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Czech celebrations of 17 November will mostly be online, ultra-right plans to protest COVID-19 measures in the streets

16.11.2020 19:52
People traditionally light candles on 17 November at the memorial to the November events of 1989 on Národní třída in Prague, Czech Republic. (PHOTO:  David Sedlecký, Wikimedia Commons)
People traditionally light candles on 17 November at the memorial to the November events of 1989 on Národní třída in Prague, Czech Republic. (PHOTO: David Sedlecký, Wikimedia Commons)

The celebrations of 17 November ("Struggle for Freedom and Democracy Day") in the Czech Republic this year are mostly happening in the online environment, but some events will be happening in the streets despite limitations on freedom of movement because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the Albertov neighborhood of Prague there will not be a stage set up, as has become traditional, but it will still be possible to light candles there to commemorate the events of 1939, when students held a demonstration against Nazi occupation in 1939, and the events of 1989, when a student demonstration started the Velvet Revolution. 

Approximately 20 people are expected to march through the capital as part of a masked parade called the "Velvet Sanctification" (Sametové posvícení), and politicians are anticipated to lay floral offerings at the memorial plaque on Národní třída in Prague commemorating the police crackdown there 31 years ago that kicked off what became the Velvet Revolution. As of this afternoon, the schedule of the Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš (ANO) was not yet known, while Czech President Miloš Zeman is planning to pay a "silent tribute" to the events of 17 November 1989. 

An event called the "Concert for the Future" will take the form of a live broadcast of performers and speakers, without an audience. Those planning to perform, including the band The Plastic People of the Universe, musician Tomáš Klus and Czech-Polish pop-rock singer Ewa Farna, will do so in an enclosed space on Wenceslas Square in Prague, where people gathered 31 years ago to demonstrate for a democratic order. 

The Czech Philharmonic's "Concert for Freedom and Democracy" will also be held without an audience and will be broadcast by Czech Television's Art channel.  The annual bestowing of the "Memory of the Nation"  Award will be broadcast by Czech Television without the presence of the honorees and with prerecorded input from them. 

This year the Post Bellum society, which gives those awards, will honor five figures from the Czech Republic and Slovakia, including, for example, a Jewish physician who took care of young children in the Auschwitz death camp, and a woman who aided several people with crossing the border of Czechoslovakia after the communist takeover in February 1948. Post Bellum will also hold an online auction of artworks tomorrow. 

As for the commemorative ceremony held annually in front of the Hlávkova Dormitory in Prague 2 to commemorate the closing of Czechoslovakia's universities by the Nazi occupiers on 17 November 1939 and to honor the death of the student Jan Opletal, who was shot at a Czechoslovak Independence Day rally on 28 October 1939, as well as other executed and tortured students, it will not be held in the customary way this year. Flowers will be symbolically laid at the memorial plaque there between 9:00 and 10:00. 

Flowers are also customarily laid on Žitná Street in Prague at the memorial plaque there to Opletal and another victim of Nazi oppression, Václav Sedláček. As for the "National Promenade" (Korzo národní) celebrations, usually held on Národní třída, they will also be held online. 

At 12:30 the celebrations will begin with debates that are livestreamed, and people will be able to watch Aneta Langerová perform the song "A Prayer for Marta" from the balcony of the National Theater (a famous protest song first performed during 1968, revived during 1989) - and will be able to follow other concerts, discussions and theatrical performances online. Elsewhere in Prague, in front of the National Museum's New Building, a pylon honoring the memory of Jan Palach, who set himself on fire to protest the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia, will also be unveiled. 

Many politicians are planning to honor the anniversary of the Velvet Revolution on Národní třída, which will be closed to traffic all day - in the late morning the chair of the Pirate Party, Ivan Bartoš; chair of the Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL), Marian Jurečka; chair of the Civic Democratic Party (ODS), Petr Fiala; chair of TOP 09, Markéta Pekarová Adamová; chair of the "Mayors and Independents (STAN), Vít Rakušan; and the speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, Radek Vondráček (ANO). Petr Sklenička, the president of the Czech Conference of Rectors and the Rector of the Czech Agricultural University in Prague, Petr Sklenička, is also planning to honor the events of 17 November on Národní třída. 

The Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSČM) is planning to honor Opletal's memory in front of the Hlávkova Dormitory, and the chair of the "Freedom and Direct Democracy" party, Tomio Okamura, is planning to visit that site before they do. It is not yet clear what the Prime Minister will be doing tomorrow. 

Last year the PM laid flowers and lit a candle on Národní třída and was greeted with negative chanting and whistling by protesters. He was accompanied by several other ANO movement ministers last year. 

After that, the Prime Ministers of the Visegrad Four countries (the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia) and the speaker of Germany's Federal Assembly, Wolfgang Schäuble, commemorated the 17 November anniversary at the National Museum in Prague. This year, as for the President of the Czech Republic, his spokesperson Jiří Ovčáček, told the Czech News Agency that "As is traditional, the President, as a direct participant in the events of 17 November 1989, will commemorate those events with a moment of silence."

"He will express his view of those events on the state holiday by giving an interview to Parlamentní listy," the President's spokesperson said, indicating that Zeman's relationship with that particular tabloid remains strong. Police officers trained in criminal investigation, riot units and traffic control will maintain the peace during the assemblies and celebrations tomorrow, as will members of their anticonflict team. 

From the current information available to police it does not seem that any assemblies will be disrupted in any way. At 15:30 on the Letná Plain in Prague tomorrow, another demonstration against the Government's anti-COVID measures is also planned. 

News server Romea.cz has reported that both neo-Nazi and right-wing extremist groups are encouraging turnout to that event. The most recent such protest on the Old Town Square in Prague deteriorated into street fighting with police after the event was officially dispersed.

ČTK, ryz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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