This is a report from the frontlines of this year’s Czech teknival, held the first weekend of August. It is an updated and elongated version of an article that first appeared the week after teknival in ‘Scandaloso’, a free party zine produced in English and translated into as many languages as possible where applicable.
To get copies etc, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
The vibrancy of the culture and the beauty of the country have had party-heads coming to CzechTek since 1994. The culture and music festival has grown from small beginnings; two years ago at the largest CzechTek so far there were around 30-40,000 participants including dozens of sound systems.
From the first the travelling circus of sound systems and artists connected with local youth after a time of revolution and the re-drawing of physical and mental maps across Europe. Teknivals occur as an extension of the age-old festivals and markets where people meet up for days and even weeks for a host of reasons: from sharing ideas and having fun to making money and thickening plots. At their best, teknivals are a powerful expression of common creative impulses. When a teknival ends and people go their separate ways, ideas and action can spread in many directions.
CzechTek 2004 had been broken up by police on the monday in a heavy-handed way. Would this repression of underground culture be stepped up in 2005?
In 2006 the Czech Republic is due to join the European Union. In recent years the EU has worked towards ‘harmonising’ its policies, especially with regard to the treatment of minority groups such as refugees, immigrants and travellers. Most countries are busy drafting and implementing new laws to better control their populations. Meanwhile, road networks are being extended for the transport of goods to facilitate unchecked ‘free trade’, with borders opening wider to those who buffer the system, and attempting to close them to those at the edge of escape. Increased communication amongst the member States of the EU begins with police agencies. Perhaps the Czech authorities looked to their EU counterparts in England, France, Germany, and Holland when composing their strategy for dealing with tek travellers: show them who’s boss with a demonstration of premeditated violence, and then impose harsh laws that garner support from the programmed and pacified majority of the population.
Perhaps foreseeing problems, and hoping to stay one step ahead of the authorities, the organisers of this year’s teknival decided to follow a legal route and hire land. While this concession has its merits – giving the authorities one less reason to intervene – their disapproval of possible drug-taking on a mass scale and more simple bigotry against a way of life they perceive as different overshadow such an attempt. The sheer potential size of teknival – its drawing power and the seemingly casual disdain for laws that the authorities hold dear make a threat that may be more imagined than real.
Those arriving for this year’s teknival close to its intended start were handed a flyer as they traversed the Czech border. It warned party-goers against a range of offences they might break through attendance. These ranged from selling and buying drugs to illegal camping.
On wednesday night, word of a meeting point for sound systems at 4 am in Plzen was networked. The info quickly spread beyond sound systems to other ravers and also the police. The first vehicles sped off, seemingly forgetting the basics of a successful convoy – driving slowly bumper-to-bumper so that no vehicles can break up the line. And so the germinal party was stretched out along the motorway. Few vehicles made it onto the site near the village of Mlynec, before police barricaded the site, causing an 8km tailback. Not very many police vehicles blocked the convoy, some felt we could have made them move through sheer force of numbers. However, the raver convoy stayed in one lane of the motorway, enabling further police vehicles to join their colleagues. These secondary vehicles were visible by their lights from a great distance before they had passed the entire convoy. It would have been easy to block them, but we weren’t willing to put ourselves and our homes at risk by being the only ones to block the motorway. In the absence of quick communication and decision-making up and down the line, we waited and did nothing.
By morning a section of fence was down and a few more vehicles had gained access before the police once more jumped in and plugged the gap. From the very start people were able to sneak onto site by foot. The convoy was then asked to leave, but this was only communicated to some. Many dispersed of their own accord. Those who remained were met with heavy force.
Relatively quickly, police were already amassing large numbers: we saw some 60 vans, 30 cars, a couple of trucks mounted with water-cannons and an all-terrain vehicle with a satellite dish.
The rest of friday was spent driving endlessly along country lanes only to encounter road blocks, or sitting tight and messaging info back and forth. A storm hit the Czech Republic hard that night, trees fell and blocked roads while the game of cat and mouse with the police was illuminated by an awesome display of sheet and fork lightning.
In a later statement, police claimed that the contract with the landowner had been broken and therefore revoked. In fact the landowner backed up the teknival organisers, and the contract was shown to be legal. A meeting on Saturday between organisers and police was followed by a report in the media that the Prime Minister was giving the Interior Minister full power of authority and resources to stop teknival by any means necessary. Police further claimed their reason for the shut-down was that land surrounding the site was being damaged by ravers on foot (a consequence of the police blockade of vehicles). Again, many locals in fact supported the teknival. In one nearby village, the inhabitants drew up a petition asking for the police to grant ravers unimpeded access to site by the original entrance right by the motorway. This would have prevented large numbers of vehicles passing through, though many villagers were still all smiles and waved.
One Czech man I picked up hitching said he had been taken to a police station and told he could pay his way to safety for Kc1000 (£20). After handing over the money he was beaten, and burned with lighters and matches. He showed me the scars on his arms.
On saturday morning, with the discovery of an unguarded track through the woods, more freak-mobiles bounced onto site greeted by cheers. When police intervened they were initially held at bay by hastily deployed barricades before once more taking control of access.
Some 6,000 ravers were enjoying teknival when approximately 1,000 police made their move to close down the event at 4.30 pm on saturday. The brutality of what followed shocked many. Police made a line and showered tear gas and disorientation grenades into the crowd, gradually clearing site over the course of five hours. Resistance by ravers took the form of a barrage of projectiles, hand to hand combat, and a refusal to immediately concede space to seriously tooled up stormtroopers in body armour. Water-cannons aimed at dance floors pushed back the crowds and surely damaged sound systems.
A Czech internet server, visions.cz, issued the following description: ‘There were hundreds of injuries, including cuts, bruises, burnings, broken arms and shock. Many people were in shock still the next day afternoon with red faces from tear gas. Police intentionally damaged cars, electronic equipment and other property. Attack was led with clear intention to cause injuries. People were forced to go to near the highway, which was closed several hours and then the waiting trucks were allowed to go dangerously among the disoriented people. Police confirmed the death of a young man attending the festival. Reportedly he was killed by a truck which left.’
At the time we heard that the police had re-opened the motorway, and while escaping from the site onto the motorway the man was run over by a truck (which had nothing to do with teknival). Photographs since released seem to show the police running over at least one person. Whether these show the same incident is unclear. In the days following teknival the death was the subject of endless speculation and rumours. At one point a second person was supposedly reported dead. Looking at articles on the internet at the time of this rewrite, there is no mention anywhere of at least one person dying. Why?
If this death was a result of negligence on the part of the police – which was caused by a response to people dancing and enjoying themselves – the perpetrators are unlikely to be brought to justice.
During the clearing of site, the police line had passed through people tatting down, who thinking the action was over stayed on site. That night, under cover of darkness and with less chance of being filmed, police attacked again, even more brutally than earlier. CS gas canisters were thrown into tents and vehicles as people slept, beatings following any attempt to escape.
Although this was the first time someone has been killed at a teknival due to the actions of police – a truly horrible event that many will never be able to forget – violence on this level is not a new phenomenon. Three years ago, a party-goer’s hand was blown off in Brittany, France; Dutch police have released dogs onto site; attacks with truncheons and gas have occurred regularly in the last ten years. Taking a wider perspective, police kill people in custody with terrible regularity, and attack minorities on the basis of race or way of life every day.
With no rave to attend, people attempted to park in the local area, where they encountered similar police pressure. Small gatherings still occurred, we can’t actually be stopped from making contact. In the aftermath many people and vehicles ended up at Strahov in Praha, and sound systems set up. Disappointment and anger at what had happened was turned into an impulse to be active.
On sunday, tuesday, thursday and saturday of the following week thousands of people protested outside the Interior Ministry in Praha. Several sound systems demonstrated with loud music and packed dancefloors, including one 12v rig on a wheel-barrow and another in a rucsac. Much of the music played kept within the bounds of conventions established fifteen years ago or more, though some are seeking to break with the past musically and in other areas of activity also.
Over the four days of protest political interests made their presence increasingly felt, and many sound system people, travellers, and party-goers withdrew their participation, feeling that their presence was being co-opted for the gain of others.
During this week, police mostly kept out of the picture. With hindsight, it became ever more obvious that they had acted illegally in restricting people’s movement, infringed on a legal contract between the teknival organisers and the landowner, and of course essentially murdered a man. Their actions artificially escalated the true nature of the situation, and they acted above the law. Of course, the police heavies are pawns and acted on orders from above. The Czech President criticised the crackdown, but Prime Minister Paroubek said techno enthusiasts were “no dancing children but dangerous people “.
Since we left the Czech Republic, there have been further demonstrations, but despite worldwide attention on CzechTek 2005 – mainly due to the level of violence and the international make-up of the party-goers – nothing much has probably changed. Neither the Interior Minister nor the Prime Minister have been forced to step down or felt the need to do so of their own accord. Promises have been made about changes to how the police deal with such situations. Probably more people have been ‘politicised’, hopefully this will be translated into effective action.
Protests make an appeal to those who hold power and exert authority, the protestors request change through an attempt at ‘democratic processes’. As such the authorities determine how much of a threat is posed and whether change benefits the system, and make a decision to either placate the protestors to some extent, or to carry on regardless. Protests vary, from demonstrations – a show of numbers based on reasonable appeal – to direct action – which ranges from a more concerted effort to exert pressure on perceived wrong-doers and their legislative/controlling agencies, to bypassing ‘the system’ altogether and living relatively autonomously. Perhaps the key is to be outside the system and attack it at weak points it cannot absorb. To make the jump and stay one step ahead.
Maybe at the political level what happened was a one-off points-scoring political decision, the new Prime Minister’s attempt to gain support for his administration with a fresh and breezy display of minority-bashing. However, experience has shown that those in power can moreorless do what they like.
For what it’s worth, much of the press came out in favour of the ravers, polls suggesting that up to 70% of the Czech public were opposed to the police action. Teknival also brings money into the economy. According to a police statement, the crackdown cost Kc 31.35 million (approx. £750,000) of which damage to police property amounted to Kc 1.93 million (approx. £50,000).
There is apparently talk among some Czech sound systems of buying land to stage future events; it remains to be seen whether this is a viable solution. Some might say that one of the key aspects of free parties is our intervention to take back space responsibly and put it to better use than chemical farmers, road-builders, industrialists etc.
The events during and after CzechTek 2005 have shown that our spirits cannot be dampened and that our resistance and parties will continue. Hopefully the positive aspects of Czech culture will once more draw people here from all over Europe to get together and party.
* Victims of the police’s illegal intervention who want to file charges against the police can contact the League of Human Rights’ lawyers on +420 608 719 535 or email@example.com. Witnesses should contact the same address as soon as possible.
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