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A goulash of causes unites a potpourri of protesters

A new generation of globe-trotting activists descends on Prague to protest IMF policies.

By Alexandra Poolos Special to The Christian Science Monitor / September 25, 2000



DOLNI SLIVNO, CZECH REPUBLIC

It looks a lot like the parking lot outside a Grateful Dead show. There's homemade tomato soup and herbal tea, dreadlocks, dirty tents, and a compost latrine. But amid the rusted tractors and overgrown weeds at this dilapidated farm in Dolni Slivno, near Prague, capital of the Czech Republic, there's more a sense of purpose than a devotion to counterculture celebration.

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Behind the tarp-cloaked front gate of the covert training camp on a recent afternoon, a motley crowd of some 500 protesters, from European trade unionists to Israeli environmentalists, busy themselves painting banners or making peanut butter sandwiches. A woman stands on stilts to announce the afternoon program of workshops in English, then in Czech: "From 1 to 3 p.m.," she says, "We'll have Tree Climbing for Beginners, followed by Blockading Tactics, the Samba Circle, and a workshop in how to protect ourselves from tear gas and pepper spray."

The protesters from around the world are preparing for days of action that they hope will focus world attention on the problems of economic globalization. They are some of the more than 350 different citizens' groups espousing a variety of causes, set on disrupting the annual series of International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings. Initial gatherings began on Sept. 19, with the main conference set for Sept. 26-28. This year officials are discussing debt relief for developing countries, world poverty, and IMF reforms.

"Around the world" is the key phrase. Emboldened by last year's sometimes-violent demonstrations in Seattle, the mainly twentysomething protesters have taken their backpacks, hiking boots, and kerosene burners on to Philadelphia, Melbourne, Australia and Manchester, England, forming the core of a truly global movement.

Standing near a campfire in brown designer sandals and carefully pressed jeans, Chelsea Mozen is dismissive of the "Grateful Dead" image. "This is just not true," she says. "We are here because we believe the corporations and the bankers associated with the IMF and the World Bank have too much power and that their decisions affect poor people in real-life ways that they know nothing about."

The "nonviolent" army of anarchists, drifters, trust-fund babies, and idealists deny that their movement is organized. Their individualist, decentralized approach may explain why people like Ms. Mozen climb on board. Mozen is the spokeswoman for the Initiative Against Economic Globalization (INPEG), the local umbrella group running the training camp and unifying protesters arriving in Prague. While they differ on whether the IMF and World Bank should be dismantled altogether or merely reformed, all are against the policies of the two institutions, which they say place economic and commercial interests above labor, environmental, and social concerns.

David Lorenc, a law student, is one of 30 home-grown Czech activists with INPEG. He says the IMF's post-1989 loans to the former Czechoslovakia required the government to slash social spending and displace workers. "It's hard to believe it, but ordinary people who are victims of IMF and World Bank policies don't feel that they have more in common with the people who are protesting on their behalf on the street," he says. "After the protests, I hope that they will see that we are not hooligans, but that they too have join us on the streets."

Czech authorities, for their part, view the summits as a debutante party to the corporate world and foreign investors. They worry that some of the clans descending on Prague, inspired by Seattle, will permanently tarnish the image of this European Union hopeful. To head off possible unrest, 11,000 officers, including 1,400 armored riot police, are on hand to keep control of the 15,000 to 20,000 expected demonstrators. A minor clash occurred on Saturday when 300 anarchists attacked a group of 40 skinheads, but no serious injuries were reported.

The real action is set for Sept. 26, when protesters plan to blockade the Congress Center Prague, where delegates are scheduled to meet for the formal opening of the IMF and World Bank conference.

This time around, they also plan but to set out their alternative vision. They have organized a countersummit with revisionist academics, including sociologist Walden Bello and Egyptian economist Said Amin. They are coordinating through the Internet with local groups in 40 countries to stage a global day of action that will coincide with the Prague protest.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society