Over 80,000 people marched and rallied in Prague today in a union-organised demonstration against the government and its austerity program. It took place under the banner of "stop vládě" - "stop the government".
The Czech right-wing coalition government headed by Petr Necas has joined others around Europe in implementing an increasingly harsh program of austerity. The stated objective is to reduce the state deficit from 3.5% to 3%. The Austerity program until now has been praised by global ratings agencies despite hitting domestic consumption and growth. As elsewhere, the social wage has been attacked and benefits programs regressively "reformed".
The official demands of the protest were an end to the austerity measures (at least in their current form, the dissolution of the government and new elections. Recent corruption scandals have also led to demands to "clean up" politics. The demand for elections may materialise, as the coalition teeters on the brink of collapse following the disintegration of the Public Affairs party. The Social Democrats would stand to benefit, followed by the Communist Party who currently are standing second in opinion polls.
However, the composition of attendees, and the numbers (double what was expected by the organisers) show a current of anger over an erosion of day-to-day living standards. AFP quoted a pensioner, Jana Sizlingova on her reasons for attending: "I'm upset with corruption, non-transparent procurement, the health system, the social system -- simply, there's nothing good about this government,"
The protest numbers among the largest since those which brought down the Stalinist government in conjunction with a general strike in 1989. Until a similar protest last year, large-scale demonstrations of this kind have been rare in the Czech Republic.
Below are photos I took on the demonstration today, which began in the historically working class district of Žižkov and culminated in a rally in the packed out Wenceslas square (so packed, in fact, that I was caught in a nasty crush on one side of the square). Police presence was low (perhaps because they'd underestimated numbers in the same way as the organisers), and the demonstration was incredibly noisy but not especially boisterous.
"We are the 99%".
Tail-end of the demo leaving Žižkov (I was late.)
"We aim at the right targets"
"20 years of capitalism=20 years of crisis."