Bank ? Protestors Dialogue. Within the next week a section on the events and picture will be posted on our website
From Indymedia-France (www.france.indymedia.org) :
We write this letter to send to Vaclac Havel. We propose it to you. Copy and send to Vaclav Havel and gouvernment: <firstname.lastname@example.org>, <email@example.com>, <firstname.lastname@example.org> And a copie to indymedia France (to count the emails send) email@example.com
I have being in Prague for the S26 protest. I have to congratulate INPEG coordinators for the organisation of the meetings at Prague and the great effort put on the all period of its preparation. During the protest I have being watching different s and group discussions. On the base of these observations and a programm by Proutist Universal, we draw this simple statement which may be used as a possible guide line on building up an alternative views and practice in the socio-economic-cultural field for the thirth world countries which suffer most the consequences of globalisation. Any comment will be welcome.
Thanks. Best regards, T.Bonotto
by Proutist Universal
During the month-long preparation for the Prague protest some relevant questions came up. Do we expect that some cosmetic reform, if accepted by these world bodies, will wipe out the ills of globalisation? Simultaneously the proponents of globalization are claiming that this is the only way for economic well-being and sustainable development. There cannot be a greater lie than this. Even the 1998 statistics of WB reveals a different picture.
The 1998 statistics show that one-sixth of the worlds population enjoy 80% of income and 57% of world population in 63 countries share 6% of world income-that is about $2 per day. The number of extremely poor people in South Asia increased from 495 million in 1997 to 552 million in 1998. And in sub-Saharan countries in one year, it has increased by 48 million. I would like to remind you at this point that in this world there are 354 billionaires and thousands of multi-millionaires.
Even in rich countries there is a growing practice of merging of big companies resulting in unemployment(about 10%). Only in the U.S. unemployment decreased. And it is a well-known fact that GATT was signed to bring life to the U.S. economy. Globalization of the economy has opened the door of globalisation of poverty.
In her best-selling book, "Economic Horror", Vivian Forrester rightly commented that economic neo-liberalism has introduced a new paradigm- "Increasingly it offers the most vulnerable in our society a quite new choice-poverty at work or poverty on dole." In terms of human value the worst thing happened. In market-dominated society people have been converted into a commodity. The usefulness of the working mass is counted in terms of their contribution to the profit mechanism.
The grandeur of great promises, the marvels of material and intellectual achievements of the industrial age must be visualized in order to understand the trauma that realisation of its failure is producing today. The industrial age has indeed failed to fulfill the great promise-unlimited production, absolute freedom and unrestricted happiness, because of its psychological premises, that is, radical hedonism which postulates that:
1. happiness can be achieved by fulfillment of any material or sensual desire;
This, according to hedonist belief, will lead to harmony and peace. It is well-known to the world that radical hedonism is the philosophy of rich people and has been adopted by the neo-liberals. Under the influence of such psychological premises we cannot expect that the economic oligarchies will change their system.
With the new rules of the trinity (WTO, WB and IMF), free flow of money, goods and services should be allowed but not free flow of labour. If we look at the statistics in developing countries, investment has increased by about 500% in the last 8 years, but unemployment generation has increased by less than 1%. Each day about $800 billion to $1 trillion changes hand in the stock market without generating any employment.
Who supports this system? Firstly the members of the corporate class which comprises people such as corporate managers, lawyers, consultants, public relations specialists, financial brokers and wealthy investors, and secondly the people who get direct benefit from this system-the new upper middle-class in developing and underdeveloped countries. This system directly benefits 20% of the population and indirectly another 20%. Those are the people who control the political power, economic power, mass media, educational and cultural institutions. And the 60% of the population who suffer due to this system has no power, no voice. They wait with the hope that trickle-down economy may fall a few drops as a concession one day.
Now the question is what should we be trying to achieve? In economic terms it is common sense to expect that guarantee of minimum requirements of life for all should be the economic goal of any just economic system. It is also a fact that material wealth is not unlimited. A just economic paradigm must design its policy based on the above 2 principles. To meet the above demands the following steps need to be taken, which I believe, will not be supported by the economic oligarchies:
1. Scrap the policies of SAP and also TRIM, TRIP and GATS; and WB, IMF and WTO should function under our world body to help different socio-economic zones to achieve economic self-reliance. Economy should be production-oriented and not export-oriented.
It is inevitable that neither the trinity (WB, IMF, WTO) nor their supportive governments can accept this recommendation. So the question comes-what next?
The only alternative is to organize grassroots peoples' movements. We should not forget that communism collapsed due to people's movements and we also saw the collapse of the dictatorial regime of Marcos of Philippines by peoples' movement.
Simultaneously wherever possible we should form economic cooperatives or communities or communities mobilizing small farmers, industry-owners, and traders. A few such projects already exist.
Each NGO also can take responsibility to establish economic projects for the benefit of the local people. Such efforts also exist. The only thing needed is to expand such efforts.
I finally propose on this occasion to form a platform to coordinate our activities throughout the world. This can be termed as globalisation of people's effort. We can give any name to this platform, such as -universal social or neo-humanistic or any other.
I agree that after the collapse of Commintern and the ineffectiveness of Socialist International this protest shows a new dimension to create anti-thesis against concentration of wealth, unjust system and neo-liberalism. I strongly believe that this will in the near future blossom into a revolution - a revolution of a new paradigm.
But we should remember that economy as content of life is a deadly illusion. If we want economic democracy to take its root, it is essential to be aware of the cultural environment and political system that promotes it. Psycho-economic exploitation precedes economic exploitation. The economic system reflects the psychology promoted by the cultural and political system. Hence if we have any vision for revolution we must be aware of this phenomenon. The psychology of "to have" needs to be changed into psychology of "to be".
We cannot solve today's problems with the ideas of 19th century. Socialism needs to be redefined to fulfill the social, economical, political, cultural and spiritual needs of human society.
Lastly, I would like to emphasize that as we are eager to restore ecological balance and to live in harmony rather than in conflict with nature. We should also make an effort to bring harmony within our physical, intellectual and spiritual dimensions of life.
If we do not alter the framework of the social system and the international order, which are based on force and exploitation of weaker sections of society and backward nations, world peace will remain a hopeless dream.
Published by Proutist Universal