Czech Police intervene against 1 000 extremists protesting refugee reception on state holiday marking November 1939 and 1989
The main theme of today's events in the Czech Republic ostensibly commemorating the student victims of Nazism in 1939 and the student demonstrations in 1989 was in fact the current refugee crisis. Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka (Czech Social Democratic Party - ČSSD) called on people to moderate the anger they feel about refugees.
Czech President Miloš Zeman, on the other hand, defended those who are opposed to receiving migrants and several demonstrations covered the same theme. Many people also just came out to light candles and commemorate the historical events connected with 17 November.
Sobotka: Populists are parasites feeding on fear of refugees
The PM gave his speech standing alongside current students at Prague's Hlávkova Dormitory, a place is connected with the Nazi executions of and repression against students in 1939. Sobotka said the shadow of war is coming to Europe with the wave of migration and that populists are "parasites feeding on people's fear".
He also said people should not turn their anger against refugees. Later the PM thanked the Czech volunteers who are aiding asylum-seekers abroad.
"We are highly grateful to the Prime Minister for finding the civic and political courage to accept our invitation today in a situation where there is such an anti-refugee atmosphere and when the President is giving an address together with those on the other side of this issue, speaking with the supporters of Konvička at Albertov. It certainly was not all that easy to come speak with those of us who are actively aiding refugees," said Jan Piňos of the Czech Team association, which has been helping refugees on the border between Croatia and Serbia.
Zeman bands together with the populists
The head of state called for protection for those who are opposed to aiding refugees and alleged that they are being incorrectly labeled Fascists, Islamophobes and racists. He made his remarks at Albertov in Prague at an event of the Bloc against Islam organization, and security refused to let students access the memorial plaque at Albertov (dedicated to the students of 1989) because the President was scheduled to visit the area.
The President demanded tolerance for different opinions while at the same time calling his critics a "roaring herd". Representatives of both the Czech Government and the opposition said his speech was intended solely for his supporters, not for the nation as a whole.
Representatives of the country's universities responded negatively to Zeman as well. According to the Rector of Masaryk University, Mikuláš Bek, the state holiday in Prague meant to commemorate the students of 1939 and 1989 has been stolen this year by a xenophobic organization.
"Miloš Zeman crossed the line today. He stood on the podium next to the flower of the contemporary extremist scene and told 'his' nation that Fascism should not be called Fascism or Islamophobia," Czech Human Rights Minister Jiří Dienstbier commented.
When the event was over, the opponents and supporters of Zeman clashed verbally at Albertov. Some young people remained standing on the street holding banners reading "Hate Is No Solution" or "Freedom, Solidarity".
Others held up red cards like those used by referees at football matches to remind people of the 17 November events last year. Thousands of people in Prague showed such cards to Zeman on 17 November last year as well.
President's spokesperson says student event was sheer propaganda
Approximately two hours before the beginning of the Islamophobic demonstration at Albertov the police refused to allow a group of students to light candles at the memorial plaque there. Several Czech politicians objected to that decision.
"I must state with regret that in November 1989, students were allowed to access Albertov. For shame," Czech MEP Pavel Svoboda (Christian Democrats - KDU-ČSL) tweeted.
His fellow party member, Czech MEP Jiří Pospíšil, tweeted "Not allowing students to access Albertov on 17 November because President Zeman will be there two hours later is an outrage." The chair of the ODS (Civic Democratic Party), Petr Fiala, a former Rector of Masaryk University in Brno and former Czech Education Minister, said he considers the police procedure to have disgraced the memory of the November events.
"Not allowing the students to light candles at the memorial plaque is yet another way to trample on November 1989. In case the organizers don't know it, we are celebrating freedom, among other things, today," he tweeted.
According to Jiří Ovčáček, the President's spokesperson, the students were actually able to visit Albertov at other times of the day, just not around the time of the President's speech. Students allegedly were able "to lay flowers at Albertov at any other time, just not right before an announced assembly."
"This is an attempt at getting media coverage pure and simple, a sheer act of propaganda to tickle the anti-Zeman media mainstream. It's nothing more than that," Ovčáček posted to his Facebook page.
"Bohemia for the Czechs" chanted at Tomio Okamura's demonstration
Thousands of people assembled on Prague's Wenceslas Square for an event called "For our culture and a safe country" at which the chair of the Freedom and Direct Democracy movement, Tomio Okamura, rejected allegations that he is an extremist. In his view, the "extremists" are those Czech MEPs who have voted in favor of EU redistribution quotas for asylum-seekers.
Those attending the demonstration called for the Government to resign and headed for the cabinet's headquarters shouting "Bohemia for the Czechs" (Čechy Čechům). Supporters of the National Democracy party and the Workers Social Justice Party (DSSS) also held protests against the Government and refugee reception, with the DSSS declaring that "the people will wrestle the governing representatives into submission."
Hundreds proclaim "This country belongs to everyone - Refugees welcome"
On the other hand, people at an assembly called "This country belongs to everyone - Refugees welcome" stood up for refugees, holding banners reading "Do you want a white Bohemia? Wait for the snow!" or "We had to flee once ourselves". The march by several hundred supporters of refugees and critics of the President then marched on Prague Castle chanting "The café is here".
Zeman uses the term "Prague café" to refer to all of his critics. Organizers of the event said Zeman's steps do not serve the actual interests of the people of the Czech Republic.
The marchers carried a large pair of red men's undershorts, a reference to a protest action by performance artists from the Ztohoven ("This Way Out") group, who strung up a gigantic pair of men's undershorts at Prague Castle to symbolize Zeman instead of the Presidential standard, which is always flown when the President is in the country. Organizers said people were gathering in front of the Castle to remind the President of the existence of the Constitution and that "the Czech Republic does not belong to him."
By chanting "clearance" the demonstrators were recalling that the Head of the Office of the President, Vratislav Mynář, has failed to be granted a security clearance but has remained in office nonetheless. According to demonstration organizers it is also necessary to address the problems connected with migration with humanity and understanding.
In a statement, organizers said the alpha and omega of the migration issue, however, is resolving the conflict in Syria. They said they themselves want to contribute to calming tensions in society and aiding people in need.
The organizers are creating a new group for "good will meetings" to coordinate future steps. Those who have organized several of today's demonstrations in favor of refugee reception will send one representative each to the group.
Police intervene against extremists at the Office of the Government
Police ultimately had to intervene against those participating in the anti-immigration demonstration at the Office of the Government, which was attended by the supporters of the Bloc against Islam, the DSSS, National Democracy and Tomio Okamura. Approximately 1 000 people refused for more than an hour after the official end of the event to leave the area despite being called upon by officials to do so.
Tomáš Hulan, spokesperson for the Prague Police, told the Czech News Agency that officers detained 12 people for covering their faces and using pyrotechnics. Most people dispersed after 19:30.
Two officially-announced marches had listed the Office of the Government as their destinations. Hulan said a total of roughly 5 000 people assembled there.
The metal barriers that are customarily in place in front of the entrance to the building were left in place. Some demonstrators dismantled them, however.
"Both conveners of the marches officially ended them, so the participants were legally obliged to disperse," Hulan said. According to him, most demonstrators actually did leave, but roughly 1 000 people remained.
"A city official repeatedly called on them to disperse but they did not obey. Officials therefore asked police to intervene," the Police spokesperson said.
Officers repeatedly called on the demonstrators to leave but they did not. Riot units therefore pushed the crowd into a safe area.
Police separated the crowd into two parts and pushed them in two separate directions. At roughly 19:45 police opened up the road that goes past the Office of the Government to normal traffic.
Some people, reportedly 12 total, were detained for having their faces covered, which is illegal, and for using dangerous pyrotechnics. Officers removed them from the crowd, checked their identities, and asked them for an explanation of what they were doing; similar cases are frequently handled as misdemeanors.
People chanted slogans during the march to the Office of the Government such as "We Don't Want Islam Here" or "Bohemia for the Czechs" and called on onlookers to participate by shouting "Czechs come with us". In front of the Office of the Government the chanting of "Resign, resign" could be frequently heard.
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