The premises of the Scala cinema in Brno are hung with banners. One of them is loitering in front of the building, obviously attracting the attention of passers-by. “College strike for climate,” he proclaims.
The students who joined the protest will stay in the cinema for three days. They want to draw attention to the climate crisis. “We are on strike because the situation is critical and we cannot remain silent or ignore it,” emphasizes the spokesperson of the protesters in Brno, Monika Búřilová.
The strikes are organized by the initiative of the University for the Climate. “Compared to last year, the strike has grown significantly, which shows the concern of young people,” the organizers said.
According to them, the government is not solving the problem sufficiently. They therefore have several demands on it: the approval of the climate law, the use of tools of participatory democracy in the form of citizens’ assemblies, and the management of the economy and society according to an indicator other than GDP growth.
In addition to Brno, students gathered on Wednesday at 21 different faculties in Prague, Olomouc, Pardubice and Hradec Králové. They will organize workshops, alternative teaching, discussions and a cultural program.
“We want a place where we are not afraid to live”
Blankets, mats and sleeping bags can be purchased at the entrance to the Scala cinema. Part of the students decided to spend the night there. They will spend the night in tents on the square in front of the building.
“Originally, we didn’t want to leave the space even at night, but for operational reasons we decided to stay on the square,” explains one of the organizers, Terezie Chamráthová.
“For us, it’s a small concession from comfort for two days, but we can show a lot with it. That’s why it’s worth it to us,” adds geography and journalism student Jana Kolafová, who is also involved in organizing the strike.
The strike will culminate on the anniversary of the Velvet Revolution, Friday 17 November. “We are continuing the tradition of students striking against injustice, lies and bureaucracy,” says Búřilová.
“We believe that our reasons for the strike are no less legitimate than those of the student body in 1989. In fact, they are quite similar. Just like them, so do we – we want a democratic society, we want a sustainable world, we want to have a place where we are not afraid to study and live,” he emphasizes.
Jana Kolafová has been participating in strikes for several years. According to her, the social debate about the climate has changed for the better in recent years.
“In 2019, people shouted at us in the squares that climate change does not exist, that it is a myth and nonsense. Nowadays, according to the survey, there is no doubt among the general public that climate change is something we should really be afraid of,” she explains why such activities make sense to her.
It is not just the climate that is being protested
But Brno students are not protesting only because of the climate. They combined the strike with a warning about the situation of the Scala University Cinema, which is facing a terrible demise.
“Scala is not just a cinema for us, it is part of our university. A number of university events and teaching in some departments take place here,” Kolafová describes.
The building, which Masaryk University rents from the city, has been closed since the beginning of the summer due to its very poor technical condition. “Static surveys showed that the city does not take care of the building and the roof is in a state of disrepair, but the city refuses to pay for the repair,” claims Chamráthová.
“It is curious that the city does not have the money to repair such an important place when it plans to invest several billions in a new sports hall, and it is also curious that although Scala urgently needs a new space, it did not get it – unlike the Bolka Polívka Theater, which is obviously friendly with the city management on a more confidential level,” Búřilová criticizes.
The students are therefore demanding that the municipality repair the building and provide replacement spaces for the cinema during the reconstruction period.
The city resists criticism. “Students, of course, have the right to express their opinions in various forms. We are sorry that in their statement about the Scala University Cinema they are resorting to assumptions instead of verified facts,” said Filip Poňuchálek, spokesman for the Brno municipality, in response to the strike.
According to him, defects in the reinforced concrete structure of the building were hidden and appeared during the preparation of the reconstruction of the Bolka Polívka Theatre. It resides in the same house.
“After the malfunctions were discovered, communication also began with Masaryk University, but logically, the negotiations with the Bolka Polívky Theater continued and various options for alternative spaces were already examined,” adds Poňuchálek, adding that negotiations about alternative spaces are still ongoing.
“Change in Communication”
Compared to last year, the agreement between students and universities was calmer. In Brno, students organized a strike at the Faculty of Social Studies last year, which the school management did not agree to. The protesters then complained that Dean Stanislav Balík threatened to call the police.
“This year, we noticed a positive change in communication with the representatives of Universities for Climate. We were approached with more time ahead of time, the negotiations were constructive,” assesses Masaryk University spokesman Radim Sajbot.
“Communication went smoothly, we went out of our way to meet our students. As part of the negotiations, there were also compromises in the sense that it will not be an overnight stay, only a longer two-day program with an extra morning,” he adds.
The situation is similar at other universities. “We appreciate and support the activities of students who draw attention to the climate crisis and other problems associated with it,” says Egon Havrlant, a spokesperson for the Palacký University in Olomouc.
The rector of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague (AMU), Ingeborg Radok Žádná, then claims that she understands students’ fears and concerns about climate change.
“The strike will take place with the knowledge of the management to the extent that the students themselves choose in agreement with the dean and the deans of the faculties, but it should not disrupt the teaching of those who do not participate,” he points out.
Universities for the climate
Universities for the Climate is a student movement that was created in 2019 in response to the Fridays for Future high school initiative.
Among the nationwide demands of Universities for the Climate, shared by all striking cities and aimed at the government, are the passage of a climate law, greater public involvement in decision-making through citizens’ assemblies, and the management of society and the economy by indicators other than GDP.
Source: Universities for the climate