Czechs are marking the 29th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution that triggered the fall of communism in 1989. Public gatherings, concerts, marches and cultural events are taking place around the country in memory of the brutal crack-down on a student demonstration on Prague’s Narodní street that sparked massive public protests against the communist regime and led to the return of democracy in the country after more than four decades of communist oppression.
November 17th also marks the 79th anniversary of brutal Nazi repressions on academic ground in 1939, after students organised a march to commemorate the death of Jan Opletal, a young man killed by the Nazi occupiers. Nine student leaders were murdered by the Nazis and more than 1,000 sent to Sachsenhausen.
From early morning politicians, cultural figures and members of the public laid flowers and lit candles at key sites linked to the events of 1989, such as Národní street 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.
This year’s celebrations of the anniversary are marked by a scandal involving Prime Minister Andrej Babiš who is under massive pressure to resign following his son’s claim that he had been abducted to Crimea so that he could not testify against his father in a case involving EU subsidy fraud.
The prime minister came to Národni street to pay his respects shortly after midnight in order to avoid a show of public anger. When people started coming to the monument in the early morning hours, someone threw the prime minister’s flowers into a litter bin.A wreath sent by President Miloš Zeman and flowers laid by the populist politician Tomio Okamura, head of the Freedom and Direct Democracy Party, were also trashed. The head of the Social Democrats Jan Hamáček, whose party is in coalition with the prime minister’s ANO party, was booed and jeered by the crowd.
The city centre will be the site of a wide range of outdoor events including concert, debates, public readings and theatre performances organized by the Festival of Freedom initiative which is active in 36 Czech cities this year.
Opposition politicians are divided over the reactions of the crowd on Národní street. Opposition Civic Democratic Party leader Petr Fiala told reporters that he understood people’s anger although he himself does not approve of this form of protest. People are not just here to commemorate the anti-communist protest in 1989, they see this as an opportunity to address present-day concerns, he told journalists.
Other opposition politicians also see the anniversary as a memento of the country’s communist past and a reminder that democracy had to be protected and nurtured.
The president’s spokesman Jiří Ovčáček slammed the behaviour of what he labelled ”the rabble” saying they were trashing flowers from a man who had actively fought against the communist regime.
The incident of the trashed flowers in being investigated by the police.
Thousands of protesters called for PM Andrej Babiš’s resignation on Old Town Square on the 29th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution. A protest march against Prime Minister Andrej Babiš and President Miloš Zeman that set off from Prague Castle swelled to several thousand people as it reached its destination on Old Town Square.
The march titled “In support of a civilized Czech Republic“ was organized by the civic association A Million Moments for Democracy. Protesters said the president and prime minister were lowering the political culture in the country and argued that in the civilized world a person charged with EU subsidy fraud could never serve as prime minister. Participants held up banners criticizing and ridiculing the two top politicians.
Prime Minister Andrej Babiš is reported to have flown to Switzerland to meet with his son, Andrej Babiš Jr. who told journalists this week that he had been forcibly held in Crimea because his father wanted him out of the way during the investigation into the Storks Nest affair.
The prime minister wrote on Facebook that he had gone to Narodní street to pay his respects during the night hours due to the fact that he had left for Switzerland early in the morning to see his son, whom he had not seen in a year.
The prime minister earlier told journalists that his son had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, both here and in Switzerland, and slammed Seznam’s investigative reporters for abusing “a very sick man“ in a smear campaign intended to drive him out of politics.
The majority of Czechs, around 70 percent, believe that Prime Minister Andrej Babiš divides society, has a conflict of interest and influences the media, according to the outcome of a flash poll conducted by the Median agency.
At the same time the majority of people also say that the prime minister has improved the country’s economy, he is credited with better tax collection and jump-starting investments.
Sunday will be clear to partly cloudy with day temperatures between 2 and 6 degrees Celsius.