On October 18th, people gathered in Old Town Square without face coverings to protest the latest Coronavirus restrictions put in place in Prague. Consisting of football and hockey fans, members of the ‘Movement of civil dissatisfaction’ and citizens, the crowd commended the decisions of Roman Prymula to close bars and restaurants, ban sports games and make mask-wearing mandatory.
After the demonstration came to an end, violence broke out between protestors and police. Bottles and bins were thrown, while police aimed tear gas at demonstrators According to the police, around 20 people were injured in the clashes. Of the 144 people who were arrested on the day, 14 people will are accused of criminal charges. According to the press secretary of police Eva Kropacova, two people will face up to six years in jail.
Ondřej Pala watched it all play out. Prague Morning visited the boxer to ask for his side of the story and whether he plans to attend the next demonstration on October 28, which has been condemned by the government.
What was the message of the demonstration?
I wasn’t the organiser of the demonstration, I just spoke there. The only reason I was there was that I wanted to change people/s opinion. Because when regular people change their opinion, people in power have to listen.
How did you get involved with the demonstration?
I saw an invitation on the internet for a demonstration against lockdown measures. And I thought “Ok I want to get involved with this”. I am not comfortable with the lockdown measures and sitting at home would not change anything, so I knew I needed to go and express my opinion.
We understand that you do not agree with the government measures, how do you believe the Covid crises should be handled then?
I wouldn’t have anything against the measures if they were well explained by the government.
I don’t doubt the existence of the virus. And everybody who feels that they need to protect themselves should do so. I would be the first one to volunteer at the hospital or help an old person in need.
At the same time I don’t understand where all the money put in a covid goes, should we spend millions on tests, when the results of them can be not correct? Why don’t we put more money into supporting people who are facing unemployment and other social problems right now?
I can live for two weeks without going to the bar, but what about the waiter who has two kids and for who this work is their only source of income? Who is going to protect their interests?
I don’t think we should end in a situation where these restrictions will be more harmful than the disease itself. For example, people locked-down in their flats will face a lot of stress, which can provoke a crisis of mental disorders and addictions.
I hope we will be able to go back to normal life, how it used to be before the restrictions.
Hnuti Obcanske Nespokojenosti (HON) or the ‘Movement of civil dissatisfaction’ organized the demonstration. They are a Czech-based movement which the media and civil activists claim is connected with pro-Russian and neo-nazi groups. How do you feel about demonstrating with people who have far-right views?
I don’t have anything in common with HON. I do not speak for HOn, I speak for myself only. I don’t know if they are connected with any political organisations and if they are I don’t really care about that.
Do you remember how the violence started?
The protest itself was peaceful, there were a few people shouting from the crowd but it wasn’t anything. The violence started after the official ending time of the demonstration
I was giving an interview to Prima News when I saw the demonstrators and police clashing. When I saw what is going on, I ran over, stood in front of the football fans and screamed at them ‘Stop this [violence]! Stop this, please!’
I found information online that the square was blocked and people couldn’t leave.
It’s true. We had just finished the demonstration. I was on the stage and the police came over to us. One policeman said there was an order coming directly from the crisis committee, and from Hamáček the interior minister to clear the square of demonstrators.
This guy mentioned four streets that we could use to exit the square after the demonstration. This came directly to me from the Mayor of Police. So I told the demonstrators they could leave using these four streets. Then I thanked the demonstrators for coming and the police for being there. but when the demonstrates tried to leave the way I had been told to tell them to, those streets were blocked.
From the beginning of the demonstration, This crisis committee had an agenda of the afternoon so they knew when it would end and where people would exit.
There is a lot of talk online about the presence of police provoking demonstrators, did you see evidence of this?
In my opinion, there were absolutely police provocateurs. The biggest problem was the blockade of the square. People tried to leave after the demonstration and they couldn’t, which created lots of tension.
There wasn’t any ordinary police there during the demonstration, the only presence was the special security force in full riot outfits with shields, which made the situation feel dangerous.
At the end of the demonstration, I saw three police officers in uniform. They stood in the middle of the (Staromestska) square. One of the demonstrators was speaking to the policewomen and gesticulating a lot. She pushed him hard, and a group of demonstrators, who I assumed were provocateurs, started to scream ACAB (All Cops Are Bastards)
I assume that they were provocateurs because after that confrontation they freely left the square, passing through the special forces, while the rest of us were trapped.
After I left the demonstration I posted an emotional video on Instagram. I was very angry because one day before the demonstration I spoke with the leaders of the football fans and we set down some rules of how we were going to act, that we agreed not to break. In my opinion, the fans didn’t break these during the demonstration. I think all the clashes were staged by the police because they couldn’t allow it to be peaceful, so they had to create conflict to portray them as football hooligans and conspiracy theorists.
Were you worried that there would be violence at the demonstration?
I was afraid that something like this would happen, which is why I met with the leaders of the fans before this. I was aware there would be an escalation of conflict and I did whatever I could to prevent it and as far I was aware the leaders of the fans were doing the same.
On one hand, I was afraid there would violence but on the other, I think that no matter whether you are a football fan you still have a right to express your opinion
From your point of view, why would the government or police want it to end in violence?
The government wouldn’t want to have the demonstration to be only a space for people to share their reasonable opinion. But as a result f the demonstration there should be a message that the police force attacked us. as you can see right now, people are talking about this in terms of escalation of the violence not talking about the message of the demonstration.
People may be facing criminal charges as a result of the violence of the demonstration that you spoke at. If somebody was sent to jail on these charges, would you help them in any way?
I don’t know anything about the charges. We want to press charges against the minister for not allowing the demonstration, which is against the constitution and the right to protest.
I spoke with the leaders of the football fan clubs and I didn’t know there were any criminal charges pressed. From what I know, anybody who was arrested was taken to the police station at Prague 8 and then released.
The headman of Sparta called me and his involvement with the situation was the same as mine, he said that some people took the opportunity to participate in the violence. There was a snowball effect. I don’t want to be associated with anybody who is violent against the police. I am wondering what is going to happen at the next demonstration.
If there was anybody who came to the protest and used violence against the police they should face prosecution for their actions. On the other hand, if there is a court case the court should take into consideration that whatever violence took place, they were provoked by the police.
I met with the spokesperson of HON in a hotel to talk about my speech, but I don’t want to be associated with them beyond that.
For the protest organised for the 28th of October, the organisers announced that the government does not want it to take place. Should people still attend or should they stay home?
I cannot tell people to go to the demonstrations if they are afraid of the virus or of the consequences but I will be going myself.
Has your experience at the demonstration changed how you view the situation?
I will go to other demonstrations but I don’t want to give all of my energy to this because I have a family which is the most important place for me.
Because of the violence provoked by police, everybody who went to protest is portrayed as violent and aggressive. Unfortunately, that was the effect that those in power wanted to achieve, and the outcome I was most afraid of.