Last man standing or Prague spring for ever

Tord Björk | popular movements,Uncategorized | Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

A personal report from the ESF mobilization conference Alternatives to right wing extremism in a time of social and ecological crisis

Here I was standing he says moving his body back and forth showing how he stopped the fascists recently from going away when they wanted to march towards the Prague city centre. All the others were young activists, not very many. He alone was from an older generation. The police came and stopped the antifascists from blocking the way of the right wing extremists.

I am told the story by Mirek Prokes when we pass the bridge across the Moldau river where it all happened. My companion tells me a story which seems common in many places in Europe today. One last man standing among the older generations, none from the generations in between and then only young activists protesting.

Mirek Prokes is busy. He is preparing the Alternatives to right wing extremism in a time of social and ecological crisis conference that will take place the following days. But he cannot stop himself from showing me the new model railway exhibition in Prague. He had to give up his whole collection of model trains when he was forced out of his old apartment, but he still have the interest. And it is there, full of all the Czech model train products, exhibitions about Czech railways and a full scale Moldau river landscape with both trains and cars moving by themselves along the river. The Czechs are proud of their technical interest and like to play as well.

At the city hall there is a press conference for the conference organized by the All European mobilization committee for the European Social Forum to be held i Istanbul July 1 – 4. It takes some time to find the the localities. I have to walk through long corridors of the proud municipal headquarters of the national Czech capital. Yes dominated by the Austrian emperor, then for the first time in many centuries independent, then under Nazí and Soviet rule and now again independent, still all the time Czech. But one wonders when one looks at the walls. All over the place there are prominent visitors to Prague, primarily Hollywood actors and sport stars. I even find the Swedish tennis player Björn Borg there between the Belgian king and other odd figures that seems to be surrounded by some star quality that I do not understand what it has to do in a the municipal head office.

In the press conference room very different characters looks upon us from the wall, very proud men that seems to have been mayors or the like through centuries in Prague. There are more people on the podium then from the press. But compared to Swedish standards there is much media attention for a social movement conference, three journalists puts questions after the presentation from Turkey, by the young Czech leader of the successful resistance against US long distance rocket bases in the country, by Austria and Hungary all under soft control by Mirek Prokes.

After the press conference Mirek cannot stop himself from showing where he had been sitting for many years in the municipal hall fighting for better bicycle conditions in Prague, a prolonged but slowly successful battle which we could se on big posters set up within the building. As there were almost no resources for an office that implemented the decisions on a longer term made the propaganda from the actual results had to be made explicitly huge in the midst of the film and sport stars.

He then shows us to the meeting facilities. It is hard to believe how it is possible. Right at the most attractive site in one of the most popular tourist places in the world we have our conference venue. In an old fashion restaurant situated at the Moldau river right under the Charles bridge with a huge modern projection from a computer above the speaker’s table between Greek colonnades. Every detail is planned. With most participants from low income countries all meals have to be considered. Water for drinking but good food and coffee breaks for all is included.

At the back of the conference hall is the most important detail, the translator booths. Many languages will be spoken, Russian often but also English, German, Czech and French.

Materials on right wing extremism and racism from UNITED are all over the premises. The reason why the localities can be used for a reasonable prize is the season. There are already many tourists in Prague but not yet the full invasion. Thus a Czech institution with the father of the nation Masaryk in its name could rent the premises for the conference.

As an environmentalist I was a bit nervous about the conference. Should I not feel alone among the participants who I thought mainly should be involved in fighting right wing extremism and as such not necessarily much interested in ecological issues. I was wrong. Already at the press conference the anti-right wing extremism veteran Hermann Dworzak from Austria made a passionate speech about the need to struggle for climate justice and the up coming conference in Cochabamba in Bolivia for the right of Mother Earth. When the problems in Azerbaijan is addressed the ecological concerns also became cetral. Here the government used nationalistic feelings in the Nagorno-Karabach conflict with Armenia to sell out national oil well interests to Western corporations. What followed was not only social but also ecological problems. The environmental issue cannot so easily be disclosed by ideological arguments. Petrova from Bulgaria contributed by addressing educational issues and how Green cities was used as a method to mobilize people . It sounded at first as non-political but in the end the result was struggle for lower public transport fares for young people, an issue of importance in many parts of Europe.

Experience of struggle against right wing extremism was given proper attention with the mass mobilization from many different strands ranging from Christian Democrats to autonom activists in Dresden as a great achievement. A new trend was also presented. Right wing extremists behaving and dressing up as black bloc anarchists using some of the language of the globalization critical movement. This seems to attract young right wingers in Germany, Ukraine and Russia. What was also a strong tendency is the growth of right wing populist parties. From France and Hungary speakers addressed the present situation. From Czech republic we were presented a poster by a main political party. On the picture there was two very grim muscular looking man sitting in the local pub doing nothing. It was time to stop these potentially violent people living on social welfare was the message and get them out of the local pub.

Our Czech hosts told us that actually much of the message was directed against Roma people but it was to obvious and politically incorrect so instead it was the image of dangerous rude men that should give the right message to people to gain support. Interestingly the toughest guy in the centre of attention with a black T-shirt on had two necklaces hanging down on his chest, one with a peace symbol and the other turned around with the text Love. The pictorial message was thus clear, dangerous people living on social welfare with hippie life style ideals needs to be confronted by a strong and demanding political party and state. That the kind of person envisioned on the poster do not exist in reality is of no concern. It can be constructed as if it exists in the heads of voters. It is hard to not think about the posters made by the fascists during World War II or in Denmark portraying Muslims. They look very much the same. A Semitic grim looking man with beard with fists attacking the onlooker or with a bomb in his turban. Looking more closely at the older version of a Semitic man one could see that the star on his chest did not have six edges like the David star but five as the communist star. Behind him was skyscrapers in New York. But his headdress was typical Jewish, as typical as the later version with the turban was typical Muslim or Arab. Both of them as mysteriously combining symbols of violence to put a label on underprivileged groups in society. This in a way that was seen as useful to create distance among groups by the help of propaganda images that have nothing to do with reality. In Fascist countries during WWII, Denmark some years ago or Czech Republic today the same propaganda tricks are used.

All-European ESF mobilization committee meeting in Prague

The conference had been organized in very short time and made possible thanks to the Czech practical competence and the efforts by Austrian Social forum to mobilizes funds from different places for the CEE participation. The reason for the fast preparations was that it was  necessary to have som impact on the mobilization towards ESF in Istanbul in July. On the final day the European Social Forum mobilization was also addressed.

After the conference is over Mirek Prokes takes us on a guided tour to the centre of Prague. He is at his best. Every step you take in Prague he has already been taken.

To us normal persons the old city centre seems impermeable with huge blocks and endless small streets ending nowhere. Prokes just goes straight through them in any direction, through narrow nooks dwindling through houses with bazaar style shops along the way or suddenly running into modern buildings in the midst of the medieval town filled with shop signs only in English, or to be more precise American.

Languages is of no problem to Prokes. He is an officially approved guide in five languages. When we meet at international conferences it is a relief as we can speak Swedish to each other. With all the Russian visitors he is at home as well.

He can take you to any kind of traces of history. All the fascinating architectural traces you could not imagine existed as cubistic houses and all the old proud Jugend buildings from a hundred years ago of a nation knowing it is on the way to become independent and the endless rows of medieval houses from almost a thousand year. In 1638 the Swedish army entered the Czech region. There were then 3 million inhabitants. When the Swedish army left there were 800 000, 2/3 of the villages and ½ of the towns were destroyed, but Prague was still standing.

With Prokes this history is alive. In one second you stand in front of a statue of a Prague student that once defended the city on the Charles bridge right were we had the conference venue the against the Swedes in 1648 ushering in the Westphalian peace treaty and the present interstate world system, in the next you stand in front of the ugliest modern shoe box building in Prague erected by a modern Swedish transnational corporation to promote consumerism maybe ushering in yet another new world order.

When I visited the other side of the river which the Swedes never were able to conquer I came to a park on the slopes of the Moldau below the castle protecting the city. The kind of warm gentle atmosphere between people was in the springtime air. Very few were sitting alone, not even two alone. Mostly there were groups of three or more often some seven eight people having a good time. If there was a radio on, the sound was often drowned by the laughter and noise from the group who be chance had a radio with them as well. None seemed to isolate themselves behind their individual music taste with the help of  music hand sets, or that was maybe a dream. But maybe capitalist consumerism still can be defeated and replaced by a culture that brings more individualism and collective solidarity making our senses feel better than in the present model of commodification of our bodies and nature.

High above the people in the park a proud flag can be seen at the horizon between the castle and a church. It is huge and the only flag I saw in Prague. It has stars and stripes and is placed on the US embassy at the top of the slope.

Down inte the city centre Mirek can show us the place named after Jan Palach that committed political suicide in 1969 to awaken the nation against the Soviet occupation. Mirek than was leading the protests against the communist regime. Today Mirek is a member of the Communist party. He is one among the youngest. Most members are 8o years from the generation that was fighting against fascism. They do not go out on the street anymore to stop fascists. The communist youth organization exist but has few members,. It was made illegal during some years and only lately permitted to exist again. Mirek is also a member of Friends of Nature, an environmental organization set up by the workers movement in the 19th century to give  He is also a member of UNITED, the European network against racism. He is also the main organizer of the Czech Social Forum since many years. In most organizations he seems to be the last man standing.

And yet, compared to last time I visited Prague on a mobilization tour for the European Social in Malmö 2008 there is a new vigour in the Czech Social Forum and many new young faces. They all say they are very few but they are many times more than last time.

Mirek seldom states his political opinion very frankly. But this year he told me that the Czech social forum was put off the list of extremist organizations that was controlled by the security police, I guess we are not a threat to anyone anymore he said. When the issue of how CEE countries are treated in the ESF process was brought up and the argument was put forward that a preparatory programme mneeting had to be held in Brussels as a meeting in a CEE country could get problems with getting copies of conference material made Mirek upset. So he gets when programme for the ESF is so late that it becomes more or less impossible to organize translation at the forum to smaller languages. His democratic engagement is deeply rooted.

When differences of opinion occurred regarding the name of the new network set up in Prague Mirek made one of his few but typical interventions. Judith Dellheim from Germany proposed that the name should be open calling it the Prague spring network commemorating the time in history when democratic socialism seemed a possibility. The effective Austrians promoted a name only focusing on opposition towards right wing extremism. Mirek suggested Prague Spring II All –European network against right wing extremism. May he get many followers on that slope on the Moldau river and everywhere else in the world were people are fighting for alternatives, social justice, against authoritarian regimes, for bike paths, against racism, overcoming of all language barriers and a Prague spring for ever.

You find more photos by Valereij Pankov here

or by Gökhan Bicici here

or by Piotr Kawiorsiki here

or Flickr gallery: here

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