Gatecrashers at Temelin in Pozor Magazine
It is a dance we have been practising with the nuclear power plant security for 4 years. On one Sunday in July every year, we come to Temelin in the Czech Republic, make a number of speeches in the late afternoon and then go lock ourselves to the gates of the unfinished nuclear power plant. The security basically ignores us for the first 12 hours and then comes in with what ever level of violence they feel necessary and move us away, to permit vehicles to arrive at the plant. But this year is different.
It starts with one of the speeches, given by Ms. Buzkova, the newly elected vice chair of the Czech Parliament. There have been politicians at these demonstrations before, even ones who were willing to lock themselves to the plant with us - but never has the opposition been so strong as after the recent elections in the Czech Republic and never has such a high ranking MP come out publicly to oppose the plant.
Ms Buzkova says we have succeeded in stopping any construction of new nuclear facilities in the Czech Republic, but even though she opposes it, she does not see any political force which can stop the construction of Temelin. She thanks the protesters for their efforts as the TV cameras whirl.
The speaker who follows her is more optimistic. He is calling for a Parliamentary investigation into Temelin. An investigation he is convinced will lead to more than just proof of the recently revealed illegal bidding practices by Westinghouse (the US construction firm building Temelin). He says this study will show that the Temelin project is financially out of control and even though over US$ 2 billion has already been spent on it, stopping the project now and building new sources from scratch would be cheaper and faster than completing Temelin.
This last speaker reminds the crowd of 300, that Westinghouse has a history of catastrophic nuclear construction projects. Of the 54 reactors they built in the US, they were on average 430% over budget and over 5 years delayed in completion. This cost the US rate payers over US$ 65 billion, making Westinghouse one of the most successful professional criminal organizatiosn of all time. This does not count the dozens of reactors where construction has been abandoned. That Westinghouse has an incredible criminal record of bribery and false promises in two dozen countries around the world.
In this speech through a translator, the last speaker also reminds the vice chair of the parliament, that it is the politicians who oppose Temelin early and loudly that will be considered favorably by the people as replacements for the Klaus government. Especially if the project is stopped as dozens of reactors (some much further completed than Temelin) were stopped in the west. The implication is clear "work with us, Ms Buzkova, and you will become the force which stops Temelin and perhaps the person who replaces the Prime Minister". The last speaker is me.
I came to the Czechoslovakia in the summer of 1990. Disgusted with the politics of the US, i was eager to work in a country which just finished a revolution and in which the entire issue of democracy was being defined. I thought i had a lot to offer in terms of political experience, but my new Czech colleagues were clear "We are sorry, but we have so many US Americans here already, we do not know what to do with them, perhaps you could work on these issues in the west and if we need you we will call you."
So i moved to Am*dam, and started working on the western involvement in nuclear power in eastern Europe with a wonderfully named group called WISE (the World Information Service on Energy). After two years of learning how to make myself useful, Honza Beranek, who runs the Energy campaign for the Czech environmental group Hnuti DUHA (Rainbow Movement) asked me to come to Brno to work on the international campaign against Temelin. I finally had my invitation. Now my story and the Temelin story are hopelessly tangled. And after 4 years of working on Temelin, a number of arrests, and after almost 20 years of fighting nuclear power (off and on) I found myself at the most fun and important action of my life.
The fun began the next morning at 4 AM, when we brought in the heavy guns of our non-violent struggle for the first time. Concrete barrels with tubes just big enough to fit your hand into and lock yourself with a carabiner to the inside. Two people connect from each side forming a chain which is nearly impossible to move. The barrels weigh several hundred kilos and unless you are willing to tear the arms of the protesters off, you can not move them.
At 4:20 AM, the police realise what is going on and just before we secure the third and final key gate to the plant, they change the rules to our traditional dance. Just as the barrels are off loaded from the truck the police van screeches into gate 10 and they jump out and arrest the without warning the half a dozen people who were about to lock into the barrels. In the over 300 arrests in the history of the five blockades of Temelin in the last four years, these are the first arrests without warning by the police. But lots of traditions will get broken on this blockade and all but this one were in our favor.
The weather betrays us. The normally sunny South Bohemian summer has been unseasonably rainy and the on and off drizzle of Sunday night becomes a down pour of Monday. We have never attempted to maintain a blockade for more than 36 hours before, but we have never been so many people before either - over 250, almost all Czechs. The organizers are constantly checking the spirit of the group, but the rain seems not to shake their determination, we have agreed to stay for days, we will stay for days.
The fun turns deadly serious when a daring attempt is made to retake gate 10, by the "grasshopper group". Just as a bus pulls into the gate the protesters block it and a number start to form a circle around the back wheels of the bus with concrete tubes on their arms, which have a similar character to the barrels in concept, only much smaller and lighter. If it is possible for the protesters to form a circle laying on the ground around the wheels of the bus, they can not be moved without cutting the pipes (which is very difficult), lifting the bus, or cutting off the arms of the demonstrators (which is considered poor form, especially with the cameras rolling). But the distraction group misses their cue and the police are all over the grasshoppers. The bus driver tries to escape and drives thru a crowd of both police and protesters and runs one bus wheel onto the head of a protester, another one second of gas and he would have killed the demonstrator, as it was he has a deep cut over his eye, but he refuses to leave the camp after receiving medical attention and his marked face is a grim reminder to me that mistakes can be fatal in this dangerous game. 30 new police are brought to secure gate 10.
But there are comic moments as well. The best was when the Public Relations officer of Temelin decided to try to use our symbols against us. Standing in front of the trash blockade we had build in front of the main gate, in front of our many banners, Mr Novak (check name) calmly explained to the TV Nova audience that the protester were not affecting the operation of the plant, that everything was under control and the security of the plant was in no way violated.
Then, in a priceless piece of good luck, three grasshoppers who had jumped the fence appeared on the other side of the main gate running full speed with plant security in hot pursuit. The TV camera moves away from the confident PR man and onto the sprinting trespassers, one jumps through the fence, and then another, but the last is grabbed by a security guard and stopped two meters from escaping the plant. And then with the TV cameras still running, one of the grasshoppers who just came through the main gate, turns around goes back into the plant pulls the security guards hands off of his captured comrade and they both rush through the gate to freedom. The blockades break into wild applause and shouting and the TV camera returns to the plant PR person who's confidence is shattered. Everything is not under control.
The weather breaks and our good luck continues. The grasshoppers succeed in retaking gate 1 (there are 11 gates total, 7 of which we think are significant, we have controlled them all except gate 10 until Tuesday morning when the police decided to break up the demonstrators at gate 1, which is too small for our limited number of barrels). This time the distraction group was on queue, jumped out of the van and bolted through gate 1, in what must be the oldest trick in the book. Almost all the police follow them. The second wave jumps out of another van with tubes in hand and the few police remaining foolishly focus on the large number of grasshoppers instead of the small number of tube. Captured grasshoppers hand off the tubes and a ring is formed around two poles of the gate, we can not be moved. Word spreads to the other gates like wild fire, in the battle for control we are pushing them back. The police, to their credit, permit mats and jackets to be given to the grasshoppers on the ground locked in at gate 1. One officer explains that their attitude changed a bit after we sat thru 30 hours of pouring rain.
The Reuters photographer tells me that we have made the front page of the Financial Times. Picture and a caption, no story - but we are elated. The FT is PM Klauses favorite newspaper, and we can just imagine his expression as he reads it this morning with his breakfast.
The reporter asks who pays me, and i have to explain that i am basically a full-time volunteer. For my first two years at DUHA, i could not justify taking any money, because the organization was poor and i did not feel the money should support westerners. I got used to living very cheaply, which is possible in the Czech Republic and it grew into something of a philosophy. At a base level we wish to break this "money is power" paradymn (sp?), we want to move power into the hands of the people and strengthen democracy, rather than industrial capitalism. On a personal level, i want to be able to answer to this question "who pays you?" that i do it because it is important to me, rather than for the money. The nuclear people are paid to tell lies, no one pays me to say anything. And ultimately if we are going to rescue the planet, rich westerners are going to have to figure out how to consume less. I get by on small side projects in political work. I raise a lot of money through fund-raising for anti-nuclear groups through-out the region, but almost none of it stays in my pocket. My old partner from the quite successful software consulting firm i ran in the US called me the other day and pointed out that i used to make more money per hour than i now make in a month. But i would not go back, this work is more useful and more fun.
One of the groups roaming through the many little used building of the plant (which has a 12 km radius) discovers an unoccupied office with plans of the plant in it. They force the door, steal the plans and escape undetected. Honza Beranek displays the plans of the plant proudly before the TV cameras. And the plant public relations people now have to respond (they have tried to ignore the demonstration mostly). They claim that the plans are not significant, that you can get the information at the visitors center, but it is a lie. The plans themselves become useful immediately, we now have a detailed interior road map of the huge plant, we can see one of the gates we are blocking in not fully connected to the rest of the plant, we re deploy blockades. But we return the plans to the plant. We are not thieves.
The fun continues. That night 20 people climb the fence and scale one of the 150 m high cooling towers. With Czech TV back on the scene, we launch fireworks from the cooling tower as the plant security people simply wait for us to descend. The fireworks are small, but there are lots of them and the spirit of the activists on the cooling tower is incredible. We have shattered the illusion that the plant is secure. The climbers do not attempt to escape and simply get into the awaiting van and are arrested. Two hours later they are released after a US$ 8 fine, the local police have no interest in and no capacity to hold political prisoners.
The news fort he day contains calls from the opposition party for a national referendum on Temelin. If the referendum were held today we would loose, because most of the Czechs support the plant (tho most area residents oppose it). But these kind of majorities often evaporate after a referendum targeted campaign, a similar situation existed in 1976 in Austria, where by a slim margin what had been an overwhelming majority in favor of the plant when the campaign started, became a minority and the 100% completed Zwentendorf plant was mothballed, never to be run.
The action ends with a "Gandhi March" to Gate 10. Where 50 police await us, but even controlling the gates, our crowd is over 100, after four days and three nights. We go to face the police, another brief speech is given and then the group splits in two, moving away from the gate and blocking the road. For perhaps half an hour we again totally control the plant, while the buses and trucks queue up. The police decide that this is enough and they give the warning to one group of seated protesters. They refuse to move and they are arrested.
I was on the side that the police ignored, but i crossed over (walking through the forest around the police) to make it to the action. I go under the police line as the last arrests are being made. A police officer pushes me back and tells me to leave in Czech. I tell him in Czech that i do not speak Czech. He tells me in English "Outside" and pushes me back, gently, like many times before i walk around him and towards the van full of my arrested friends. He comes back and grabs me "outside" he says. "No, inside, with my friends", he finally agrees and i am arrested, but i do not struggle i have enough fights with the police to retire from that activity. They treat me relatively well as they load me onto the van.
One of the people in the van asks why i got arrested, since i was not in the street blockade on this side. I explain that i feel it is necessary for action organizers to get arrested. I have not been arrested this action and i do not feel right advocating other people get arrested while i stay free, i can also do support work for people who have not been arrested before from in jail (like the guy who asked me if he should jump through the window of the police station and escape, which he ultimately did successfully). We are taken to Ceske Budejovice, an hour away by van, blocking the road is a more serious offense than trespass on the plant. The arresting officer tells me that he is not angry with me because i am blocking the plant, because he thinks it is a bad thing as well. We are free after three hours and catch a bus back to the plant.
The organizers are ecstatic, we could not have asked for a better action. The media coverage is the best we have ever had, with editorials openly criticizing the project for the first time. There is already discussion of the next blockade and mass trespass. All of the successful anti-nuclear struggles looked like this, growing numbers of people and changing press and public opinion. It is a long uphill battle, but after this action we are more hopeful than ever.
And even if we fail at Temelin, we are succeeding in building the resistance culture we desire in the Czech Republic. A culture in which decision makers sitting in smoke filled rooms discussing the next profitable (for them), but environmentally devastating project are likely to hear one of their own say "we can not do this politically, it will be another Temelin". If we succeed in changing these power relationships, we will not have to fight most of these fights, many we will never even see because they will die on the drawing boards.