From Prague (1/2) - Call To Global Action
Activists from different countries who are still together in Prague send you this call for action to propose a global campaign against the criminalisation and repression that is affecting our movements all over the world. It is a long and dense document, but we think that it is important that it is distributed and discussed locally, and we hope that these discussions will result both in local actions and in collective reflexions about the consequences of different forms of action, in a context of increasing interdependency between autonomous collectives and activists. The introduction presents our perspective about the general process of criminalisation at a global level of our movements. The next paragraphs explain what has happened and is still happening in Prague, as an example of what we perceive as a long term strategy, similar to the one used against the countercultural movement about 30 years ago, and relating it to the increasingly hard context that affects those who cannot or do not want to participate in the dominant culture. Following that, and on that basis, we express in general terms the call for global action, and as part of that general formulation we clarify our opinion about 'violence'. The first part of this document finishes explaining what we see as the long term aim of this call. In the second part of the document we describe the concrete action proposals and the short and medium term objectives of the actions of civil disobedience that we will do in Prague.
If you think that the document is too long, you are welcome to summarise it, but in this case we would be thankful if you would include a reference to a web page or publication where the complete original call can be found.
Salud y suerte.
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"You do not become a 'dissident' just because you decide one day to take up this most unusual career. You are thrown into it by your personal sense of responsibility, combined with a complex set of external circumstances. You are cast out of the existing structures and placed in a position of conflict with them. It begins as an attempt to do your work well, and ends with being branded an enemy of society."
- Written by the Czech president Vaclav Havel, many years ago...
We are people who struggle for the life and freedom of all persons and peoples (1). In the process we question the interests of the powerful, and as a result we are criminalised all over the world by the state and by most of the media.
The states are criminalising us through the false information that they spread in their declarations about us, using the police (as brutalisation and intimidation tool) and the judicial and penal system (as the executive arm of punishments whose sole justification in many cases is only the evidence produced by the state itself).
Most of the media contributes to this process by showing in a sensationalist way only the part of what happens in the street that fits the preconceptions that they have contributed to generate, trivialising the motives and values that move us, presenting us as a homogeneous mass (deliberately concealing the diversity of thought and action, which for us is a value on itself) justifying the unleashed repression and ignoring what happens in the jails.
These two processes combine to create a vicious circle which provokes an increasingly negative perception of those who struggle for positive values, resulting in a gradual distancing of the sectors of society that are not directly involved in processes of social change. This enables the state to harden the juridical regime and to define as terrorism activities that have only the objective of increasing the grassroots participation in political processes.
What is happening in Prague in relation to the protests against the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB) is an undeniable example of this phenomenon. These initiatives taken to criminalise the protests started at the beginning of the preparation process. They are reflected in declarations whose objective was to demonize our movement and to construct a hostile social environment dominated by fear, in order to prevent the Czech population from participating in or supporting the protests. The Ministry of the Interior published recommendations to the population to stockpile food and medicines, and to the owners of small shops not to try to defend their business from demonstrators. The schools were closed for one week and in many cases families were asked to declare in writing that the students would spend that week outside of Prague, in order to 'protect' young people from the protests. The Major of Prague, Jan Kasl, declared that part of the people who would go to Prague to participate in the protests 'will kill if possible, if allowed' (2). The tension generated by all these declarations reached such a level of intensity that the Czech president Havel, said that the situation was 'As if we were preparing for a civil war and looked forward for it being over' (3).
The stigmatisation of the protesters aimed at preparing the best conditions for the repression did not just take place at the level of declarations: a small local protest in Prague in April, in parallel to the mobilisations in Washington against the IMF and the WB, was attacked in a totally unjustified way by the police, with the objective of providing to the press sensationalist graphic material which would correspond to the public perception that the Ministry of Interior was trying to create.
This defamation campaign succeeded in turning the alleged dangerousness of activists into one of the main issues of public discussion months before the protests. It successfully generated fear, distanced the public opinion from the protests, relegated its motives to the realm of triviality and prepared the terrain to the state for high levels of repression. The effectivity of these means of intimidation and oppression is particularly sad in the Czech context, since it seems to demonstrate how short time the collective historical memory remains alive. Protests of the same nature than the ones that took place in Prague from the 26th to the 28th of September enabled the Czech people to liberate itself from a Stalinist dictatorship only 11 years ago, but state intimidation (more elaborate nowadays but not for that reason less effective) seems to still work as a tool to prevent higher levels of grassroots political participation.
In the days just before the 26th of September the so-called 'black list' prevented the entry into the Czech Republic of more than 200 people guilty of terrible crimes such as cooking organic food or organising public meetings to discuss about politics. The close collaboration of the Ministry of the Interior with the specialists of the secret services of several Western countries (sent to train the Czech police forces) probably helped to create this list, one more evidence of the global character of repressive policies.
At the beginning of the action on the 26th, the police had a tolerant attitude regarding the actions of property destruction; the legal observers have witnessed situations that make us conclude that at least part of these actions were previously prepared by the police (4). In our opinion, this was done to cater the expectations of the sensationalist press and justify the atmosphere of fear created in relation to the protests, and in this way be able to repress us violating our rights and freedoms without having to worry about the reaction of the public opinion.
Once this state of opinion was created, the repression came arbitrarily to anyone who dared to go to the streets in order to express political opinions. As reported by some foreign TV stations, even journalists and some people who were not connected with the protests were beaten up. But the most serious aspect of repression is what is still happening in the jails: as reported by the team of independent legal observers, prisoners are being denied basic human and legal rights, such as the right to food, to communicate and to have a lawyer. A large number of people are being beaten up and object of different degrees of physical and psychological harassment, which is by itself inadmissible and will hopefully be object of investigations and punishments that correspond to the gravity of the events. But the most unexpected and significant phenomenon brought about by the repression in Prague are the MASS DISAPPEARANCES.
Many people have been missing for days and some are still missing since more than ten days, and their friends haven't had any news or any opportunity to communicate with them, which makes the work of legal assistance impossible. The database of the legal observers has still 70 people with the status of 'arrested' or 'missing', and we cannot know to what extent this is accurate since the Ministry of the Interior still refuses to make available the lists of people arrested during the protests. The first list, without names and very incomplete according to our indications, was communicated by the Czech embassy in London (which depends on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) to the British media due to the protests that have taken place in that country; however, the Ministry of the Interior still maintains an absolute lack of transparency, characteristic of dictatorial regimes. The only institutions that seem to be able to receive information are the embassies of the countries where the jailed persons come from, but some of them (particularly the US, German, Spanish, Polish, Hungarian and Rumanian embassies) have clearly proven their lack of interest in human rights violations and in transparency. For instance, the reply of the civil servant who replied to the call of friends of the two persons from Madrid arbitrarily arrested in the street was 'it is your problem!' (5). The lack of consideration on the side of several states for the basic rights of those who are suffering this disproportionate repression has enabled the brutality in prisons and hospitals to take place in absolute impunity, and all this is being suffered by human beings, by flesh and bones.
As a whole, the situation in Prague is of total hypocrisy: the hot image given about the 'violence' in the streets, incomplete and partially faked, is opposed to the cold invisible reality of what happens out of the reach of the cameras, when the detained remain at the mercy of police torture. Then comes, silently, the true and terrible criminal violence.
The independent legal observers are preparing a preliminary report with detailed information about documented cases of human rights violations in police stations and jails. Right now we will only report the well documented case of the atrocities suffered by Chris Mach (whose official name is Sylvia Yolanda Mach), as an example of how far the perversity and treachery of the state can go. You will find a summary of her case in the appendix.
Chris is only one example, there are still far too many people in jail. Besides the 70 persons that are possibly missing, we can say with founded certainty that there are at least 2 Czechs, 5 Rumanians, 5 Hungarians, 1 Ukrainian, 3 Germans, 2 Danish, 2 Spanish, 1 Polish and 1 Austrian in custody, but we don't know how many more people are in the same situation without nobody knowing about them. The Ministry of the Interior's only comment is that as far as their information goes there have been no abuses and that the moment they hear about one, they will act on it. But we are concerned, particularly about the members of ethnic minorities, since there is enough evidence about the symbiotic relationship between at least part of the Czech forces of order and fascist organisations (6). What is happening in Prague is clearly the continuation of the most detestable practices of authoritarian regimes which we were hoping to be part of the past.
Sadly, most of the media have until now faithfully responded to the propaganda of the Ministry of the Interior: presenting the protest as quasi-terrorist acts, ignoring their motives and the diversity that they embodied, reporting in a partial and very limited way about the state violence, presenting it as necessary and legitimate, and in the case of some media, even as insufficient. Most media also took the information and statistics given by the Ministry for granted. However, the case of Chris Mach demonstrates that there are more than enough reasons to look at them as one more element in the state propaganda, since at least the three policemen that she is accused of having injured (and who are part of the statistics, we suppose) were never assaulted by her: just the opposite took place, with terrible consequences for her health.
Thirty years ago, secret services from all over the world used criminalisation strategies that were very similar to those used in Prague (along with the massive introduction and illegal fostering of the use of drugs, especially on the side of the FBI) to dismantle a living and participatory grassroots countercultural movement that had become a serious challenge for the system. In Prague there has been in the last months an extraordinary concentration of secret services and 'intelligence' of diverse Western countries, working closely together with the Czech Ministry of the Interior. If the final aim of this large security set-up (in which the Czech Republic and several other countries invested time and resources) really was to maintain law and order in this city during the meeting of the IMF and the WB, we have to conclude that they failed at all levels, both in the streets and in the police stations, prisons and hospitals.
But given the amount of time and resources that they devoted to prepare for the 26th, we don't believe that this is the case. We cannot prove it, but in our opinion the objective of the police operation in Prague was to carefully manage the public opinion (with the active help of some media), with the purpose of legitimising hard and illegal methods of control and repression during the protests, and advance in the preparation of the conditions for the global criminalisation of our activities. As part of this, we believe that the repression in Prague has been used as a laboratory to test how far it is possible to take hard and openly illegal methods of oppression such as mass disappearances, a very sad memory that all those who suffered them will take from this city.
The very same process is taking place all over the world in diverse local contexts, but due to the same reasons and using the same strategies. In the next days we will send out more information about concrete and much harder examples than what happened in Prague, for instance what is happening in Bolivia, where the actions organised by peasant movements against the privatisation of water and land ended with 11 death and hundreds of wounded, and in Colombia, where the already appalling levels of state and parastatal violence will soon be complemented with the military help and direct intervention of US troops, recently approved by the Congress under the name of Plan Colombia.
At a more general level, one of the concrete results of criminalisation of the processes of social change is the hardening of the juridical systems of the whole world, which results into the progressive elimination of the rights and freedoms obtained after centuries of social struggle. The new British antiterrorism bill recently approved by the labour government, a great step towards the silent and slow institutionalisation of a 'permanent state of emergency', exemplifies this tendency which can be observed all over the world.
At a deeper level, the global criminalisation of social change is clearly associated to the criminalisation, also at global level, of poverty. More and more people all over the world see themselves immerse in a vicious circle of poverty and 'criminality' provoked by the lack of alternatives, by a system that feeds itself on destroying the livelihoods of millions of people in order to concentrate more and more wealth in a few hands. But capitalism has demonstrated that it has enough flexibility to take advantage even of this kind of situations. For instance, the two million persons in the jails of the USA (mainly blacks and latinos) provide the main 'raw material' of the private prison industry, one of the most rapidly expanding economic branches due to the conditions under which the prisoners work. For these human beings, the processes of 'liberalisation' imposed by the global economy through the IMF, the WB and other illegitimate institutions express themselves in the destruction of their livelihood, in the pseudo-slavery that they are subjected to due to the obsession to manage prisons with entrepreneurial criteria and in the structural racism that is openly exposed as soon as one looks at who is being exploited and who benefits.
In the light of these connections, we see clearly the multiple relations between the repression that we experienced in Prague and the everyday plight of emigrants whose economies have been destroyed by economic globalisation, and who are illegalised by the system when they seek refuge in the countries that concentrate their wealth. They are criminals by juridical definition, although the only thing that they are looking for is an exit to the desperate situations created by global capitalism. They are confronted on a daily basis with the violence and the racism of rich states whose main concern seems to be maintaining their privileged classes immersed in an empty and meaningless consumerist banquet, which can only be sustained as long as the access is limited to those who have the right passport and were lucky enough not to be among those without place in the table.
The main reason why we have been criminalised in Prague is that we reject the banquet and are not ready to discuss about this rejection with the organisers. We were not surprised by the fact that we have been repressed, since we are used to it, but the levels of perversion, state violence and manipulation of information reached in Prague are going far beyond our expectations.
We are concerned about the long-term consequences that would derive from allowing another chapter in the process of criminalisation of those who struggle for life to happen without an adequate response to the nature of the problem. We think that we are still in time to stop this process, but if we take too long time to react, it is quite probable that we find the same end than many people who participated in movements which seemed unstoppable, from the Italian autonomia operaria to the US counterculture: jailed, exiled, dead or in madhouses.
We hence make a global call to reassert the legitimacy of our actions and to act against the criminalisation by the state and the media of the poor, the emigrants and those who struggle for life and freedom; a campaign of global action for the dignity of all those who cannot or do not want to participate in the dominant culture.
We propose that those who identify with the problems described in this call act at local level, on their local problems of criminalisation, but globally coordinated so that our voices get stonger. We propose a global chain of actions of civil disobedience and denounciation against criminalisation and the manipulation of information by states, international institutions and most of the media. The actions can be as diverse as creative are our movements, but we propose that they all make reference to a common slogan to give them unity and coherence. We propose that this is:
"If struggling for life and freedom is a crime, I am also a criminal"
Since we are calling for action, the people who have formulated this document believe that it is necessary to make our position on 'violence' very clear, for this is the excuse given by the system to criminalise us. We are against any aggression against life and health, wherever it comes from and whoever it is directed against. Some of us believe firmly in the legitimacy of actions of property destruction, if these actions are aimed at reducing or denouncing the structural violence imposed with the help of the property to be destroyed, and if these actions are realised in such a way that they do not put at risk the life or health of anyone. But we all agree that the main objective and criterium behind our actions is to struggle for the freedom, identity, autonomy and peace of the persons and peoples of the whole world. This is why we struggle against the violence imposed by global capitalism, respecting the diversity of methods that share this objective and try to advance towards it in a coherent way.
What the media hype on smashed McDonalds windows and other symbolic actions has clearly achieved was to distract the attention from the clear and transparent fact that genocidal violence does not come from social movements, but from massive poverty and destruction imposed by global capitalism with the help of tools such as the IMF and the WB. We will not describe this violence in detail in this call, but we would like to underline once more that the concentration of power in the hands of the enterprises and institutions that regulate the global economy have taken the world to a totally absurd and unsustainable situation, exemplified by the fact that the world's three richest men have together more wealth than the combined GNP of the 43 poorest countries (7). The level of exploitation, oppression and suffering provoked by this injustice of historically unknown dimensions manifests itself in a structural, genocidal and ecocidal violence that is so prevalent that it has become part of everyday life and hence invisible. It is ironic that those who want to denounce it and make it visible get criminalised using 'violence' as excuse.
We hope to be able to continue fighting this violence and to count with the support and active participation of ever growing sectors of the population. But if we let the unjustified criminalisation of our activities continue, it will not be possible to maintain them for a long time without suffering too hard consequences for our health and our freedom.
To conclude we would like to point out that although the mobilisations proposed in this call have as their immediate objective to decrease the pressure and aggression inflicted on us by authorities and media, its final objective is a different one. What we really wish is to encourage people all over the world to think about the role that they play in this system, which is based in death and destruction, and about what they can do for life and freedom. Because if we would have to take one single conclusion from the experience in Prague it would be that holding elections regularly to determine the composition of the parliament, and the existence of mass media which are not controlled by the state, are not enough to guarantee the respect for human rights and a true democracy. Freedom and justice are only possible in a context where the direct participation in political processes is a reality, articulated from the grassroots, independent from power structures, and this can only happen if broad sectors of society accept the individual and collective responsibility of actively participating in grassroots political processes with the objective of reaching increasing levels of self-governance and control over our own destiny.
It is our commitment with this broad and emancipating understanding of democracy, with the idea that only from the grassroots it will be possible to construct a world increasingly free of exploitation, discrimination and oppression, that moves us to ask people all over the world to think about the way they live their own lives. It is because of this commitment that we are part of a global movement whose unity is rooted in the respect to diversity, a struggle that fortunately is not defined, controlled or led by anyone or anything, that is nothing more than the continuity, in times of global control, of the process of resistance to power that has always existed and will always exist.
(SECOND PART AND APPENDIX IN NEXT MESSAGE)