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Czech Republic: Dozens of events on 17 November in Prague - including ultra-right ones

18.11.2016 9:38
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)

Yesterday, people in the Czech Republic commemorated the historical events connected with 17 November, when German Nazis murdered students in 1939 and then on the same day 50 years later, the communists in power used police brutality against students. Dozens of events - assemblies, carnival parades, cultural "happenings", demonstrations and marches - were underway in Prague yesterday.

The Albertov area of Prague was accessible to students this year, a change from last year when they were not permitted to access the area because Czech President Zeman was attending an anti-Islam assembly there instead. Zeman did not attend any official celebrations this year, staying instead at the official residence, but commemorative events took place in many other places around the Czech Republic as well.

The student event at Albertov was a celebration of democracy and the values on which contemporary modern society is based. The Rector of Masaryk University, Mikuláš Bek, the Rector of Charles University, Tomáš Zima, and former Prime Minister Petr Pithart, who was chosen because of his contribution to the democratic transformation of the country, addressed those assembled from the podium there.

Calling on civil society to wake up

The peak of the 17 November celebrations was the sounding of thousands of alarm clocks around the country. Civil society initiatives organizing the celebrations called on everybody to do this because they believe the values of democracy and freedom are being either questioned or sacrificed.

The alarm clocks went off at 19:30, the time when, 27 years ago, a police cordon blocked the students' march on Národní třída (National Avenue) and officers then brutally beat the students. During the evening, the "Memory of Nations" (Ceny paměti národa) awards were given out by the Post Bellum society to highlight the brave people who have resisted totalitarian regimes.

In addition to four people who survived the communist regime's uranimum mining camps, an award was also given to Jiří Brady, a survivor of Terezín and Auschwitz. Brady became the center of an affair involving the awarding of state honors last month.

According to Czech Culture Minister Daniel Herman (Christian Democrats - KDU-ČSL), President Zeman removed Brady from the list of honorees after Herman, who is Brady's nephew, met with the Dalai Lama in Prague. The Office of the President has disputed that.

The ringing of the "citizens' alarm clocks" marked the culmination of this year's Festival of Freedom, which involved an allegorical parade, commemorations, and concerts. This year all of the events were about waking up civil society.

"This is a 'happening' that we have chosen at a symbolic time... and we want to symbolically wake up civil society so that we defend democratic principles and values. We are of the opinion that currently we are again experiencing the fact that the values of democracy and freedom are endangered and fragile. We are going to call on society to get more involved in civic and political life, to be able and willing to fight for these principles and values," organizer Václav Němec said.

In the call to action that the organizers published, specific steps were listed that they believe are necessary to upholding democracy and freedom in the Czech Republic. Those steps included recommendations to vote, to follow whether politicians keep the promises they make when they campaign, to monitor elected representatives, to communicate with them, to get involved in civic initiatives and "not to make room" for those who would abuse democratic freedoms in order to then suppress them.

The commemoration of 17 November began at 9 AM near the Hlávkova dormitory, with speeches in Albertov at noon and then concerts there during the afternoon. The biggest assembly was on Wenceslas Square, where a "Concert for the Future" was held at 16:00.

The program of almost 50 perfomers included not just musicians, but many public figures. On Národní třída, starting at noon, a predominantly cultural program began, and at 14:00 on Hradčanské náměstí a demonstration began called "We Do Not Forget", organized by the group "Against Hate Speech".

The conveners of that event wanted not just to commemorate the two significant November anniversaries, but also to "demonstrate against the politics of Prague Castle", said organizer Jan Cemper, referring to the Office of the President. "The fact that people were banned from expressing their opinions during the Chinese visit [of the President of China to the Czech Republic], the letter of homage sent to China, forbidding members of the Government to meet with a spiritual leader - all of these things are matters that disturb us," he said.

Hundreds of police deployed to 17 November assemblies

Police in Prague deployed hundreds of police officers because of the assemblies and demonstrations and were counting on reinforcements from other regions. Miloš Trojánek, director of the Prague Police, told journalists that for tactical reasons he did not want to give an exact number of how many would be in the streets.

Dozens of announced events were overseen by anti-conflict teams, criminal police, riot units and traffic police. Approximately 30 assemblies were announced in Prague, according to City Hall.

Trojánek said previously that the main aim of the police would be to ensure public order to the greatest possible extent. "We were forced to request reinforcements from other regional directorates throughout the republic. These are mainly reinforcements for the anti-conflict team, 77 members of which will ensure the successful course of each assembly," he told journalists.

The weather was good, so police also deployed a helicopter to monitor events. Pavel Štefaňák of Prague City Hall said yesterday that the numbers of announced assemblies were also changing.

"For the time being the numbers have been dropping, some conveners are rescinding their announcements," Štefaňák said. He also said municipal bureaucrats would attend assemblies and demonstrations to address any eventual conflicts with the law that might arise.

"City Hall has allocated the largest-ever number of employees [for that purpose] this year," Štefaňák said. Only one street was closed, Národní třída, for the "National Parade", subtitled "Thanks for making this possible", that was organized by college students.

Tram lines were rerouted yesterday as well. Police officers directed traffic in various locations.

"I recommend that residents and visitors to Prague shoud mainly use the metro," Miloš Trnka, a representative of the public transportation service, advised the public yesterday. Besides the cultural and student events, other demonstrations were held yesterday as well.

On Jan Palach Square, those opposed to migration held a protest at an event organized by the Bloc against Islamization. "The usual rhythm of the city will be limited starting in the early morning, mainly in the city center," Police Director Trojánek told the press earlier this week.

Police ran an online service updating the public on the situation throughout Prague yesterday. Information about assemblies, demonstrations and detours was available to the public on the website policie.cz.

ČTK, agw, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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17 November, demokracie, Demonstrace, Festival



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