Commemorative events have been taking place around the country to mark the anniversary of the Velvet Revolution that triggered the fall of communism in 1989. Politicians, cultural figures and members of the public turned out to lay flowers and light candles at key sites linked to the events of 1989, such as Národní St. where the communist police brutally cracked down on a student demonstration and the equestrian statue of St Wenceslas, the nation’s patron saint, at the top end of Wenceslas Square. The city centre was the site of a street party entitled Thank You That We Can and the celebrations culminated with a Concert for Freedom on Wenceslas Square. Altogether, around 20 marches, demonstrations and happenings took place around the capital. Police were out in force to maintain law and order, but no major incidents were reported.
Speaking at the memorial to the Velvet Revolution on Národní St. Prime Minister Bohuslav Svoboda said democracy needed to be nurtured and protected, which was not always easy. He said some people were disappointed by the present day reality because they faced existential problems and blamed the democratic changes for their present circumstances. In order to win broad support for democracy the state must have a strong social dimension, Mr. Sobotka said. Finance Minister Andrej Babiš said he did not believe freedom and democracy were under threat in the Czech Republic as some people would have the public believe. He highlighted how much had been achieved and said Czechs should think positive and unite in taking these achievements further.
A commemorative gathering highlighting the role of students in defense of freedom and democracy took place at Albertov, a historic site which is linked not only to the Velvet Revolution of 1989 but also to a brutal Nazi crack-down on Czech university students on October 28, 1939. Students and academics were openly critical of the policies of President Zeman. In a joint proclamation they expressed support for the values of liberal democracy and removing barriers among nations.
Civic associations perceive the anniversary as an opportunity to take stock of the country’s post-1989 development and there has been criticism of how far Czechs have strayed from the ideals of the Velvet Revolution and the country’s first post-communist president Václav Havel. Concerts, gatherings and marches took place around the country within so-called Festival of Freedom celebrations; among others, an allegorical procession poking fun at populist leaders. At 7.30 pm thousands of alarm clocks will go off around the country as a wake-up call to the nation that values linked to the Velvet Revolution are being questioned and sacrificed.
The majority of Czechs welcome the changes brought about by the fall of communism in 1989, according to a poll conducted by the STEM agency on the anniversary of the Velvet Revolution. Two thirds of respondents said the changes were worthwhile, although only 38 percent of respondents said the present social environment was significantly better than before 1989. Seventeen percent of respondents said life under communism had been better while 34 percent found it hard to make a comparison. The older generation, people over 45, were more critical of the post-1989 changes, citing job insecurity and security concerns in general. Those who welcomed the changes highlighted the freedom to travel, study abroad, freedom of speech and the chance to engage in public life.
Turkish security forces have arrested two Czech nationals and charged them with terrorist activities in the Kurdish Peoples Protection Unit YPG. Turkish media outlets reported on Thursday that Czech citizens Miroslav Farkas, known by the code name Serxwebun Botan, and Marketa Vselichova, coded Zelane Botan, were arrested as they tried to enter the country illegally from Syria. Miroslav Farkas was reported to be a sniper with YPG while Marketa Vselichova was allegedly responsible for logistics and health services, as well as coordinating the arrival of new volunteer terrorists from Europe to Syria. Farkas and Vselichova have spoken openly about assisting the Kurdish militia in its fight against IS militants in the past giving the Czech media several interviews on the subject. The Czech Foreign Ministry is trying to secure their extradition to the Czech Republic.
The chairman of NATO’s Military Committee, Czech Army General Petr Pavel, has said he does not believe US President-elect Donald Trump will follow up on his threat that the United States might abandon its NATO treaty commitments relating to mutual defense and not come to the assistance of NATO members who are not pulling their weight financially. In an interview for the Associated Press General Pavel said Article 5 was such a fundamental part of the treaty binding NATO members that no president “would dare” change it. "I believe this commitment will be met whatever the situation” General Pavel said. He made the statement on the eve of the Halifax International Security Forum, the first major national security conference since Trump’s election.
Friday should bring partly cloudy to overcast skies with rain in places and day temperatures beteween 9 and 13 degrees Celsius.