Letter from Prague

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So, summer is dead and long live autumn. The green hill rolling upwards from the river towards Strahov and the Petrin Tower never looks so wonderful as in the throws of a golden Prague autumn.

This year's a bit strange, though. The darkening skies have been complemented by an increasingly intensive feeling of impending doom. No, the four riders of the Apocalypse have yet to be seen gallivanting up and down Wenceslas Square, but there have been a few strange things going on.

It can only mean one thing.. the IMF/World Bank Meeting is upon us at last! We've known it for a while, of course, known that the subtle shades of early autumn are--by all accounts--going to be spray-painted beyond recognition. The peace is going to be shattered and that Prague will brace itself for the biggest security operation in its history.

Instead of the four horsemen on Wenceslas Square, we have little clusters of policemen sauntering back and forth, sipping cokes and popping into MacDonald's for a burger. Most of the time, they look completely and utterly bored out of their minds. Their only respite seems to be when some unsuspecting tourist inquires for directions. Since most of the police dragged in for the operation have come from different towns and different cities, it's quite obvious that most of them haven't got a clue when it comes to having to explain how to get to the Main Station or the National Theatre.

It seems that every corner around which I turn I find a pocket of police officer--on the street, on the metro, even on the tram. The metro station Vysehrad is usually the most pleasant in the whole of Prague as it is situated above ground level and affords a wonderful view across the river to Prague Castle. Vysehrad is now virtually a no-go zone.

The reason being that the newly refurbished International Conference Centre is situated right alongside it. The Centre is of course the venue for the IMF/World Bank meeting and the whole area is shrouded by a security operation the scale of which the residents of Prague last witnessed after the tanks rolled in in 1968.

A friend related the story to me of an old man getting off at Vysehrad and attempting to find his way through the police cordon. The poor old man was turned away, and had to find a path around the security zone to his house that lay somewhere within it or through it. It wouldn't of course be fair to assume that every security guard or policeman or woman involved in the security operation were cruel to old people and weren't disposed to make exceptions for them. In a way, it's difficult to blame them. Remember the old man in the film the Day of the Jackel? He whipped off his wig, pulled a rifle out of his crutch and took a potshot at General de Gaulle. You've been warned.

I can't help thinking, though, that that there are groups of people and even certain representatives of the press that seem to be wishing violence upon the city next week. The prestige of actually being chosen to host such a high-profile international event seems to have been lost. Indeed, for certain sections of the media, it seems that the whole thing will only become mildly interesting if and when the trouble breaks out on the street.

Yes, they're probably right, but still I really cannot understand this attitude. Throughout history Prague has been relatively a violence-free city. Even during the invasion of 1968 and the Velvet Revolution of 1989, the number of guns fired and cannon shells set off in anger were minimal compared to the turmoil suffered by other European cities during their histories. So why can't we just leave it like that?

Some people seem to be regarding the anti-globalisation demonstrations as the chance to either observe, report or participate in a bit of a rumble upon the beautiful streets of Prague.

I have no secret desire to witness Wenceslas Square being smashed to pieces, and those who have should be ashamed of themselves.