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How a handful of activists turned the tide in pro-Putin Czech Republic| #FormulaOfAction

Prague Maidan activists create a “corridor of shame” in front of the concert hall where Alexandrov’s ensemble gave a performance. Photo: Halina Vasilenko
How a handful of activists turned the tide in pro-Putin Czech Republic| #FormulaOfAction
Article by: Anastasiia Chornohorska

#FormulaOfAction is a project to share the experience of conducting successful actions and campaigns among Ukrainian activists. We search for the secrets that make Ukrainian activism have impact. If you have a story to share, please tell us about it! For more info see here.

Despite of the pro-Putin politics of Miloš Zeman, the President of the Czech Republic, a number of Czech activists do not support neither the aggressive politics of Russian President Vladimir Putin, nor Zeman’s policy. A demonstration that was held during a performance by the Alexandrov Ensemble, the official choir of the Russian armed forces, on 17 October 2015, provides more evidence of that. The concert was held under support of the Czech President, while protesters held a banner with a statement “Alexandrov Ensemble is the music of war, occupation, aggression and death.”
Prague activists remind about crimes of Putin’s regime

On 11 October 2015,  the day that the Alexandrov Ensemble began its tour in the Czech Republic the protests against the Choir started. In Brno, the visitors of the event were welcomed by activists from the local Ukrainian and Russian communities, together with activists from Prague, who are members of the East European Information Centre and Prague Maidan. Activists held banners that pointed attention on the Kremlin regime’s domestic crimes, the Russian aggression in Ukraine, and the aggressive foreign policy of Putin’s Russia.

Activists from Prague support Ukraine

East European Information Centre: We say “No to War Trumpets!”

This is not art; this is a part of Russian propaganda war
The protest which took place on 17 October 2015 was organized by a coalition of activist groups that stand against Putin`s dictatorship policy called Kaputin. Euromaidan Press has already written about this initiative. Activists who organized the protest stress the fact that music and politics are closely connected. “To people who believe that this is just art, we answered that in the song they sing, they celebrate ‘green people’ who occupied Crimea. So, this is not art; this is a part of Russian propaganda word war,” said Pavel Čerňa, one of the protesters. Inside the concert hall, where the show took place, a small group of protesters holding Ukrainian, NATO, and EU flags tried to disrupt the performance during a guest appearance by Czech pop star Helena Vondrackova, but they were quickly escorted out. Watch the video here.

Kaputin shares its secrets

1. An extravagant action that takes place at a public event and gets TV coverage

The oMEN group, one of the organizers of the Kaputin coalition, started their protest activities in 2014. One of their first and the brightest action was “Government press conference intro.” It took place at the beginning of October 2014. Two men got into the main weekly Government press conference using real accreditation cards pretending to be journalists. In the middle of the conference, they took off their jackets and showed messages on their bared chests such as “protect freedom, not paté!” or “Prime Minister – courage!” in support of sanctions against Russian Federation, as the Prime Minister was reluctant to join them at first. The men were soon escorted out the press conference, although the action had huge coverage in media as it was directly on TV. Also, everybody was talking about the safety of their Government but as well messages from oMEN statements were published in all main media. The message of the action was delivered directly to the Prime Minister. In fact he has left the conference just before the action, but he received the message from members of his government. That made him understand that there is a strong voice supporting Ukraine in Czech Republic.

“Protect freedom, not paté!”

It was like a true “awakening” in an atmosphere of total apathy
Otakar van Gemund, the initiator of the action thinks that it was successful because “it was like a true “awakening” in an atmosphere of total apathy, and mainly it was a direct message to the government which is the main power.” Surprise made the event successful: nobody expected such an action. The press conference was broadcasted on the main Czech TV channels, and the sudden appearance of activist turned everybody’s attention. One more useful recommendation from oMEN: they had press releases printed with them and gave them directly to the media. So, their messages appeared there.

2. A public petition for Zeman’s impeachment that was passed to the Senate. A bonus is the opportunity to present the petition in Parliament and gain new supporters

Another initiative that organized Kaputin group is Prague Maidan that appeared at the beginning of September 2014. This group has grown up from Micromaidan events that took place in summer 2014. The brightest and the most highlightered in media was Mistral protest in front of French Embassy and protest in front of Sberbank of Russia.

The ‘bloody Mistrals’ protest by Micromaidan

In 2015, Prague Maidan started a petition campaign titled Prezidente, odejdete (‘President, leave’) aiming to start the impeachment process of Miloš Zeman. The actvists gathered 11 000 paper signatures in the course of half a year and since then have passed the petition to the Senate (the upper chamber of Czech Parliament). However, the Senate can only start the process of president’s impeachment. Although a lot of work still has to be done, the fact that the process has started was already a success. Moreover, the main effect of the campaign is that the oMEN activists now have the right to have a speech in the Parliament regarding the petition and explaining arguments against the president in November or December. This can be used for explaining their position and involving new supporters.

3. Permanent presence in the city center, reminding residents and tourists about Russian aggression in Ukraine

One more initiative by Prague Maidan is a permanent every-day event at Old-Town square aimed at informing the Czech (and international public like tourists at Old Town Square) about the situation in Ukraine caused by Russian aggression. The initiative was well-covered in the media at the start of this action. Moreover, the Prague Maidan became a center for petitions and main meeting point of activists. Later the group continued with happenings and events together with other initiatives like oMEN. Meanwhile, Prague Maidan is still being held every single weekend till now. Though some people and leadership changed, the initiative is still prospering and organising many events and lot of humanitarian aid as well.

Michal Majzner, organizer of the Micromaidan initiative, explained his motivation to help Ukraine: “I started to help because there was a need.  Now there is a need to help refugees as well, so we try to help as well.  But at the same time we are always helping ourselves: if we stay clear as a civic society with help, than we will stay clear with our politics and protect ourselves against extremists or Russian propaganda. Then we can stay well to help others.” Otakar von Gemund adds: “Ukraine has made a clear choice to become part of the West and therefore she deserves our unreserved support. Besides, if we leave Ukraine in the lurch, this will mean the West is not up to it to make a united stance against the Russian authoritarian regime. This would, in turn, automatically lead to the demise of the EU, NATO and western democracy as a whole from within. I value my freedom and want my children to live in a free and democratic environment without corruption and abuse of power.”

Protest in front of Sberbank: “For your and our freedom!”

According to the Czech activists, there are two main rules to make a protest successful and to get huge media coverage.
  1. Your protest has to have a clear, polite, shareable message for the media.
  2. The right day and time has to be chosen for a protest. You have to predict people’s moods and their readiness to come. 

The messages that worked best in the Czech Republic for motivating people to support the Ukrainian people were:
“Be polite,””Do not steal,” “Be the president of all the people,” “Be decent, humane and protect the weak,” “Do not lie,” and “Do not commit treason and do not collaborate with the Russians.” Also, as activists share their experience, to organize a successful protest you should avoid  being boring, do not confront other groups, avoid being connected to one party, and not organize events on weekends, better focus on bank holidays.

So, following these simple recommendations Czech activists make their protest visible and impactful. Their voice to support Ukraine is being heard in Czech Republic and abroad. They do a lot to support Ukraine standing “for your and our freedom” and this is a really inspiring example how ordinary people can do great things.

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