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Czech academics: Promoters of hate want to trample on the anniversary of 17 November

12.11.2015 18:54
In 1989 students powered the revolution against the totalitarian government of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. (PHOTO:  Piercetp, Wikimedia Commons)
In 1989 students powered the revolution against the totalitarian government of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. (PHOTO: Piercetp, Wikimedia Commons)

Tomáš Zima, the Rector of Charles University in Prague, and the Deans of its Faculties headquartered at Albertov in Prague have issued a statement against the possible abuse of the upcoming 17 November holiday by people espousing bigotry, hatred and intolerance. While the academics do not give concrete details in their statement, it is known that a demonstration by the Bloc against Islam has been planned for the state holiday next Tuesday at Albertov.

Czech President Miloš Zeman is also scheduled to arrive at Albertov at that time. Even though he will not be demonstrating, according to his spokesperson Jiří Ovčáček the President will apparently speak to the citizens assembled there.

In their declaration, the academics remind the public that 17 November commemorates the events of 1939 and 1989, when students expressed their criticism of events impacting all of society and many of them suffered serious personal consequences for doing so. It was an assembly of students at Albertov that began the Velvet Revolution 26 years ago.

Now at that same location the Bloc against Islam is planning to hold a demonstration "to support the opinions of the President of the Republic about immigration and Islam." In a declaration sent to the Czech News Agency (see below), the academics say that "The notion that the anniversary of 17 November and a symbolic location connected to the student movement could be abused by people who espouse bigotry, hatred and intolerance - and who also have nothing but words of contempt for education, human decency and politeness - fills us with deep sadness. We most resolutely distance ourselves from such speeches no matter who makes them."

In addition to Zima, the declaration has been signed by the Dean of the First Faculty of Medicine, Aleksi Šedo, the Dean of the Faculty of Science, Bohuslav Gaš, and the Dean of the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics, Jan Kratochvíl. These signatories recall that neither Nazi nor Communist power ever tolerated "the slightest tremor of free thought".

The country's current state of freedom is not, in their view, a matter of course. "An old and wise saying has it that if one does not take daily care of democracy and the state of public affairs, then one loses it. In today's rapidly-changing world this applies more than ever before," their declaration states.

The legacy of the student demonstrations in November 1939 and November 1989, in the academics' view, obliges us to aid those who find themselves in need. "That is why we decisively condemn all displays of human pettiness, including intolerance, racism and violence," the statement says.

The Czech Interior Ministry's reports on extremism call the Bloc against Islam a competitor of other ultra-right movements. With the aim of winning votes, the group is said to intentionally, tendentiously exploit information that is frequently generalized, poorly interpreted, or taken out of context.

Declaration by the Rector and Deans of the Charles University Faculties headquartered at Albertov in Prague

17 November occupies an exceptional place in the modern history of the Czech lands. The first time this date entered our history was in 1939 in connection with the tragic events following the death of Charles University student Jan Opletal that culminated in the closure of Czech universities by the Nazi occupiers, the execution of nine students, and the imprisonment of more than 1 000 more in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, where many lost their lives.

The second time this date entered our history was in 1989, when police units of the Communist state brutally intervened against students commemorating the events of 1939 who critically expressed their views of the governing regime. The final consequence of those events was the fall of the government and the establishment of democracy, the clearest expression of which was the election of Václav Havel as President of the Republic.

The reason we annually commemorate 17 November is obvious:  In both cases, students expressed their critical positions on events of society-wide importance, and many of them suffered serious personal consequences as a result. Neither Nazi nor Communist power ever intended to tolerate the slightest tremors of free thought and had no compunction about intervening harshly against it.

Those regimes perceived critical, independent, intelligent intellectuals, including representatives of the Czech universities and their students, as the greatest danger. The victims of Nazi despotism from November 1939, as well as those who were beaten in November 1989, deserve our esteem and our respect.

Despite the many burdens and problems we currently must cope with, frequently in complex ways, we are living in a free country today. That freedom, nevertheless, is not a matter of course.

An old and wise saying has it that if one does not take daily care of democraacy and the state of public affairs, then one loses it. In today's rapidly-changing world this applies more than ever before.

That is precisely why we, members of the academic community of Charles University, espouse democracy and freedom as well as the principles indivisibly connected with these concepts, i.e., equality before the law, helpfulness, humanity and tolerance. The legacy of the student demonstrations in November 1939 and November 1989 obliges us to aid those who find themselves in need.

That is why we decisively condemn all displays of human pettiness, including intolerance, racism and violence. The notion that the anniversary of 17 November and a symbolic location connected to the student movement could be abused by people who espouse bigotry, hatred and intolerance - and who also have nothing but words of contempt for education, human decency and politeness - fills us with deep sadness.

We most resolutely distance ourselves from such speeches no matter who makes them. We will defend the legacy of 17 November 1939 and 1989, which is that of democracy and freedom, under any and all circumstances.  

Tomáš Zima, Rector, Charles University

Aleksi Šedo, Dean, First Faculty of Medicine

Bohuslav Gaš, Dean,  Faculty of Science

Jan Kratochvíl, Dean, Faculty of Mathematics and Physics

ČTK, ryz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Demonstrace, Miloš Zeman, Nenávist, Racism, Xenophobia, Islamofobie



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