A Big Week in Prague


Now, there has been an enormous amount of media coverage both in the Czech Republic and around the world this week of the IMF/World Bank meetings in Prague. And much of that coverage dealt with the violence that hit the streets of Prague on Tuesday. If you feel you have had enough of such coverage, then have no fear, I am not going to talk about that today.

I would like instead to describe the mood in Prague this week, because to be quite honest, this has got to be the most insane week I can remember ever having in this city. And believe me, after being in a city for six years, you get used to its eccentricities. I was away for the majority of last week, as I took my parents on a tour of South Bohemia and South Moravia. I left a fairly normal, average city behind, although with a slightly heavier police presence than usual. When I returned a few days later, on Friday last week, it was to a much

Police prepared for action
changed city. The police presence had multiplied to levels that I don't believe I've ever seen before, either in the Czech Republic or outside it. And there were far fewer cars on the streets than usual for a working day.

Now, many of the Czechs I know who live in Prague and have families, especially small children, had told me that they would be leaving the city during the IMF/World Bank meetings to avoid trouble. I could understand their fears. After all, following the repeated airing of footage of anti-globalisation protestors tearing up Seattle last year, and with estimates that up to fifty thousand demonstrators would hit Prague's streets, most people were simply scared of what would happen to them, their families and their property. What surprised me was how far in advance of the meetings that people started clearing out the city. By Saturday, when the first demonstrations were expected, Prague had become like a ghost town, other than countless groups of extremely bored-looking police officers standing idly on street corners. This gave Prague an eerie air.

This feeling intensified on Monday when I was on my way to work. One of the streets I have to cross on my way to work is always packed solid with cars on a weekday morning, with angry drivers shouting at each other and honking their horns, but on Monday, and indeed throughout the whole week, this street was blissfully quiet, with just a handful of cars passing by.

The situation was further compounded by the fact that all of the schoolchildren in Prague were given the week off school, out of concern for their safety, which again was, I think, a wise measure. Ironically, though, there was only one day where there was any trouble, and that was Tuesday. There were, as has been mentioned many times on Radio Prague and elsewhere this week, running battles between rioters and the police, and the city was brought to a virtual standstill, with trams and metro stations closed down during the violence. I am sure that all of the people who decided to get out of Prague were congratulating themselves for making a wise decision.

Other than Tuesday, though, there really was no trouble to speak of. Perhaps if there had not been so many police officers on the streets there would have been more, but we'll never know the answer to that. Tuesday simply added to the insanity of the week. Prior to this, there had been a maximum of one thousand demonstrators on the streets, but then all of a sudden there were eight to ten thousand, most of them peaceful but some aggressive and violent. And then most of them were gone again. On Wednesday there were once again only about a thousand people on the streets. It was as if the large crowds on Tuesday materialised out of nowhere and then just as quickly disappeared.

place. The windows smashed in places like McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Chicken had been replaced, and it seemed like nothing had ever happened. I even began to wonder if it had. The funny thing though was how few people there were on the square. In late September, especially when it is warm like it is now, there are usually small crowds of tourists ambling about, and groups of Czechs out to the take the night air, but tonight there were maybe a scattering of people, once again outnumbered by bored-looking policemen. It felt bizarre to be standing on the main square of the capital city of the Czech Republic, completely alone except for representatives of the law.

As I said, it has been a very strange week in Prague.