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Raj Patel © 2000

 

 
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During Tuesday's International Day of Action, a dear friend, Chris, was arrested by the Czech police and interrogated. She was in fear of her life. The police had already beat her over the head while arresting her, and dragged her across the floor and charged her with assault when she tried to make them show their badge numbers. To escape, she jumped out of a second floor window. She broke her hip and shattered her leg. We found out where she was last night because, just before they operated on her, god knows how, Chris had the presence of mind to grab a doctor's mobile phone and call from her stretcher.

I've just come back from the hospital, after spending the afternoon waiting for a judge to arraign her. She has been bailed on her own recognisance, and is free to roam as long as she tells the Czech authorities where she is.

Not that she's about to run away.

We've not told her just how long she's going to have to be in hospital while her hip heals. It would break her beautiful heart.

Chris said that on the way to the hospital the police twisted her leg after it had been broken. Now, the medics are restricting her access to pain killers. Last night, Chris kept her ward awake with her screams, and was admonished for it in the morning. When I saw her, she was in agony. I don't think I've ever heard anyone scream like that. And Chris is a strong, street tough woman.

Chris is not alone. Over nine hundred people have been arrested. Only two hundred and thirty are foreigners, the rest are Czech. I suspect that -- unprotected by the international media -- Czech arrestees are having a much harder time of it. And, judging by the police presence at the hospital, Chris isn't the only person here whom the police have hurt. Many protesters, particularly women, have been picked up off the streets, thrown into police vans away from the media, and beaten. I've just heard that many have been denied food and urgent medicine, some have been tortured and sexually assaulted.

Chris is not alone. Yesterday at a press conference, a reporter asked what we thought about all the broken glass at McDonalds. A comrade from the German autonomous movement reminded him that because of debt repayment and public funds diverted from social services, the UN has calculated that seventeen thousand children die needlessly every day. "If only," she said, "the world's media could focus on just one of those children with the intensity that they focus on the broken window." Chris will walk again one day. These children are gone, remembered by their families.

I'm sick of having my friends criminalised. Chris was targeted because she's with a group of activists who are committed to confronting globalisation. Her van had been tailed ever since it got in to the Czech Republic. "It's getting worse at each international day of action", said a friend in one of the movements, referring to recent innovations in international police cooperation, through which a great number of activists' files have been shared. "They're hunting us."

I'm sick to the back teeth of all this violence.

I'm sick of being bullied by activists who say that violence against the system is always justified, and that any condemnation of it "splits the movement". This is the luxury of enriched-country extremism, a bitter shield beneath which worries about self-criticism, and worries over justifying tactics are rendered unnecessary: anyone who disagrees is automatically "reactionary". This is the worst kind of mindless militancy, vacuous vanguardism.

Not that my stomach turns when people put bricks through the windows of McDonalds. It's just that I'm not convinced that it's a terribly meaningful action. People eat McFood because their lives are so hectic that they cannot spare the time to cook their own food, because a range of tacit subsidies and taxes make McFood cheaper than local organic produce, because McDonalds markets unremittingly, and because of an increasingly corporatised political economy of food and food distribution. I'm not sure that one brick, or even a whole wall, addresses any of this. Better to work on a global living wage so that no one has to work all hours of the day, on alternative agriculture, on persuading people of the evil of eating the stuff, and the joy of better food than to temporarily halt McD's cashflow. In any case, they've got insurance.

This violence has done little to show that what we want is a world where people can live in freedom and equality and peace. Right now, the bricks through the windows have given the Czech police the public support they need to be able to play fast and loose with activists' human rights. I'm sick of that too.

There is a time and place to meet the World Bank's violence with violence, but not here in Prague, and not now. It dehumanises both us and the police, it makes it normal to be brutal. It has hurt the police -- and yes, we must think of them and their families, perhaps especially if they are capable of meting such torture on unarmed prisoners --, and it hurts innocent citizens including, of course, us. Chris's screams still ring in my ears.

In principle, the news that the protests closed the IMF meetings early should lift my spirits. It doesn't. They'll just move behind closed doors, and carry on making their policies.

"Just you wait until one of yours actually dies in the struggle", said a Nicaraguan comrade, who has been fighting neoliberalism for over twenty years and has seen many of his friends die resisting tyranny.

I don't want to wait; I don't want it to happen. I know that what we want involves confrontation, and that the terrible costs of inaction are written on bodies the world over every day. I know that the state can be barbaric, its soldiers tyrants, its secret police callous, its regular police monstrous. In cases like Nicaragua, I fear that violent confrontation would be a hard option to ignore. I feel like a child, railing against the injustice of all this. I just don't want anyone to be hurt anymore. I refuse to think of Chris as collateral damage in the struggle against neoliberalism.

Gandhi has words of wisdom to balm the spirit at times like this.

But, sometimes, it's okay to feel like hope is another country.

   
   
   

 

 
   
         

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