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30 000 assemble on Prague's Wenceslas Square to celebrate 17 November - VIDEO

18.11.2016 19:58

As many as 30 000 people set off alarm clocks yesterday on Prague's Wenceslas Square during the celebrations of the anniversary of the beginning of the fall of state socialism in the former Czechoslovakia. The alarm clocks were supposed to symbolically wake civil society from its sleep, according to organizers of the "happening".

Most participants used their mobile phones, but some brought classic mechanical alarm clocks with them. "We decided we would set the alarm clocks to go off at the symbolic time of 19:30, which is roughly the moment when the police cordon on Národní třída blocked the path of the students who were marching from Albertov 27 years ago," philosopher Václav Němec of the Kroměřížská výzva Initiative, which is seeking a candidate for the presidential elections in 2018, told the assembly.

Organizers did not want commemorate the beginning of the police intervention against the student march on 17 November 1989 with a minute of silence because, Němec said, democracy is not ready for burial yet - instead, they decided to mark the anniversary with a minute of noise. "We want to wake up civil society so she won't behave like Sleeping Beauty, whose closed eyes and indifference make it possible for democratic principles and values to be trampled," Němec emphasized.

The philosopher also said the ringing of the alarm clocks was supposed to remind politicians to defend these values instead of selling out or trampling them in favor of questionable alliances or interests. The celebration of the state holiday of Struggle for Freedom and Democracy Day on Wenceslas Square was designed as a series of several dozen musical performances and speeches.

The organizers emphasized in advance that the event, called "Concert for the Future", was neither a political campaign nor a protest, but a civic assembly. Speeches, however, were made that criticized Czech President Miloš Zeman.

"The freely-elected President has become an unbearable moral and security risk to this state. The people around him are betraying the ideals of 17 November and returning the helm to the East," priest and sociologist Tomáš Halík said.

Apparently in reference to the recent pro-Chinese declaration by the four top constitutional officers of the Czech Republic, Halík said Czech representatives were "pulling their pants down before the Chinese potentate has even threatened to spank them with his cane". Theater director Břetislav Rychlík then called the President a man of the past with nothing to offer.

Mikuláš Bek, Rector of Masaryk University in Brno, spoke of the current atmosphere in society as a "mini-normalization era". "We must do a great deal to make sure this is the shortest one ever," he emphasized.

Bek also said he believed it will not be enough to find a person to represent the liberal segment of society in the Presidential elections, but that it will also be necessary to continue the effort to revive civil society. Daniel Kroupa, a philosopher and signatory of Charter 77, responded to the words of some of the other speakers who mentioned that somebody was attempting to divorce the intelligentsia from the rest of the nation.

"The intelligentsia without the rest of the nation is just a lot of hot air, and the nation without its intelligentsia is idiotic. A nation of idiots needs its leaders to be its masters,"Kroupa said.

President Zeman's spokeperson Jiří Ovčáček tweeted during the event that the advertised celebration of democracy and freedom had become a classic anti-Zeman political rally. Those attending filled roughly half of the square.

Some people lit candles in front of the statue of Saint Václav there. It was on Wenceslas Square, 27 years ago, that the massive assemblies were held that are usually referred to as the Velvet Revolution, and yesterday the view was similar.


ryz, ČTK, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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