The war in Iraq has provoked much public reaction around the world since its outset in 2003, and Prague is no exception. In the years following the U.S. invasion, Czechs have demonstrated in the streets of Prague against what many see as a violation of international law. With Czech troops involved in the rebuilding process in Iraq, similar protests once again took place this year against the continued occupation.
A drum beat resounded off the walls of Prague Castle on Sunday afternoon as around 50 people gathered on Hradcanske Square to protest against the continuing presence of American troops in Iraq, on the anniversary of the invasion. Three years have now passed since the initial insertion of troops into Iraq, yet for many people around the world the purpose of the occupation still remains a hotly debated topic. The demonstration, organised by three major pacifist organisations, the World Peace Forum, Initiative Against War and the Humanitarian Movement, began on Hradcanske Square, before marching along Nerudova St. towards the American Embassy. Aerie Farnham of the International Peace Movement in the Czech Republic and one of the organisers of the demonstration told me why she thinks it is particularly necessary here:
"A lot of Czechs tell me that they dont feel that this war and this occupation are connected to them, that they are not personally involved. I can understand that. I can understand that a lot of Czechs don't know people who were there and it's harder for them to understand it as a personal thing. But what's important for this country to know is that this is an issue of international law, and the equality of states before international law. As long as the international community cannot figure out how to have a international war crimes tribunal where everyone is equal and even powerful states can be brought before the law, we're in big trouble."
Both demonstrators and tourists alike gathered around the statue of Tomas Masaryk, the first president of the Czech Republic, to watch a display of contemporary dance, representing the trials of war, and to hear speeches condemning the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the continuing occupation and calling for a non-violent solution to the situation. I asked a few of those present their opinions on the subject:
Young woman: "I can find no reason to fight this war. I think that this violence just makes more violence and that the situation in the world is worsening."
Young man: "I opposed the war for many reasons, really because of the manipulation of the administration in America. Really I think this demonstration is taking place because people are just trying to show how disgusted they are by what has occurred."
The demonstration was met at the American Embassy by around 20 members of the Communist Union of Youth who held a similar protest on Wenceslas Square. However, with combined numbers greatly reduced from last year's 200-strong contingent of protestors, it seems that interest in the issue is not as manifest in the Czech Republic as it has been in the past.