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July 15, 2024

A Riot on the Quiet

By Nick Gerrard

From the end of the street a line of black, helmeted cops started advancing. From behind them between their shoulders tear gas was launched.

-Come on!

Black clad youth advanced, some with gas masks, some with handkerchiefs.

People dodged the gas and the rubber bullets, others hit them back, some threw them back.

People filmed, people texted, tweeted and passed on information, arranged rendezvous.

People met up and ran, met up and chased off, met up and threw and charged.

Bottles, wood, cocktails.

Horses were clopping up the street, slowly at first, then charge.

People dived into doorways, people fell under hooves.

Some people strung up a rope across the street. Riders were brought down.

Three guys wait, and two jump in front, the horse rears back, the third leaps and brings the rider down. They beat the man until he lies still.

People had filtered into the old town all day, sporadic groups, all following twitter and facebook, all busy with their thumbs. Where to meet, where to avoid, where the cops were at.

People arrived to clashes. They had come to show their anger, their distrust, they came to protest.

A small group of students had occupied their campus and were discussing.

-You are from where?

-The UK.

-You are here to support us?

-Of course.

-Why are you here to support us?

-Because your fight is our fight too.

-Sit down and don't speak.

-Can I text?


I took to twitter.

I am here
revooccupy all going down. Fighting and organizing.

I had travelled by train, got a fake inter-rail ticket from some woman at the socialist press. I had met a nice girl from Dresden on the train, a small brunette babe with a short skirt and docs ... we had wine in the couche and pulled the beds down and had a fumble in the dark.

I had been sent from the students union, a rare thing! The FE colleges rarely got a look in at the Uni dominated Students union. But I got voted in to travel to Czech to show our support and to report back. The five others had bought proper tickets but I was watching the money, the expenses they had given out were a good wod of dosh so I didn't wanna waste any. I might need it for more important things, like beers.

I crossed the Mountains into Czech. I knew I had crossed by the look of the ticket collectors. Heavy metal locks under ill-fitting hats.

Prague was a buzzing. I wandered the streets, checked the phone, stopping for a beer at various places recommended by other activists on the red/activist pubs of Europe app.

I traced the steps of Hasek and Hrabel. The Hospodas were crowded with students, hippies and younger kids with quiffs and caps, tight baggy pants and attitudes.

It was early evening. A few protests marches had started. From various points, all heading to the direction of the main square.

-Who you represent?

-I'm a student too, not a University though from FE college.

-College, like Cambridge?

-No mate, it's like a college for the working classes, no one goes to Uni anymore.

-Really, why?

-People do, but we have to pay, so only rich fuckers get to go, the rest of us just grab what we can from a college.

-And why you here?

-To show you that we support you, we are behind you and to hopefully get inspired and go back with some hopes and dreams.

I smiled at the guy and he raised his beer mug.

-So, you are protesting basically against the closing of the squat?

-Not a squat a community centre, where we helped homeless and refugees.

-Yeah yeah, sorry. But that's what this is about, the eviction?

-It started out as a protest against that but now it is something more.

-Such as?

-It is against our corrupt politicians and the austerity measures they are trying to push through.

-And it's mostly students yeah?

-It started out as student activists people from the centre, then other students came to support us, and then more and more and then it spread to other towns. Now the students have been joined by normal people.

-Trade unionists?

-Some, but not as official organizations, their leaders are in bed with the politicos. But many how do you say normal members are here. But many people are just workers and old people too; they are finding it more and more difficult to live now.

I was busy writing notes.

-Where will you publish this?

-Most probably on student websites, lefty facebook groups you know.

-OK, sounds good.

-And where do you go from here? I mean the place is burning, and the rioting is fierce but have any demands been met?

-I am not sure where we go from here, maybe we will occupy spaces, like in Egypt, maybe we can bring people out on strike, maybe we can stop the working of the new measures, that is what I hope for.

-And the rioting?

-Rioting never won anything.

So the square got occupied and rioting continued around the old town for a few nights.

In one of the tents I started to interview people. One girl caught my eye. Short blonde hair and layers of baggy jumpers, and tip less gloves.

-Can I interview you for folks back in the UK, students?

-You are a journalist?

-Well, a student activist wanna be journalist.

-Sure, let's go somewhere more cosy.

We filtered away from the square, squeezing past drummers and people standing on boxes delivering speeches. The sirens were ringing out all over, and round corners black shapes could be seen running, and smashing and fire bombing and then squads of cops with shields like roman legionnaires shuffled down a street as hails of rocks fell down upon them.

We dodged the rioters and hid in alleys from cops and found a pub open. It was a mini brewery, and they made their own beer on the premises.

We sat and a guy came over, she just held up two fingers.

-So, what will happen?

-Difficult to say but I am skeptical, the riots will fade away and it's a question of whether we made enough impact for the occupation of the square to continue and more importantly get more support. People are not rushing to the streets to support us, even though we knew they wouldn't for the centre but now we thought that they would support us against the government. Everyone is always moaning about the corruption, maybe we need something more to ignite the people ... say if the government raised the price of beer.

We took our foam heavy mugs and clinked glasses as we looked in each other's eyes, the custom here I had found out.

-Na dravi!

-Cheers, yeah na dravi! Yeah, I wanted to say I haven't seen much evidence of workers on the demos.

-Everyone is more or less happy with their jobs and no one wants to rock the boat too much.

-But I read of some unions on strike for better pay.

-The unions are run by old Stalinists, and yeah they go on strike but it's all about money, never political and it's always just for their own ends. There's not much solidarity.

-Bit pessimistic if you don't mind me saying.

-Not a pessimist a realist.

-Fair enough.

-Students also have an easy life here, what do they have to fight for? They pay no fees, they live at home for free, there's loads of jobs. It's not the UK.

-You know about our situation.

-Of course.

-So, I have to ask you ... was it worth the effort?

-well, we needed to try.

-Pity really. I was sent here by our student union, who aren't the best let me tell you. We thought this was gonna be something big.

She smiles and sips

-Sorry to disappoint you, but hey we have made contact and it's good to have friends, we may need each other in the future.

The waiter plonked two more beers on the table without being asked.

We smiled at each other and leant back a little to relax. I put my notebook away.

-So, what do you want to do after you finish your studies?

-Not sure, but something in campaigning, or something involving helping people. The homeless, refugees maybe. I went a few times down to Serbia and Hungary, and of course I was involved in the centre here, I am studying political science, so I want to use that in some good way.

-I was in Calais too trying to do what I could to help the refugees, it was a terrible situation.

-I think Hungary and Serbia were worse, but it's not a competition.

We grinned again. I was getting more and more to like her.

-It's frustrating though don't you think?

-I think we can only try and do what we can, it will always be frustrating.

She jumped up from her chair.

-Hey do you want to go to a club, my friends band is playing there.


-Yes, why not, the protestors need some entertainment.

We ventured out into the glowing night, the smell of fire was all around, the sirens had quietened a little. The streets seemed less chaotic. We passed the square and apart from music and mellow conversation all was still.

We went down a basement down an alley in the old town. Some rock band were blasting out the tunes, just a rock band nothing special. But the atmosphere was good. We fell into a corner with cushions just off the main area and she introduced me to some of her friends.

We sat next to each other but she talked to everyone, all the time, blurting out this, jabbing her fingers at someone and laughing her head off at other times. People talked to me, everyone was friendly but I wasn't really giving them my full attention, I was mesmerized by Lenka.

She bumped in next to me after she had been to the front and head banged.

Her face was close to mine and she stroked my arm.

-Do you have a girl back home?

-No, not right now.

-Strange answer.

-And you?

-I have no girl but I had a boyfriend till recently but I threw him out, he was a slob and too negative, he brought me down ... so I booted his arse down the stairs. She rolled over and giggled.

She got close to me again.

And leant her head on my shoulder, I could feel her breathe near my mouth.

-You're not a slob are you? I know you are positive, but are you a slob?

-I am famous for my tidiness.

She smiled.

-I thought so, I can always tell, and you smell nice.

-Thanks, err you too.

-Don't go all shy on me Englishman.

She leant over and kissed me.

-Let's get out of here. Shall we go back to my apartment?

-I would love to.

-Where's your stuff?

-In a locker in the station.

-Ok, we can get a tram from here and then another to my place it's not too far ... come Englishman ... she grabbed me off the floor and out the door.

Her place was in an old apartment building, high ceilings, metal rails up the four flights of stairs, no lift and lights that you have to keep pressing. Her place was small and cluttered, but cosy and the ceilings gave a feeling of space. The place was a mess but a stylish mess; French bohemia with a bohemian twist. Throws over everything. Paintings scattered all over, posters tacked up willy nilly. Books were in piles and the bookshelves stacked with ornaments, pots from her gran probably, and glass vases with fake flowers. Jewelry littered the shelf over the fireplace with a huge mirror mounted from the floor covered in clothes, the rest were thrown on chairs or just the floor.

From the corner kitchenette she got a bottle of Slivovice from a cupboard and two dusty shot glasses. Put them on the old trunk in the middle of the room and then found a record from a pile and placed the needle on some old 60's soul LP. We sank into her couch and drank back a couple of shots. She giggled and on her knees on the couch kissed me passionately. We managed to fumble and roll over to the mattress on the floor and buried ourselves under the goose feather duvet. Underneath we kissed and laughed and tried to undress each other or sometimes we just flung the things off ourselves. The cat joined us, and I kicked him off before we fucked.

I woke with a sore head and the cat on my back. She was in the corner in a dressing gown making filter coffee.

-Hello sleepy head. How do you feel?

-Like shit.

-Welcome to Czech, we feel this way many mornings but I can make you better don't worry. We sat and drank coffee by the open veranda window on two stools and an old formica kitchen table folded down. She spread out lumps of fat and uncooked bacon on bread and raw onion, radishes and made runny scrambled eggs. The she took the opener on a string and opened two bottles of pivo.

-Typical Czech breakfast Na Dravi!

-Shit yeah cheers.

After a few more beers and the food I did feel OK actually. We had showers; fucked again and dressed I kicked the cat one more time as we left the building.

We went to the square to see what was going on, not much. The rioting had stopped and numbers were down. People were sat around talking and messaging.

We went to another beer hall in the evening and I listened to the activists plan new ideas; buildings to squat, centres to be opened, food deliveries and tents to be delivered and theatre for street kids. All good but not the revolution I had come for.

We went back to her flat again, drunk again and fucked again and in the morning we had pivo again.

After three days I got my shit together to go home, I booked a seat on a train to Berlin and beyond for the afternoon.

We talked about meeting up again, but you know long distance relationships, you could see we both doubted ourselves to carry it through, so made no promises, except that she might visit in the summer and I said I would like to come back, we swapped no addresses; we were already in contact on facebook and twitter and Whats app.

We went to the station and had a last beer and kissed and smiled at each other.

-Just like a film no?

-Yeah but will you wave a white hanky at me as I look out the window and throw a flower.


I got the train to Berlin.

Article © Nick Gerrard. All rights reserved.
Published on 2019-06-17
Image(s) are public domain.
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