[Hpn] TENT CITY at Prague Stadium hosts anti-IMF protesters FWD

Tom Boland wgcp@earthlink.net
Sun, 24 Sep 2000 10:08:39 -0700 (PDT)

``If they just slept in parks downtown, police would kick them
out and there would be a lot of fighting,'' -- Tomas Doubek

FWD  Associated Press - Wednesday September 20 5:43 PM ET


     By HANS GREIMEL, Associated Press Writer

PRAGUE, Czech Republic (AP) - It's the calm before the storm,
and tent king Tomas Doubek rushes around Prague's Strahov Stadium
tightening guy lines, double-checking mattress supplies and making
sure there's paper in the portable toilets.

It takes a lot of cunning to capitalize on anti-capitalism. But
the offbeat, bearded businessman intends to reap a cool quarter
million dollars when thousands of anti-globalization activists
descend on the city to protest the International Monetary Fund.

Even they need a place to lay down their bedrolls when the IMF
and World Bank hold their annual meetings here, beginning next

And Doubek, regional manager of Czech-based tent manufacturer
FAM Tents, rushed to cash in on that fact, exhibiting a flair of
entrepreneurial genius that would make the assembled captains of
global finance blush with pride.

The former Boy Scout and self-described baseball fanatic
promised this spring to turn the stadium's midfield into a tent
city for protesters if the Czech government would let him charge
admission and keep any profits.

``If people who plan to protest have a place to sleep, regular
showers and food, they won't be as angry,'' Doubek argued, playing
on fresh memories of rampaging protesters who trashed Seattle
during the World Trade Organization and battled police during this
spring's IMF meeting in Washington, D.C.

``If they just slept in parks downtown, police would kick them
out and there would be a lot of fighting,'' he said.

Mindful that thousands of the same protesters have vowed to
disrupt the meetings in Prague, the Czech Ministry of the Interior
quickly handed over use of Strahov Stadium free of charge.

And with the first protesters expected Thursday, 39-year-old
Doubek braved brisk winds in hiking shorts and sandals to make
final arrangements.

``We are renting mattresses because these stones are so
uncomfortable,'' he says, pointing to the gravel stadium floor. ``I
think it's a pretty good business plan.''

Doubek's dogged initiative symbolizes a new spirit of capitalism
that has made the Czech Republic one of the more successful
examples of the transition from communist command economy to the
free market under IMF tutelage.

But Doubek's brash entrepreneurialism is even more grabbing
because his company is cashing in on the very people who despise
such free-market forces of global commerce.

Doubek plans to charge each protester a one-time entry fee of
$37, giving them a place to sleep and access to hot showers and
toilets for the duration of the summit.

Open-air Strahov Stadium, a monstrous, crumbling concrete
monolith of the communist era, has enough floor space for 12
football fields, and Doubek hopes to pack in 15,000 people.

But more importantly, the stadium squats high on a remote
hillside far from the city center, out of sight and out of mind to
the townspeople down below.

Doubek's company invested $250,000 in the venture, and is hoping
to double that in profits.

Overhead is low: Some campers will bring their own tents. But
for the others, Doubek put up a row of circus tents, equipped with
electricity, heat and cots, and pitched a neatly ordered town of
pup tents.

He's also trucked in 200 porta-potties and arranged for more to
be available on two-hour notice.

Doubek even rented plywood stalls to a legion of food vendors
hoping to cash in on hungry protesters - serving mostly vegetarian
and vegan delights.

And for all their anti-capitalist rhetoric, protesters don't
seem to mind Doubek's profit motive.

``It's a small company. They're really doing a good job,'' said
protest organizer Alice Dvorska, an activist from Brno, the Czech
Republic's second-largest city. ``We wouldn't make contracts with a
multinational or a big company.''

Chalk it up to the touchy-feely charm of nature boy Doubek, who
got his start in the 1980s selling tents to Boy Scout camps.

``Teepees are the best tents you can find,'' he waxes. ``You can
do a fire inside and its very romantic and comfortable.''

And sure enough, a towering teepee is the first thing bedraggled
protesters see after passing through the stadium gates.

``People should have a place to voice their ideas too,'' Doubek
adds - and to that end, he set up a media center where
demonstrators can hold press conferences and a television studio
where they can broadcast their cause.

But that's not the only contingency the ever-practical Doubek is
planning for. Nearly 50 private security guards will be on hand
during the summit meeting to keep an eye on things in his hilltop
stadium shanty town.

``I think there will be some problems,'' he said. ``Hopefully,
they'll be so tired climbing up and down the hill, things won't go


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On the Net:

IMF/World Bank site on Prague meeting:

Protester site: http://www.inpeg.org/homepage.htm

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