“The organisers try to push people a little bit further every time”: extremism expert on threatened blockade of government buildings
Saturday’s anti-government demonstration in Prague’s Wenceslas Square turned violent when a small portion of the protestors attempted to enter the National Museum building by force to tear down the Ukrainian flag hanging from it. 18 people were arrested, one on suspicion of endorsing genocide, and two police officers were injured.
How significant was this demonstration and the subsequent attempted storming of the museum building? Does it indicate that extremists are willing to go further now than they were before and potentially use violence? We asked political scientist and extremism expert Jan Charvát from Prague’s Charles University.
“I would say that, in fact, although it’s not ‘normal’, it is understandable for a demonstration of this scale. This is not the first demonstration of its kind, but one of many. If these demonstrations go on for some time and there are a lot of people, there is a chance of a violent event like this occurring.”
In 2021 we witnessed an attack on the United States Capitol Building in Washington D.C, and in the same year an attempt to storm the Reichstag by far-right German protestors. Could this be a kind of copycat incident – although the protestors in this case were trying to attack a cultural building rather than a seat of government?
“I don’t think it’s the same thing. In Germany and especially in the United States, it was really an attempt to attack a government building, but here, it was ‘just’ an attempt to take down the Ukrainian flag. It looked a little bit like the German incident – more the German than the American version – but I don’t think it’s the same thing.”
The organiser of Saturday’s protest has threatened a blockade of government buildings from mid-April if the government doesn’t meet his demands. How serious was he being, and how disruptive would it be if it went ahead?
“I think that he is serious, but I’m not sure if it will really happen. Because in these circles you can say a lot of things and you believe it, but you are not able to really do it.
“The way I see it, all of the things which are said at these demonstrations work in a similar way. There are steps – you have to say a little bit more than you said last time, because if you don’t, people won’t come next time. The organisers try to push the people a little bit further every time. So you have to say something new, and I think that is the reason for this announcement.
“As for what will really happen – that is the question. It’s possible that the demonstration next time will try to blockade a governmental building for some time, but I don’t think it will be different to the attempt to take down the Ukrainian flag on Saturday.”
So you don’t think he’ll be able to mobilise enough people?
“I believe he’ll be able to mobilise people to blockade some buildings, but I’m not sure that it will be able to work for a long time, and I don’t think that they will be able to keep this building against the police. We are not really used to violence in the Czech Republic. We had some incidents, but in the past the police have always been able to deal with these people with no real problems.”