Activists Forced Out of 'Peaceland'

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The Prague Post Online

Activists Forced Out of 'Peaceland'

by
Ondřej Bouda

Greenpeace activists who declared an independent state called Peaceland at the site of the planned U.S. radar base at the Brdy military area were detained June 9 when military police cleared the area of their encampment.0612 07 1 2

By press time, five demonstrators had been taken to the police station in Příbram. Some were removed from trees, where they had been manning surveillance platforms.

The activists had occupied the location since April 28 to protest the proposed base. On June 2, they'd decided that a declaration establishing an independent state would be their next attempt to get the attention of government officials.

"Our citizens are against any military installation in the area, and we'll defend our right to self-determination," said Greenpeace campaigner Lenka Kukurová during one of the last press-visit days before police entered the site. "We have already sent a letter to U.S. authorities requesting that they start negotiating with us instead of the Czech government."

Peaceland's declaration of independence cited many reasons for an autonomous state. Citizens of Peaceland, it said, are dissatisfied by the lack of debate about the base between the government and the public as well as foreign partners. According to the declaration, the government is also ignoring the will of its people by planning to allow U.S. troops to enter its territory and build a controversial base. The declaration also accused the government of joining Star Wars, flaunting democracy and endangering the health and safety of its citizens.

The activists stopped presenting themselves as Greenpeace members but citizens of Peaceland, which occupied an area of about 15 hectares (37 acres).

Local authorities began developing a response.

"A declaration of an imaginary country by people who are illegally residing within the borders of a military area and adopting a set of fictional rules will not change our attitude toward the activists," military police spokesman Jan ÄŒermák said after Peaceland signed its declaration of independence. "When we find someone in the military zone without proper papers, we have to turn them back. So far, we have detained some 300 people, and are becoming more efficient as we have finished scouting out the area."

Make a claim

Protesters had invited journalists to witness the signing of their declaration of independence, but say they had to proceed without media coverage when journalists were blocked by police.

"We read the declaration of independence, raised our new flag and proceeded to stake out our territory. We placed signposts with our coat of arms around, so the border is clearly marked," Kukurová said. "We even had a girl playing our anthem on a fiddle."

After the declaration was signed, one activist was caught sneaking into the area by military police. When he refused to show ID, authorities took him to a local police station. According to the activist, who then returned to Peaceland, the police did not take him into custody and instead let him go without a word. "After we declared independence, even the military police started leaving us alone," Kukurová said of the incident, citing a curiosity that activists and local residents expressed about the lack of a strong police response to Peaceland after its founding.

"We expected to be sneaking around and hiding all the time from soldiers, but they are not really troubling us," one American activist said. "That came as quite a surprise." A Míšov resident expressed his frustration with the situation. "If I try to enter the military area to pick mushrooms or just ride my bike, I get kicked out immediately. So why don't they do something about those activists?" he asked.

At the time, ÄŒermák's response was modest."We are currently monitoring the situation, but using force to evict them is not one of our options at the moment," he said.

Day to day

Life in Peaceland was simple but organized. Roughly 10 to 14 "citizens" lived in tents and cooked meals in a field kitchen. They obtained water from local streams and used a nearby lake for washing. With colored photos of supporters hanging everywhere, the atmosphere was reminiscent of a summer camp. But they were serious about defending their territory.

"We keep track of everyone at all times, and no one is allowed to walk around alone in case of ambush," Kukurová said. Volunteers took turns doing 12-hour shifts on surveillance platforms they'd built in the trees.

"In case the soldiers come to drag us away, we'll at least have some people who'll stay behind. Unless they bring a helicopter, they will have a hard time getting those people," Kukurová said. Although no official recognition of Peaceland was made (requests for comment to the government press office were not returned by press time), the activities attracted worldwide attention.

"We've had letters from people and organizations from all over the world; we even have people arriving here to help our cause," Kukurová said, adding that the group had volunteers from Belgium, Austria and the United States. "Over the six weeks we've been here, we've had so many people with different skills, and everyone has added something."

A number of the locals in Míšov supported the protesters. "We bring them food," one resident said. "There are many paths in the forest that the soldiers don't know about and we can easily sneak in without anyone noticing."

OndÃ…â„¢ej Bouda can be reached at news@praguepost.com

© The Prague Post Online

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