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Czech students walk out of school to defend democracy, protest denial of Romani Holocaust

22.3.2018 16:36
Protest by students, National Theater in Prague, March 2018. (PHOTO:  Czech News Agency, still from online broadcast).
Protest by students, National Theater in Prague, March 2018. (PHOTO: Czech News Agency, still from online broadcast).

Students from roughly 300 colleges and high schools around the Czech Republic joined a half-hour long warning strike to defend Constitutional and social values at noon on 15 March, with thousands of young people assembling before schools and in protest demonstrations in Prague, Brno, Ostrava, Plzeň, České Budějovice, Olomouc, Hradec Králové, and other big cities. In speeches, on banners and through online social networks, the students criticized the approach taken by top politicians towards the Constitution or towards the media, especially Czech President Miloš Zeman and outgoing Prime Minister Andrej Babiš (ANO).

Those who initiated the protests were not able to estimate how many people total ultimately joined them, as the protests were organized by the individual schools themselves, but thousands are said to have attended, and students were planning to bring the signed petitions and their photographs and video footage of the events to the Czech Senate. The upper house of Parliament should review the students' call at its April session.

The Mayors and Independents faction (STAN) in the upper house wants to draft a resolution for adoption on the issue. "I appreciate that students are not indifferent and that they are presenting their opinions in accordance with the law on assembly," said the chair of the Czech Senate, Milan Štěch (Czech Social Democratic Party - ČSSD).

Štěch said that if the students' call is delivered to him, he will convene the Senate leadership and the chairs of the various factions to advise him as to the next phase. The students' demands include, for example, that the President fulfill his Constitutional responsibility to name a Prime Minister who will be given the support of Parliament and will not be a person under criminal prosecution.

The students also want the outgoing Government not to make any fundamental moves, including with respect to personnel, not to create any new changes to the Constitutional order, and for the Senate to forcefully object to any failures to uphold Constitutional custom. During the protests, students also spoke of the need for the independence of the public broadcast media in particular.

At least 1 000 people assembled to defend Constitutional and social values at noon on Brno's náměstí Svobody, according to estimates published by the Czech News Agency and a spokesperson for local police. Most of them were college and high school students, but some older participants were there too.

Some carried banners with messages against outgoing PM Andrej Babiš (ANO) and Czech President Miloš Zeman. Speakers received applause when they called for the chair of the SPD, Tomio Okamura, to leave his position as vice-chair of the lower house due to his relativizing of the Romani Holocaust.

The students repeatedly mentioned in their speeches that they are not indifferent to the current political situation and that they do not intend to keep quiet. "Let's defend our ideals, nobody else will do it for us," said Tomáš Krajíček of Mendel University.

"We are not the apathetic masses," emphasized another speaker, student Lucie Myslíková. A member of the National Parliament of Children and Youth, the student Adrian Drozdek, said high school students might not be able to vote yet and might not have as much experience or education as adults, but they do have their own perspective on the world that is beneficial and new in many ways.

"We must remain alert, awake and loud!" Drozdek said. The warning strike was supported by the student councils of some academic senates.

Students at the Janáček Academy of Performing Arts were given the day off by their dean. A spokesperson for Masaryk University, the biggest institution of higher learning in Brno, said the university has long supported and welcomed the civic engagement of its academics and students and that participation in such events was a matter of individual decision.

ČTK, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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