CzechTek and its aftermath

I’ve been busy trying to get the final 1.0 release of our LiveSupport software out the door as of late, and in doing so have gained so much more respect for people who not only make good software, but make good software that’s easy to install.

Because I’ve been knee-deep in the intricacies of Debian package builds, I haven’t had a lot of time to talk about the police riot at CzechTek or its aftermath. But now that my machine is busy compiling the code, I have a few minutes.

My take on it? Every year the organizers of CzechTek, through their innovative use of ‘smart mobs’ technology and a highly-motivated, highly-mobile crowd, consistently make the Czech police look like a bunch of dumbasses.

Last year things got even uglier when, after a tense showdown, riot police were sent in to end the event.

This year, the cops decided to pre-empt all the foreplay and just start busting heads at the beginning, under the pretense that an event like this posed the greatest danger to the state since 1989.

In case you were wondering, while the term may have changed, CzechTek is a rave. A rave in a field. A ‘temporary autonomous zone.’ Which of course poses a terrible threat to the well-being of proper Czechs.

So the riot police swooped in and chaos ensued. Brutality ensued. But the CzechTek folks, many of whom are well-versed in media, kept some pretty good documentation of the police abuse. And as Scott MacMillan has pointed out, it’s hard to argue with the footage. Lidové noviny has photos here and videos here (30 mb avi), for example.

In the aftermath of the event, the protests have grown, criticizing the brutality as well as the government’s decision to unleash an elite police riot force on a bunch of ravers.

Prime Minister Jiří Paroubek defended his decision, explaining that these weren’t just flower children dancing in a field, but dangerous, hardened anarchists. And speaking in crypto-Communist language, he added, many of whom came from abroad. I can almost hear the man’s false teeth pop out as he says these idiocies.

In my opinion, LN has led coverage of CzechTek through efforts to document what occurred, as well as providing a forum for supporters and opponents of the police action. Here is an example of the eyewitness reports LN has collected. The translation is mine:

Jan, 23, Economist and IT manager
I’ve gone with my friends to CzechTek every year since it started. I’m a person just like anybody else. I read, I like sports, people, music, I make a lot of money and am a proper taxpayer. I am not a drug user.

This year I was really looking forward to CzechTek, and regularly celebrate my birthday there. My friends and I agree amongst ourselves who’s going, who will bring what (food, drink, tents, tarps, stoves) the weekend before, at a time when nobody knows where the event will be held. During the week we work, and those who study are on vacation. The first group was ready to go Thursday and called everyone possible for information.

Friday afternoon I read a report on the Internet – this time from the media faster than from friends – and I called. “Ciao. Hey, it looks bad here, we’ve been waiting since yesterday in a really long line of cars. I don’t understand. The police have immediately blocked the road with some semi truck and now nobody can get in,” my friend said in an annoyed, lightly-exhausted voice.

I immediately called another friend, but most already knew. We agreed to meet up in our pub, where we’d evaulate the situation, that we’d take a look at how the police would behave, and we’d see from there.

The first of our group are there from 3 in the afternoon. I got there at 5. There was a pretty optimistic mood. Every minute someone would call, or follow WAP or web reports. Sometimes somebody would read something and laughter would break out at the absurdity of it, and the gloomy words used only strengthened our resolve. We sat there until 8 at night, when from a phonecall we learned that they would let us in.

Some of us hesitated, but in the end we got in the care towards Tachov. We chose a path on the Karlovy Vary highway, from which we could go to Tepla and Tachov. It was clear to us that the D5 was not the path to take [it was blocked by a standoff between police and people wanting to go to the event. – DA].

Sometime between 11 and 12 we were hit by a hard storm, and the convoy broke up. We called again and tried to get together, but couldn’t. We found out at least how to best get to the goal. Around 3am, after getting somewhat lost and going through mother nature, we got to the first police. So we turned around and tried another way. We found no entrance, so we went up a forest road to sleep. Morning is wiser than night, so after a light dose of stress and looking for a way in we slept like the dead.

The boys woke me up in the morning, as other techno fans went around us: “Wake up, and follow us, blockheads,” their driver said with a smile. We packed quickly, got in the car and left. In 15 minutes we were on a concrete highway through the forest. We went slowly, looking for a place to put the car, because there were a lot of people around.

We got out, got our backpacks and walked down a forest path that was full of people coming and going. After about 1o minutes’ walk, we got to the field at about 8 am. A beautiful view. The sun was shining, with an occasional cloud, so neither hot or cold, people everywhere, and from the bottom of the field soundsystems were playing. It was super.

Hurááááááá. We called our friends to see where they were, but couldn’t call, even though the signal was at the maximum. (Later it was clear that the police had blocked the GSM network!). In the end we called and found our friends. It was after 10. Drivers were toasting each other. “I had to get you here, right?” our driver said. We were having fun, laughing, goofing around. We walked across the whole field, where I found my younger sister and her boyfriend. The whole time we were having fun, dancing.

Then we saw the columns of police trucks arrive.

I did not expect what happened next. I thought they came to look things over and check on us, but within about an hour they started to line up and before I could look around they were already skirmishing. I went to look around at what was going on.

The police say that warnings were announced. Myself and everybody I know heard nothing of the sort. I saw police cars parked relatively close to the crowds, but, as even the police say, it was noisy. How could they rely on two cars with a megaphone?

14 days earlier I was at a similar, albeit smaller, event in Germany, and a police unit (3-5 people) walked among the crowd, and they calmly and diplomatically announced that we had to move and where we would move to. The event was too close to a closed-down mine. We left, sad but understanding. Why didn’t the police do the same here?

At the beginning the police advanced with water cannons and tear gas, and always there, where they wanted to advance strategically, I saw the first people with scratches from the explosions and occasionally under a policeman’s knee was someone with a broken head.

When they got this way to the center of the field, to the soundsystems, they stopped. There were a lot of people already at the soundsystems ready to stand their ground, and when they found out that the police were not playing nice, they were ready to fight anyone. I was still close to the police line, trying to calm down aggressors from our side, but when I saw them already beaten I gave myself up.

Then there was a police attack from the highway, where they tried to divide groups at the soundsystems. The attach was very sudden and badly organized. When the police began walking among the people, it was – you could say – without aggression. But when they were in the middle, they started to run around like a pack of wolves among sheep.

Of course, the sheep sometimes bit back. But there’s a difference when an armored policeman is hit with a branch. That just tickles. When an unarmed person gets a blow from a billy club (and the police aimed at the ‘right places’, as befits true professionals), there are bruises for two weeks.

After such chaos and confusion, the police ran to the center. The first skirmish stayed in its place and among people sitting at the soundsystems, under tents and in cars, one tear gas canister after another went off. True heroes.

Then a new skirmish started in the center. And half of us quickly met at the car, which was about 100 meters from the advancing net. We didn’t go anywhere, though, because the driver had been drinking since the morning!!!

We decided instead to stay at the car: “They can’t beat us for that.” But as they got closer, we saw their brutality, which was at the maximum! You could see one person standing in front of a car and three policemen took turns beating him, with others coming. Everything was brutal, and there was nobody who would have thrown anything at them provocatively.

They missed our car, which hurried toward the exit. When we were 10-20 meters down, all my friends and I found out that we couldn’t be in the car, so we ran toward the rear. Me and a friend stayed a little further with our cameras in case they damaged the cars. They saw us and went around our car.

We calmed down. My wallet had fallen out of my pocket, so I picked it up, with a policeman 2 meters from me. I reached for a white shirt, to show that I was no threat to anyone, with my hands over my head. I said: “I didn’t do anything. I’m not doing anything. Just let me get out of here like I came in and that’ll be that.”

But before I could look up, one policeman ran out of the line and I got a billy club to my right arm, which I picked up reflexively to protect my head. I turned around to see where I could run away to, but got another two blows from the back to my hip, not far from my kidneys.

Then I ran like a little boy. They herded us like cattle! The chased us to the exit, where there were fewer cars. We went around the forest, which took a while because we had to go deeper into the forest; on its edge the police had launched more tear gas as a preventative measure, and there were occasional explosions, so we had really irritated eyes and some people’s skin itched.

When we got out of the forest, we found out that nothing had changed. There were fewer people on the field, but they were still there, and had their things, many of which were damaged. Tents were burned by tear gas canisters, trampled, glass broken everywhere from the police and trash bags kicked around.

It was quieter and everywhere you could see people trying to treat their wounds amateurishly, washing them with water.

The whole skirmish was unnecessary. People were still there. The only thing the police did was make a mess and cause pain. About two hours later, we were all together at the car. Drivers, even if they were drunk, wanted to get away regardless and risk a drunk-driving ticket. We luckily weren’t asked for a breath test and about 20km away, we stopped to eat and sleep in the car. The next day we stopped in KruÅ¡ovice for lunch and went to Prague for the demonstration.

Paroubek says damage caused to the fields where CzechTek was held was between 350 thousand and 1.5 million crowns, but one local farmer says his original estimate of 300 thousand was exaggerated.

Luckily, there are a lot of politicians – unexpected ones at that – who have criticized Paroubek and his interior minister, FrantiÅ¡ek Bublan, for the police brutality.

As critical as I am of President Klaus in this blog, I have to commend his stand as presented by his secretary Ladislav Jakl, in yesterday’s LN:

Can a conservative person criticize a police raid on a group of admittedly extreme young people whose lifestyles evidently differ from various ethical norms and whose supporters frequently are in conflict with law and order?

According to many journalists, some civic activists and leftist politicians, I guess they can’t. They have their box that they can’t jump out of. A conservative, by definition, must defend order and legality, and let the chips fall where they may. …

Even President Klaus has received a number of complaints about the police behavior at CzechTek. I get the impression that people protesting him didn’t want to hear a single word criticizing the police’s action, or that of the politicians who gave the orders. The president is for them a rightist, a member of the establishment, a friend of big business. If we turn to him, he won’t help and could put us in the same bag as the premier, who turned his brutes on the young people. …

But the president has doubted the action and has requested its investigation. And many rightist politicians as well. What about this now? This is kind of suspicious. The president is now coming out of his box. Isn’t this populism? It’s not.

To criticize the police action against “questionable forces,” as Mr. Prime Minister Jiří Paroubek said so Å tepan-like [Å tepan was the post-68 leader] wouldn’t gain many points. On the contrary. Paroubek’s moves were the ones led by cynical populism.

The PM wasn’t interested in whether the techno party would happen, or whether or not some laws would be broken. He decided on the attack in advance. He relied on the fact that the more settled part of the Czech populace would oppose those jumping individuals and applaud a strong action, even if it didn’t have a proper legal reason.

So far, the people who have condemned the PM based on good information of the police’s grinder-like approach are immediately made out to be supporters of eccentric dancers and their lifestyle. And it’s the one who even [Sunday] made a call for an adherence to law and order.

A proper supporter of freedom isn’t called that because they grant freedom to themselves and people they like. You only find the ones who truly support freedom by standing up for people who live and think differently.

That’s not the same as being one with their lifestyle and thoughts. It is the principal position, that the state must act according to its laws the same for every citizen, and not to throw all viewpoints, defenses and laws out the window when it is applied to ‘questionable forces’.

PM Paroubek is bringing us into a world that is disinfected and washable, where we will walk around in white stockings and from time to time only stick our toe a slight bit out of line and turn our eyes away from differences of any kind. With this, he is in line with the worst European traditions of the 20th century.

I’m not going to challenge leftists of all shades if they call on my when their rights have been stepped on, when their right to difference, to dignity, to freedom or to their health is threatened. On the contrary, I’m going to give them a hand, because at that time we are one and the same.

Let them stop frowning when someone steps out of their box.

The blood of a person who goes to a techno party is not the blood of an anarchist fucker. It is human blood. And even a conservative knows that. Above all.

3 thoughts on “CzechTek and its aftermath

  1. this is a good article, it helps those of us on the other side of the world know the context and continuing outcome..

    strength to you and your country to find a peaceful solution..

  2. Pingback: CzechTek WebLog

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