Czech Republic Magazine

On this Day, in 2000: anti-globalisation protests turned violent in Prague


On September 26-27, 2000, thousands of anti-globalisation protesters gathered in Prague in an attempt to disrupt the summit of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF).

As the anti-globalisation movement gained momentum in the late 1990’s, several key international summits became the target of activists protesting the role of lending organisations and their failure to tackle global inequalities and poverty in the developing world.

Prague braces for impending chaos

In June 1999, coordinated protests were held in 27 cities worldwide. A few months later, demonstrators disrupted the WTO summit in Seattle in November, and the IMF/World Bank meeting in April 2000. Tensions were high and growing, and organisers had long feared that the Prague summit scheduled for September 26-27, 2000, could prompt the worst and most violent anti-globalisation protests to date.

In anticipation of the unrest, Czech authorities cooperated with the FBI, Scotland Yard and Interpol, among other law enforcement agencies, and braced for the arrival of more than 10,000 protesters in the capital of Prague. Several countries, including the US and UK, advised their citizens against travelling to the Czech capital at the time.

Prague residents and businesses also took some precautions. Many restaurants ordered replacement panes of glass in advance, and strings of businesses, buildings or institutions were advised to temporarily close their doors. The build-up was accentuated by a media frenzy surrounding the impending protests, with several Czech magazines and tabloids advising Czechs to leave the city or barricade their doors.

“We don’t just want to disrupt their summits,” a statement by the DestroyIMF website read ahead of the summit. “We want to scrap the profit system that allows institutions like the World Bank, the IMF and TWO to rule the world and the former Stalinist countries. We want to end debt, poverty, and capitalist exploitation.”

And while Czech President Vaclav Havel urged everyone to keep a cool head, a sense of impending chaos was nevertheless palpable.

Anti-globalisation protests disrupt Prague IMF summit

On September 26, on the first day of the summit, an estimated 12,000 protesters and anti-globalisation activists from all around the world marched on Prague’s communist-era Congress Center to disrupt the opening. With about 10,000 police officers mobilised in Prague, and 5,000 soldiers on standby, clashes quickly got out of hand.

Harassing delegates outside the summit’s venue, protesters threw fireworks, Molotov cocktails and cobblestones at Czech riot police forces, who replied with water cannon and tear gas to disperse the crowds. Unrest continued the following day, on September 27, as demonstrators attempted to march to a Prague police station where about 400 activists had already been arrested only to be blocked and surrounded by police.

For two days, rare scenes of violence and rampage could be witnessed throughout Prague. About 900 people were arrested, and dozens injured, including policemen, protesters and two delegates. Shops and businesses such as fast-food restaurants were also damaged.

The summit was eventually cut short, as the BBC reported. “It is a pity that it has descended into violence,” commented South Africa’s Finance Minister Trevor Manuel, who chaired the summit. “I know what they’re against, but have no sense of what they’re for,” he added.

World Bank president James Wolfensohn struck a conciliatory tone with the protesters’ grievances. “Outside these walls, young people are demonstrating against globalisation,” he told delegates. “I believe deeply that many of them are asking legitimate questions, and I embrace the commitment of a new generation to fight poverty. I share their passion and their question, but I believe we can move forward only if we deal with each other constructively and with mutual respect.”

IMF managing director Horst Koehler expressed similar views, but insisted that “globalisation requires cooperation, and it requires institutions which organise that cooperate”, defending the roles of the IMF and similar institutions in lifting the standards of the world’s poorest.

Find out more about Central European history in our On this Day series.