Voices From Fridays For Future: “Older People Are Scared To Be Poor Again. Young People Are Scared About Climate Change”

Last Friday, 17 June, the Fridays for Future demonstrations returned to Brno. Two years after disappearing from the streets due to the protective measures against Covid-19, young climate activists from the international movement returned to demand stronger and more concrete policies to address climate change. Brno Daily spoke to some of the young activists on their motivations, how they organise, and their feelings about the future. Photo credit: Coline Béguet / Brno Daily 

Brno, June 24 (BD) – Fridays for Future started in Sweden in 2018 and arrived in Czech Republic less than a year later, with a first protest organised in Prague in March 2019. Hundreds of students walked through the streets of the capital, demanding climate justice. A few weeks later, in April, the movement had spread throughout the country, and arrived in Brno with some sarcastic posters saying “This is so important that even people from Brno care”. 

Matyas, 19 years. Photo credit: Coline Béguet / Brno Daily 

Matyas is 19 years old. He finished high school and is going to start to study Body Design, a fine arts study program, at the Brno University of Technology. “My first interest in protection of the climate and environment came when I was attending primary school in Zlin, where we had some talks and debates with people who are protecting Indonesian rainforests. They were from the Czech Republic and they motivated me to be interested in climate protection and protection of the environment. At that time I was not an active member of any groups or anything like that, I was just supporting other organisations, and later when I was 16 or 17 I became a member, I was on the strikes of Fridays for Future in Zlin in 2019.”  

“That was the first strike and, I don’t know how, but the organisers found me and asked me to speak there,” he laughs. “It was really interesting, I have no idea how they found me, but I went there and my speech was terrible! It was about how each one of us can make some little change in our behaviour and try to make the world better… and things like that. I was very naive, back then. But after that I became a member of Fridays for Future and I started to educate myself, and now I am here, basically trying to convince more people to join the movement, to think about climate change, to think about the solutions.”

“I would definitely love to continue my climate activism.”

And now that he is leaving high school, how will Matyas be involved in climate activism? “I want to continue somehow. Maybe because I am going to art school, it could be some kind of activism where I will somehow connect, combine the climate crisis and art. And I would definitely love to continue in my climate activism but I have no idea how, or what it will be. There are other climate movements in the Czech Republic. Maybe when I am too old to be in a high school movement, I will move into Limity Jsme My or some other group.”

“We are trying to encourage the government to have a better plan for the transformation away from coal.”

The main target of climate activists in the Czech Republic is coal mining and use. “It is still a huge topic for us, because the Czech Republic has no plan on how to quit coal,” says Matyas. “The last government was talking about 2033, this government is talking about 2030 but we have no idea how they are going to do it. They were talking about it before the elections… and now they are not doing enough and coal is still a big part of our energy mix. So that is a big problem for us because it is like the government will just name some date and they won’t do anything in the years before it. They will just try to do something in the last three years maybe, and it won’t be easy for the people who are working in the mines. So we are trying to somehow encourage the government to have a better plan for the transformation.” 

Lida, 20 years old. Photo credit: Coline Béguet / Brno Daily 

Lida, 20 years old, is from “the north of Czech Republic, five hours away, but I am studying in Brno currently. I study drawing and graphics at the Faculty of Arts.” She joined the very first Fridays for Future protest in the Czech Republic. “I actually even organised a protest before, in December 2018, and that was the very first Friday for Future protest in Czech Republic, but we were 12 people, so it doesn’t count!” she laughs. 

How did the movement arrive here in the Czech Republic, and how did the protests start? “Basically, in the Czech Republic there were many people who knew about Greta and about the strikes, but they didn’t have a group big enough to do protests. They decided in 2018 that they wanted to strike, I think in the autumn of that year, and by the time March came, there were 50 people in the movement already and more people were joining. The March 2019 big strike, the first official strike, was the biggest strike in the Czech Republic. At the beginning there were about 20 people organising and now we are like 400 organisers.”

“We were mostly 17-year-old kids who asked their friends to join.” 

“People were asking their friends if they wanted to help, and some people were friends of people who were already activists, or climate activists in other movements, so we had some help from people who already knew what to do and how to do it. But mostly we were like 17-year-old kids who asked their friends to join. We had one messenger group chat and organised everything in that one group chat until we moved to another platform. We were communicating online, then we started to have online calls and meetings in person.” 

“In the Czech Republic we always need to let the police know where the protest is going to be and the route of our march. We have to sign some legal documents to let them know and for them to allow us to be there. That was actually fun, because I wasn’t 18 but I was organising my first strike in Liberec. So I had to ask some friends who were over 18 to sign it instead of me and come with me. I think once I even asked my dad to do it! And I was very happy when I turned 18 because I could do it on myself, all by myself,” she laughs. 

“I grew up in a very ecologically conscious household and I was taught from a young age about nature, so I think they are glad I am participating. They are not activists themselves, but they are supportive really. There are some kids who kind of rebel, or some of them even had to leave the movement because of their families. I am lucky.”

“We not only discuss strikes, but also share our climate grief and anxiety.”

“Most importantly, the reason why our movement is growing and it is good to be a part of it, is because we all are friends and we have our manifesto and rules about how to treat each other and how to be all equal and give each other space, which is really important. It is good to know that we are safe and that we can be friends, and that’s the reason why I stayed for so many years in the movement, and so many people have the movement as a safe place and as a friendly place. When we have meetings, we not only discuss strikes and stuff like that, but also share our climate grief and anxiety, or anything else we feel.” 

Emma, 16 years old. Photo credit: Coline Béguet / Brno Daily 

Emma, 16, is in second year of high school in Brno and “joined Fridays for Future in March 2019, when I went on the first strike. But I wasn’t yet an organiser, I was just a high schooler going there, I was 13. And, then, in December 2019, I started to be a part of Fridays for Future. I was 14. I have now been in Fridays for Future for two and a half years I think.”

And how did she start getting involved? “I think we were watching some films in school, catastrophic films about climate change. I was kind of scared. Then I heard about the first strike, so I joined. And after that I think I thought it was like… cool… and I liked the people who were around and cared about the earth and the environment. So I joined.”

17 June was an international strike coordinated with other Central and Eastern European countries

“I am doing the international communication with other countries. That’s what I am doing now and what I like to do because I get to talk to others and we can prepare things together. Actually, this strike (Friday, 17 June) was our work together with other people from eastern Europe. We thought it would be good to mobilise eastern European countries to strike on 17 June, so many other countries were striking today.” 

Emma was on the team coordinating this international protest. “We had some contact before, I think it was before the Russian invasion. I think it was in December 2021, we started an eastern Europe group on Telegram and we started thinking about what we can do together. When the invasion started, all of us had a lot of work to do because we had Ukrainian activists who came to Poland and also to the Czech Republic.”

“We started to help activists from Ukraine. We had our hands full with these things, but I think last month, we started thinking that we would strike together. When we had this strike in May in Prague, we actually invited some people who came over to strike with us. We had some people from Slovakia and I think from Germany too. There was also one Ukrainian activist speaking.”

“I think it is important that we also start focusing on eastern European solidarity.” 

There are some common challenges in eastern European countries, because of the dependence on fossil fuels, but also because they have some similar history, says Emma. “And, for example, in the west there are different discussions than in eastern Europe about climate. I think it is important to know these differences. I think that, like, in the Czech Republic there were discussions whether we are going to even end coal. But in western Europe, at the same time, there was already discussion on what to do differently than coal. We are more, kind of, backwards in thinking. I think for eastern European governments, it is more like they don’t care about it. We should better coordinate with western Europe, because I think we can make a lot of changes together, but we need more help than the others.”

Intergenerational divergence on the climate crisis

“In our school it is fine, they don’t care, if we don’t miss too much…” But some parents disagree with the teenagers who are striking. “I don’t think it is really that frightening with the police because we are doing legal stuff, but I think they mostly disagree because of their own opinions about the climate crisis. Before it was worse; I think now people know that there is a problem but they don’t like what we are promoting.”

“We are promoting some kind of system change, a bit. Because the climate crisis is a systemic problem and a lot of people in the Czech Republic are scared that we will be poor again. Because also there was some talk about an embargo on Russian oil and gas and we are very dependent on Russian gas. A lot of people in the Czech Republic were really scared that we are not going to have food, that there will not be any heating and there will not be any money… So I think people know about climate change, but don’t want to act because they think that we will lose our standard of living.”

“Generally, older people are more in denial. I think they are more scared to do something about it because of the totalitarian regime that we had before and people are kind of scared to be poor again. Young people are more scared about climate change.”

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