LIVE BROADCAST: Czech politicians and public commemorate 17 November anniversary in Prague
Politicians and the public are commemorating the 17 November anniversaries today in Prague, Czech Republic, and among the very first to visit the memorial to the 1989 events on Národní třída (National Avenue) before the sun had even come up were the representatives of the Association of Dissatisfied Citizens (ANO) movement, led by outgoing Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, who said he wanted to avoid possible clashes with their critics. A representative of the Office of the Czech President also laid a wreath at the memorial and was accompanied by shouts against the president from onlookers.
On the other hand, representatives of the newly-elected Together (Spolu) coalition (Civic Democratic Party - ODS, the Christian Democrats - KDU-ČSL and TOP 09), the Pirates and the Mayors and Independents Party (Starosty a nezávislí - STAN) were applauded when they paid their respects at the memorial. The 17 November 1939 Nazi murder and persecution of Czechoslovak students was also commemorated at the Hlávkova Dormitory in Prague.
Speaking on Národní třída, the PM justified his early arrival by saying he had been warned people wanted to throw eggs at him this year. The remembrance site was guarded by police and no important incidents have happened there so far.
Protesters at the memorial carried signs reading "Flowers from a secret policeman and Russo-Sino collaborators have no business being here! Let's hope this year is the last!" Some bystanders shouted "Russian cockroach" at the representative of the Office of the President of the Republic as he was laying a wreath at the memorial.
Národní třída began to significantly fill up with people around 10 AM. The number of passers-by grew and the local establishments and shops began to open.
Candles and flowers tied with ribbons in the national colors have filled the space around the memorial. The vice-chair of the Czech Social Democratic Party (ČSSD), outgoing Labor and Social Affairs Minister Jana Maláčová, whose party will not be seated in the lower house after this year's elections, said that the exceptional history of 17 November shows that nothing can be taken for granted.
The chair of STAN, Vít Rakušan, said that this year's celebrations are unique because they will be celebrated for the very first time without the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSČM) in the Chamber of Deputies. Czech MP Olga Richterová, who is now a vice-chair of both the Pirates and the lower house itself, said that the freedom that has been gained makes it possible for everybody to get involved in public affairs in a non-violent way.
The chair of the Pirates, Czech MP Ivan Bartoš, said that he considers it important to democracy for there to be an educated, informed society that manages to face the pitfalls that will appear along the way. Czech Senator Jiří Drahoš, who launched a failed presidential bid in 2018, also paid his respects at the memorial on Národní třída.
The chair of the ODS, Petr Fiala, said 17 November is the most beautiful holiday of all, in his view. Fiala, the PM-designate, said many people have had an opportunity since 1989 to begin realizing their dreams and living in freedom.
Fiala also said he considers 17 November to be a holiday for young people, as in both 1939 and 1989 it was students who, in a decisive way, stood up to totalitarianism. Like the chair of STAN, the ODS chair also expressed delight that the holiday is being celebrated for the very first time without communists in Parliament.
According to the president of the Chamber of Deputies and the chair of TOP 09, Czech MP Markéta Pekarová Adamová, it is necessary to recall every day, not just on 17 November, that people in the Czech Republic are able to make decisions freely now. The president of the Czech Senate, Miloš Vystrčil (ODS), said the parties in the incoming Government have a big chance to strengthen democracy and to take advantage of the opportunity the voters have given them.
The chair of the KDU-ČSL, Marian Jurečka, said people should take an active interest in social affairs. In difficult times of crisis, Czech society is beginning to divide, or part of it is radicalizing, in his view.
Jurečka said it is primarily up to politicians to mitigate this and create a positive, cultured, communicative atmosphere. Zdeněk Hřib, the Mayor of Prague (Pirates) did not visit the memorial on Národní třída because he is recovering from an illness.
Given the growth in COVID-19 infections, the mayor recommended people wear respirators even when they are outside today at the locations where common celebrations are being held. One of the main speakers at the Hlávkova Dormitory commemoration of the events of 17 November 1939 was former Czech President Václav Klaus.
Klaus said communism had not been defeated by dissidents or by students, but that it had collapsed just as any other conceited effort to force the suppression of human freedom always collapses. "We are concerned that those times are returning, the times we believed would never recur," said Klaus, who is among those criticizing the Government's measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The chair of the Student Council of the Council of Colleges and Universities, Michal Farník, then called the former president's words an "unnecessary downplaying" of the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since morning, children and their parents and many others have been visiting the memorial to 17 November 1989 in Prague, lighting candles there and laying flowers.
This morning a man dressed in white and wearing a tricorn hat attempted to place a toilet bowl among the wreaths that had been laid at the memorial to 17 November 1989. shouting slogans against the COVID-19 vaccine and causing a commotion. Another person present removed the porcelain bowl and officers prevented the man from returning it beneath the memorial.
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