Limity jsme my – my field journal
Arrival & camp life
We arrive at the camp site on Thursday around noon. A huge banner is welcoming us: „Nechte Uhli At Si Uhli“ (a pun – quite difficult to translate – it means something like: „Let the coal – coal out itself“). We are not the first people arriving from Germany – many German activists, who want to support the action in the Czech Republic as part of „Ende Gelände goes Europe“, are already at the camp site. It is my first climate camp in a foreign country and also my first time in the Czech Republic.
After putting up or tents, we join a workshop on the legal framework of the action. Many participants have taken part in the action last year and were exchanging experiences. Specific topics were police custody and the risks of prosecution. Negative experiences from the last „Limity!“- action play an important role. The stories about unpredictable and humiliating behaviour of the police are frightening me. According to the attendants activists were denied their rights. An international activist was hold for 48 hours, many were forced to take off their clothes. Although a lot of questions were left open by the workshop, I feel well informed about my rights as a non-Czech activist.
After the workshop we spend a quiet evening at the slowly growing camp site. The atmosphere feels very familiar and we get to listen to a concert with sounds resembling medieval music. The musicians are four men dressed in white robes, who perform tricks like igniting spray deodorant. I enjoy a hearty laugh – the organisers of the camp obviously know how to combine political work and joie de vivre.
Friday: Preparing the action
On Friday morning I wake up a bit crumpled in the tent and enjoy the sleepy mood at the camp. A group of people stands in a circle and makes yoga – I joyfully join them. After breakfast, the plenary marathon starts (plenaries taking place for the camp, finger structures and affinity groups). My affinity group and me decide to take over the press work for our finger. Therefore I get an introduction to the work of the press team by a Czech activist. He gives me a short summary of the Czech resistance against lignite from the 1980s up to now. So far 82 villages have been destroyed to give way for coal mining, including the medieval old town of Most. Since 2006, the expansion of the open cast mine has been intensified again.
It is incredibly hot, but I force myself to take part in the action training in the afternoon. At best we grow closer in our affinity group as well as in our finger structure and are therefore well prepared for the action. Limity‘s action consensus contains a clear rejection of breaking through police chains. Physical contact with the police must be completely avoided. So we practice flowing through police chains a few times and agree on common hand signals.
Early evening I pack my bag with a positive look forward to the action. As it turns out about 24 hours later, I make one crucial mistake: I do not take warm clothes with me!
At the joint action plenary at 7 pm, I get to know that there are a total of four fingers, including a bicycle finger. In addition, small group activities are planned to take place. Meanwhile the camp is well filled. Some affinity groups are already tuning in to protest songs or rework well-known tearjerkers to anti-coal songs.
While we are still in sleepy mode and sipping our weak coffee, a megaphone announcement says: A small group is already in the open pit mine. The next group will be there in a few minutes. The cheering of the crowd gives me energy. I do my final preparations, put on my overall and check my water supplies while the international finger is already getting started. In my head I keep repeating the Czech slogan: “Uhli patri pod zem!” (“Coal must stay in the ground”).
As we leave, it is goose bump atmosphere. We walk past the kitchen crew, the legal team and the people from the info tent, who wave and cheer for us. They shout “Power to the people“ and we answer. I am always very moved by scenes like this. We start as a registered demo with more than 400 people, led by red, green and golden flags, through a cute village, whose inhabitants greet us friendly. I am astonished about the enormous police force surrounding us. Hundreds of them are here – on quads, with horse relay teams and in battle dress. In the sky we can see helicopters and drones. It will not be easy getting into the mine.
As we approach the mine, I do not dare to sing the songs anymore. I am attentive and tense at the same time. Our spin-off from the registered demo must happen quite soon. How and where can we get from here to the open cast mine? When we get to the right place – we suddenly start running. The riot police runs past our sides us in a distance of one meter. It seems impossible to flow through them. Nevertheless some activists make it. The rest of us is surrounded by police immediately. A friend is brutally pushed inside the kettle by a policeman. We all shout, “Hey, stop!” and manage to de-escalate the situation. When another policeman then points a gun with rubber bullets at another activist, a tremendous shock strikes me. Just do not shoot, I think, and minutes later and still have my heart racing a for another few minutes. The Czech police not only carry tear gas and rubber bullets, some even have machine guns. They intimidate us very much and close the kettle ever closer around us. An activist calls to the police: “You’re sexy, you’re cute! Take off your riot suit!” We have to laugh and are grateful that someone is rising up the mood.
We make ourselves comfortable and get used to the situation in the kettle. Some activists, who were captured outside the kettle are brought to us. We pass the time with face painting, singing and going to the toilet. There is only one female police woman, who accompanies about 20 activists one after the other to a shady spot.
About an hour later the eviction begins. The people, who are being escorted to the peeing spot are not coming back. Unfortunately, one of them is also my tandem partner! They randomly take individuals out of the kettle every five minutes. Anyone who refuses or has himself carried away as a parcel is maltreated with pain grips. Each time an officer stands directly in front of the scenery to cover up what happens.
The eviction lasts the whole noon and afternoon. After several hours in the kettle the police bring us plastic bottles and cups. They found an English-speaking colleague who explains to us that we may not drink from the bottles, but he will fill our cups individually. Despite the displeasure about producing so much unnecessary plastic waste, the plastic cups are accepted.
A friend from my affinity group refuses to leave the kettle and they pick me. Without resistance I am accompanying the policemen. The two cops who hold me make jokes in Czech in order to find out whether I understand them or not. They lead me to
a police bus where another activist is being searched through. I am also asked to take off my overall and my shoes and am being scanned by a female officer. I refuse to sign anything they give to me. They are tying a ribbon with a number on it to my wrist and lead me to a bus. Six activists already sit inside. Since we are not allowed to talk, someone asks me via hand sing whether I am okay. There is a camera pointed at us. Directly afterwards, a friend of mine from my affinity group gets in the bus. We embrace each other in relief.
After the bus slowly fills up, the bumpy ride to the police station begins. There are 14 people and we sit on the benches on the sides without being strapped. The driver turns at breakneck speed over the roundabouts and we hold on to each other. When he turns on the siren, we have to laugh. I look over to the only police woman and have the impression that she too finds her colleague’s driving style quite silly.
At the police station there is already a group of activists in a corner of the courtyard. We sit down and I pass the time with soap bubbles. We share our food. The whole procedure takes about forever. When it is my turn, I quickly realize that this is not an interrogation. They just want to search us again and confiscate our luggage. A translator comes to me and asks me if I want to give my name, if I need medication or if I want to drink something. Two female employees lead me into a hallway where I have to take my shoes off and am being searched again. When asked whether I carry firearms, I have to laugh.
Back outside it is getting cold and I regret very much that I did not bring any warm clothes. It horrifies me to think that I have to stay here another 40 hours. Thus I ask if a blanket can be brought to me – unfortunately I cannot get one. With the food we have more luck: about half an hour after we remind the police that we have the right every six hours, they bring us food from McDonalds.
After dinner, we have a deli plenary session. We appoint two spokeswomen, who should stand up for our rights in front of the police so that finally a telephone call and warm premises are approved for us. The two are successful and we are let into the building a short time later. We are being moved into a hallway with a water dispenser. Although I am tired, the excitement in the room keeps me awake. I get to know that the call caused our friends from the camp site to bring us blankets – but they were not accepted by the police.
A short time later my number is called. In the meantime I recognize it in Czech. I show my ribbon and have to follow them. I have to board a very small elevator with two armed officers. My heart is pounding and I think it is possible that they both feel my nervousness. They are taking me to the office where the interrogation is taking place. A translator sits next to the police men, who is working on a computer to fill out a form. I am being asked if I got food, if I have diseases, and again, if I want to give them my name. I still do not want to. I also refuse to make a statement and do not wish to sign a form.
After the interrogation I am brought to another room for identification. I am taken to a kind of photo studio, in which three photos of me are to be taken. I try to make faces, which turns out to be difficult, because the officer just does not pull the trigger, but waits until my features relax before he takes the photos. Then DNA is taken from my oral mucosa and finally the fingerprints.
During the lengthy treatment I look around the room, whose furniture and equipment indicates that nothing has changed here in the last 30 years. I become aware of the discrepancy between the ultra-modern combat equipment of the police units in the morning and the old-fashioned furnishings of this administration building. By the time prints are to be taken from my palms, I ask: “Again? So slow.” One says: “Too slow? This is how we do it. We are communists.” and laughs. I am allowed to wash my hands and am taken past the other activists into a narrow corridor where other Czechs, which have been „identified“, are already sitting on the floor. I join them and go to sleep soon.
In half-sleep I notice an officer standing around for a while and stand up to show my ribbon. He wants me to come with him. I am told that I am finally being released. I am surprised that everything happens so quickly now and I almost have a guilty conscience towards the others who still have to stay. He wants me to sign a form saying I got my backpack back. As I leave the building, two people from the camp are waiting for me and I get a long hug from them. With tears of gratitude I follow them. They sat up a station with hot tea and blankets in a parking lot. I look at the police building from the outside and discover the McDonalds, who is right next to it and I have to smile. Back in the camp I get to know that the action was a complete success and that the open cast mine could be shut down for one day. I euphorically think of the next “Ende Gelände Goes Europe” action in August near Groningen, before I overtiredly crawl into my tent and have a good sleep.