Climate movement labeled as extremism

PHOTO: Majda Slamova

In 2015, the government of the Czech Republic decided to break the coal mining limits in the northern part of the country, which were set right after the Velvet Revolution. The limits were aimed at the protection of villages from the brown coal mining, which peaked during the Communist era in several villages in the region. Mining limits also include a small promise to environmental governance in the Czech Republic, more towards renewable sources of energy and away from fossil fuels, which is a major step in the global climate change. However, the economic reasons mentioned in the decision of 2015, which are the limits on the Bilina Mine and the prolonged period of fossil fuel use, have won over the environmental arguments.

The informal non-hierarchical organization We are the Limits!, the people who joined the Czech NGO Hnuti Duha, the Czech branch of Greenpeace, and students of ecology and several other fields, mainly at Masaryk University in Brno. It was the beginning of a new ecological movement, which is organized from the bottom, mainly by students and young people, and open to everybody.

The fossil fuels burst at the fossil fear point. The aim is formulated in the manifesto; it is the termination of the mining and burning of coal and other fossil fuels. The other goals mentioned are climate justice and a fair transition to a carbon-free economy. Significant emphasis is placed on the social aspect of climate change and worldwide environmental problems. The movement puts emphasis on solidarity with the people most affected by problems, which-- in the words of the movement-- replicates the distribution of power in society and deepens inequality on many levels. Therefore, the decision-making will be based on non-hierarchical, open, and inclusive members. The movement stresses non-violence in its goals, but as condition mentions, the use of direct action was a useful tool in the past that aided women in securing their right to vote, work eight-hour shifts, and abolish racial segregation and slavery. Climate justice and the right to a healthy environment are also one of the basic human rights which has been widely adopted, not only in the discourse of ecological activism, but also in the worldwide political debate.

Breaking mining limits

Even before the final decision of the Czech government about breaking the limits of mining on the Bilina mine, the members of We are the Limits! started an informational campaign on coal mining in the Czech Republic and the global consequences of the use of fossil fuels. With the gradual activation of people, the movement was able to organize several demonstrations against the breaking of mining limits in different cities in 2015. In 2016, the big trip from the Czech Republic was organized by one of the biggest direct action events in Europe, Ende Gelände in Germany. About 4000 activists attended a week-long camp full of lectures and workshops. The final event of the camp was a mass blockade of one of Europe's biggest lignite mines. Members of We are the Limits! are mentioning this experience as one of their biggest influences-- after coming back to the Czech Republic, they started to organize the first Czech climate camp, in the heart of the brown coal mining region in Horni Jiretin.

The "Klimakemp" took place in June 2017 with its peak in direct action at Bilina Mine, where the mining limits were broken. About 150 activists entered the mine and blocked one of the excavators until the police intervened. But the climate camp did not focus only on one act of civil disobedience; the aim was broader-- to connect people with similar interests, connect local communities, and educate participants about various topics connected to climate change and environmental justice. The event, following long-term preparations, connected with various support events, such as benefit concerts or seminars, and the systematic activation of people who may be interested.

Beginning of repression - state report on extremism

In the spring of 2017, the Ministry of the Interior of the Czech Republic released a report on extremism which also mentioned the preparations for the first Czech climate camp. With just one document, ecology suddenly became a threat. The release of the report brought quite a broad response from environmental NGOs, academics, and public personalities, who asked for the removal of the event from the list. Even the political science argument that there is no equivalent to the term “extremism” in Czech law, and the definition of extremism is mainly about movements whose activities are against the Czech constitution (which cannot be said about We are the Limits!), didn’t work. The members of We are the Limits! reported attempts to infiltrate their organizational meetings. The head of the movement’s media group, Radek Kubala, received a call from the chief of the regional police asking for detailed information about the event. The police knew his private email address, and there is plenty more evidence of a bigger police investigation of the movement’s members. Eventually, the activists decided to cooperate with the police at a meeting where they were promised that the climate camp would take place without any dramatic police measures against its participants.

Massive police maneuvers during the Klimakemp

However, from the beginning of the camp, they faced serious police interventions and bullying. One member of the movement, Jana Pravdova, was arrested even before the event when filming a coal mine from a public road. She reported that the police received considerable support and accommodation facilities directly from the mining company. Basically, all the participants coming to the camp were stopped by the police and checked. Two buses carrying activists were stopped for several hours, the reason being that the police were searching for illegal immigrants. The shelves are confiscated materials from work on the camp site, and many attendees reported they stood by the shelves of cars or even the helicopter on their way to or from the camp.

After the direct action at Bilina Mine, the shelf held 144 activists and sorted them based on their citizenship. The non-Czech citizens were the last ones to be taken away by bus. They remained without any water in the hot sun, with their hands tied for up to 10 hours. The last non-Czech citizen was released after 48 hours. On the buses, in which the non-Czech citizens were transported, the police reported bullying, offensive language, threats, and humiliation. These activists weren't allowed to communicate with each other, and they weren't provided with a lawyer, or even allowed to communicate with one. These activists also reported humiliation at the police station where they ended up at around 4 in the morning, according to Silvia Pezzato, an activist with Italian citizenship.

Problematic steps on the shelf were reported even during the intervention. One of the activists, Vojtěch Boháč, was kicked in the kidneys and urinated blood for several days. Other activists reported that the police grabbed their testicles during the intervention and shouted at them using rude and offensive language.

Despite all the police failures, the "Klimakemp" was one of the most successful environmental events in decades. As the movement is gathering to organize the next event in 2018, the police are continuing with their repressive steps. In the report on extremism for the second quarter of 2017, the Klimakemp was considered the biggest extremist event in the Czech Republic.    

Further reading:

EN 18/09/2017 How the police uses the budget

CZ 23/06/2017 The Police of the Pit

EN 24/06/2017 We are the limits! Activists break into the pit

ENG July / 2017 The first climate camp is a success

CZ 03/09/2017 The attack of eco-terrorists