At the bottom downwards

Klimakemp – successful direct action

After several years, the Czech Republic experienced another nonviolent direct action. It was the culmination of the activist Klimakemp that took place in Horní Jiřetín and brought attention to unsustainability of coal mining in the time of growing climate changes. More than one hundred activists stopped a gigantic excavator for at least a few hours.

„In the name of law, leave the premises!“ shouts one of the man in black mask. I look at him across a foggy plastic shield that is supposed to protect me against pepper spray. I lie in a white painter suit on greasy coal dust locked into my „buddy“ – partner I can rely on during a direct action. A moist, crumpled respirator protects my mouth. Trying to lock my feet into an unfamiliar figure in front of me, we try to form a human chain around the belts and paddle wheels of the mining excavator K70. Twelve-hundred-ton steel monster symbolizes to us against this blockade at the end of the first Czech Klimakemp takes place – its cogged wheels and paddles help continue fossil energy, an industrial sector that is necessary to stop right away, even at the price of illegal actions and legal sanctions. The target is not random; it was in the Bilina quarry where the government broke the limits imposed on mining.


In the human chain

With feelings of pride and joy that we made it all the way to the bottom of the quarry, there is fear of police violence and brutality. We manage to distract ourselves with singing and chatting of slogans that provide courage and determination. A plain clothed police officer with a grenade launcher walks past us and occasionally says a few words to the bald members of the quarry security. Above us, a cabin with the excavator operator who waves at us and records everything on his cell phone. Police officers lead away two Czech TV crews that record the whole action, stating the police intervention may not be recorded.

We repeated police commands by chanting „We are the limits!“ or singing along „­People got the power…“ and hold out psychological pressure. Right at the start they pull several people from the human chain and apparently what they mind most is the pilot of the drone who recorded the breakthrough from the air. They tie his arms behind his back and fling him to the mud where they add a few kicks and leave him lie with his face in the mud for a few more minutes. He later urinates blood due to sprained kidneys. We manage to keep the blockade for about a half an hour before they start pulling one after another. When they separate me from my smiling and calm neighbor, I relax all muscles so as to make the intervention more difficult for the police officers. They give purposeless kicks and do not refrain from insults of „rude motherfuckers.“ They carry my limp body relatively painlessly to a group of the detained.

Then follows a tiring process that is familiar to us from earlier blockades and squatter actions – identification, attempts to record faces, and, most of all, endless waiting. They sit us for a few hours on the hot coal ground, they refuse to give us water and we need to chant to be able to use the restroom. We are most pleased when the miners bring us their own water. The quarry employees welcomed us relatively positively – for the most part, they waved at us from the machine cabins and one even showed us the shortest way to the bottom of the quarry. The men in heavy armor gradually take off their helmets and masks and self-assured „robocops“ turn into a group of poorly organized young men who are not at all certain about what to do with hundreds of papers that continuously fly into the wind.

After three hours in a sharp sun with no water my head starts spinning and I begin to feel my kidneys. I have no luck looking for a shade by police cars or standing people when they finally take me away to a quarry buss. They tie my hands with cord handcuffs that hurt a bit less than the earlier used plastic tighteners. Over time, the police officers grow more chaotic and their morale decreases.

Then another round of questioning and personal strip search and then they put us on the bus. There already annoyed police officers who clearly enjoy harassing us – they repeatedly promise to bring us water but never do. To get a first drink of water after five hours, we have to chant again. They take us to the police station in the nearby Most where we are received by a solidary demonstration by attendees of the Klimakemp. A loud expression of togetherness is the best balm against wounds and police harassment. In Most they offload only five people and they take the rest of us go Chomutov where they only fill out the necessary forms and do not want to overtly bother themselves with us. I am free before the midnight.

Foreigners who joined us for the blockade receive a lot worse treatment. Right after the first questioning, they separated the Germans, Poles, and Slovaks from the others and some of them were then handcuffed as many as twelve hours. In addition to denying them water and food, they also had to endure exhausting tour of northeastern police stations. „Behind our backs, they made racist remarks about foreigners. They refused to speak English to us, telling us that if we are in the Czech Republic, we have to speak Czech,“ says one of the Germans who was released the following day. According to the witness testimonies, the guardians of the law made personal insults and swore the „fucking foreigners.“ Italian Silvia was ordered to make squats naked at the station in front of men. The police officers must have vented they anger after a failed intervention when despite having several hundred officers at their disposal, they were unable to prevent our penetration into the quarry.


Civil Disobedience

The entire Klimakemp was accompanied by maneuvers during which the police, together with the security at the quarry, continuously monitored the movement of the Klimakemp participants. During the week, the police carefully checked the cars that came to Horní Jiřetín, according to one car, the police confiscated shovel handles, identifying them as weapons. Discrimination and harassment of foreigners is a reflection of the mindset among the police who share the belief in xenophobia. Minister of Interior Milan Chovanec with his media interviews and comments has his share of responsibility for the situation. Readiness and determination of the camp participants surpassed the abilities and technical equipment of the police so both direct actions took place with surprising ease.

There are several reasons why the first Czech climate camp can signify a beginning of a new era of grassroots environmental activism. The Limity jsme my! Movement strives to free itself from the given mechanism of environmental NGOs who have narrowly focused on campaigning and lobbying. Direct actions and civil disobedience do not, with occasional exceptions, take place and discussion about the climate change is devoid of criticism of capitalism. This ends up adding to the overt response of the public and the law enforcement that label every departure from the norm as extremism.

The camp events and happenings showed that it is possible to have a successful mass action without a hierarchic structure on DIY principles. Regular meetings decided the organization and division of labor and discussions were held about the ideological development of the camp and action consensus. Klimakemp happened as an open space that even members of the Green party and autonomous anarchists could inhabit. At the plenaries discussions were held about the understanding of nonviolence during a direct actions and police conflicts. It is important to remember that the camp would not have been possible without the support of the inhabitants of Horní Jiřetín, especially mayor Vladimír Buřt. Whereas the locals did not join in the protest, they expressed their sympathies at interviews. They live at the very border of the limits and have to withstand the pressure of the miners on a daily basis.

The result of the well-managed communication strategy of the Limity jsme my! Movement that made the impression of openness even at the less-informed journalists was a welcoming and friendly media portrait of the camp and the direct actions. Klimakemp fulfilled its main purpose – it achieved in joining diverse groups that all understand the climate change as their main challenge and focused their energies on a direct action against the infrastructure of the fossil capitalism. If we manage to expand the movement and hold another climate camp, we can expect a significantly higher domestic and foreign attendance.

The author is editor of A2alarm.