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Czech university administrators, students issue statements about police banning access for students and teachers to 17 November memorial

18.11.2015 19:18
Czech Police block students' access to the plaque honoring the student contribution to the 1989 November Velvet Revolution at Albertov in Prague on 17 November 2015. (Source:  Facebook)
Czech Police block students' access to the plaque honoring the student contribution to the 1989 November Velvet Revolution at Albertov in Prague on 17 November 2015. (Source: Facebook)

Statement from Bohumil Gaš, Dean of the Faculty of Science, Charles University

International Student Day is regularly commemorated in the Czech Republic by students at Albertov, the place that witnessed the efforts of their colleagues in the past to hold onto or renew freedom in our country. This year at Albertov that holiday was marked by a planned demonstration in support of the President of the Republic and the students were prevented from laying flowers and lighting candles at the memorial plaque to 1989.

Albertov belongs to the students

At the beginning of the 20th century, Franz Josef I expended no small amount of money to build the university campus at Albertov and did not hesitate to visit when the buildings were completed. The buildings of the campus were not constructed in vain - they were filled with university students and teachers who conveyed the basics of medicine and the natural sciences to them.

These were not just any students and teachers - Albertov educated many excellent, world-class doctors and scientists. For example, Nobel Prize winner Jaroslav Heyrovský was educated there.

To this day Albertov is a living university and every day thousands of students and teachers live and work there. More buildings are to be constructed there for top-level instruction and research in biomedicine and the natural sciences.

These are disciplines that will save human lives. What's more, university students have always been and still are the people who are the most sensitive to injustice and wrongdoing in society.

Albertov has always been a place where students did not hesitate to risk their health and lives to combat injustice and wrongdoing at fateful moments in the history of our state. This year, however, when students wanted to commemorate their fellow students and teachers who were beaten up or shot to death in the past, everything was different.

This year Albertov was full of people, the vast majority of whom have nothing to do with the life of the Albertov campus, expressing opinions, the vast majority of which the students are not aligned with. The students were treated like aliens and a small group of about 20 of them were not allowed to walk 20 meters to a memorial plaque inscribed with the legend "If not us, who, if not now, when?"

That plaque features the slogan with which the students managed to start the November 1989 revolution. The argument that the students were not permitted to access the memorial for security reasons because Mr President would be attending an event there convened by his supporters is unjustifiable, because Mr President was not scheduled to arrive there until three hours later and the entire 20-meter area was riddled with police and security guards.

This year the students and their teachers lost their freedom at Albertov. This must not be allowed to happen next year.

Student Statement on 17 November 2015 at Albertov

We, representatives of the student body, are disappointed and sad that today, on International Student Day, many of those interested in expressing their respect for the previous generation of our colleagues, who took risks for the freedom of this country on November 1989, were not allowed to do so. Just before noon a group of students attempted to lay flowers and light candles at the memorial plaque at Albertov.

Most of them, however, were not allowed by police security to access that place. We are aware that security measures are unavoidable these days.

It would be possible to understand the police decision if the area had been completely closed off to anyone the entire time because guests were visiting who require special protection. However, we would like to point out that not long after the students were prevented from accessing the memorial, the area was opened to a small group of the supporters of Mr President.

We emphasize that as students we have been repeatedly urged in recent days to respect everyone's rights and to engage in calm discussion based on verified facts, and we have unequivocally condemned the exploitation of these places - which are connected with the students' fight for freedom - by any particular political interest. We call on all representatives of state power to remember the students' fight for freedom and to make sure that respect for their memory will not be restricted in the future in any way, nor that it be exploited for the self-promotion of interest groups as happened today, 17 November 2015, at Albertov.    

Statement from the Rector of Charles University in Prague

"The fact that today the police security at Albertov allowed only a few students and their teachers to pay their respects to the legacy of 17 November 1989 while most of them had to remain behind police barricades fills me not only with sadness but with indignation. When students do not have free access to Albertov on 17 November, that is a bad sign, irrespective of what kind of security measures are otherwise necessitated. What happened today must never be repeated," said Tomáš Zima. 

brf, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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