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Czech protest against COVID-19 response brings together the far-right, those against the PM, those against the opposition, xenophobes - and punks

18.11.2020 6:55
Hundreds of people demonstrated on the state holiday of 17 November 2020 in the center of Prague against the Czech Government's restrictions instituted to suppress the COVID-19 pandemic. (PHOTO:  Petr Zewlakk Vrabec)
Hundreds of people demonstrated on the state holiday of 17 November 2020 in the center of Prague against the Czech Government's restrictions instituted to suppress the COVID-19 pandemic. (PHOTO: Petr Zewlakk Vrabec)

Yesterday, on the Czech state holiday called "Struggle for Freedom and Democracy Day", hundreds of people marched through Prague to protest the Government's restrictions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, with some estimating that more than 1 000 attended, many of whom did not wear facemasks as required. The event was organized by a group calling itself "One Common Czech Heart for Freedom" (Jedno společné české srdce za svobodu) and was monitored by several dozen police officers and members of anticonflict teams. 

No interventions were necessary and the protest transpired without physical conflicts. Police officers detained just two individuals on suspicion of committing misdemeanors. 

The demonstration began around 16:00 on Wenceslas Square and was also attended by people who first attended a demonstration on the other side of the river. The demonstrators began dispersing before 18:00. 

Several speeches were made during the event. "Our state insignia has a lion, not a sheep, so let's behave accordingly," one speaker said.

Demonstrators also sang the 19th-century Czech folk song "Ach synku, synku". The protesters then headed to Národní třída, site of the police crackdown in 1989 that kicked off what is now called the Velvet Revolution. 

Near the National Theater the demonstrators encountered people celebrating the holiday who were waiting for vocalist Aneta Langerová to perform the song "A Prayer for Marta" from the balcony, which was banned under communism after the Warsaw Pact invasion of 1968 and then revived during the Velvet Revolution. The demonstrators challenged those waiting to see the performance to join ther protests or to take off their facemasks. 

There were no conflicts between the groups. After the performance, the demonstrators returned to Wenceslas Square, where they sang the national anthem together. 

Some participants carried Czech flags, but one Tibetan flag was seen in the crowd, as were banners reading "The viruses are more competent than the Government", "The Government is fulfilling the plan of the Rockefeller Foundation", "We want to go to school, not plant potatoes" or "Traitors! Resign!" Some people carried signs with messages against opposition parties as well. 

During the march demonstrators chanted slogans such as the ultra-nationalist "Bohemia for the Czechs", as well as "Freedom, freedom", "Children to school", "We want to go to work", "Throw Babiš out" and "Babiš was with the secret police". From this range of slogans it is apparent that the demonstration was attended by a diverse mix of people. 

Members of the ultra-right "Workers Youth" could be seen in the crowd, the youth organization of the Workers Social Justice Party, which is regularly mentioned by the Czech Interior Ministry in its reports on extremism. The infamous anti-refugee, xenophobic activist Jiří Černohorský attended, as did Lucie Hašková, an organizer of xenophobic demonstrations. 

Several radical fans of the Sparta football club participated, as did followers of outgoing US President Donald Trump - but also members of the punk movement, which is anti-fascist. The event was also attended by the singer Daniel Hůlka, who had previously publicly expressed his disagreement with the Government's restrictions in response to the pandemic. 

Other demonstrators took selfies with the celebrity. Hůlka has been engaged in a public dispute with Czech President Miloš Zeman over the measures taken to suppress the pandemic. 

People opposed to Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš attended the demonstration, but banners against opposition parties were on display as well. The crowd included families with minor children and pensioners. 

Police officers detained two individuals. One set off a firecracker, while the other was aggressive, drunk, and did not follow police instructions. 

During the first phase of the demonstration on Wenceslas Square the officers also checked the identification of several people who were not wearing facemasks. "We will report this matter to the administrative authority," police spokesperson Jan Daněk told the Czech News Agency. 

"One person ended up at the police station because she was unable to prove her identity," the spokesperson said. He also said 700 police officers had observed the peaceful course of events all over the capital yesterday. 

Daněk did not want to estimate how many people had attended the demonstration. Police expect to have more exact numbers available later today.
 

ryz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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COVID-19, Demonstrace, Extremism, Xenophobia



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