On Sunday, across the country, Czech politicians and the wider public marked the 30 year anniversary since the brutal crackdown by police on protesters passing through Národní třída in Prague sparked the beginning of the end of communism through the Velvet Revolution.
Leading politicians, including the prime minister, laid down wreaths at the revolution memorial on Národní on Sunday morning. In Prague, the largest celebrations took place in the centre around Národní street and Wenceslas Square, but special programs also took place in other cities and in many of the country's leading arts institutions such as the National Museum and the National Gallery.
At the opening ceremony of a new exhibition on Czech and Slovak history, including the Velvet Revolution, at the National Museum on Sunday, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš gave a speech in which he called the Velvet Revolution the “most important event in modern Czech history”. He also paid tribute to the former dissident and first president of Czechoslovakia after the revolution Václav Havel, admiring his bravery during the pivotal days of 1989. He also reflected on his Communist Party membership before the Velvet Revolution, saying he was “not proud of it” and that he regretted not being as “brave and engaged” as the former president.
Mr. Babiš also expressed his “thanks and humility” towards those who were “brave enough” to go into the streets in November 1989, but also highlighted that he is the democratically elected prime minister. Yesterday, an estimated 300,000 people came onto the streets asking for him to either resign or fire his justice minister and relinquish control over his former company Agrofert, which some believe he still has based on the results of a preliminary EU audit. However, Mr. Babiš denies this and his ANO party is currently far ahead of other parties in the polls.
The prime minister went on to say that Czechs “should be proud of what they have accomplished” and that they are currently living through “the best and most free” period in their 100 year history.
Mr. Babiš also paid tribute to the Poles, saying that it should not be forgotten that they were the first to achieve free elections.
His speech was followed up by the heads of government of Slovakia, Poland and Hungary, who are also attended the event. The President of the German Bundestag Wolfgang Schäuble was also present.
The leaders of the Civic Democrats, Christian Democrats, TOP 09 and the Mayors and Independents, gathered at the grave of the leading figure of the Velvet Revolution and later president Václav Havel in Prague's Vinohrady cemetery on Sunday.
TOP 09 leader Jiří Pospíšil said that the former dissident is a symbol of the return of freedom and democracy to Czechoslovakia, and stressed that Havel was also willing to suffer imprisonment for voicing his ideas.
Aside from honouring the former president, party leaders also commented on Saturday's demonstration against Prime Minister Andrej Babiš. Civic Democrat’s leader Petr Fiala said that he does not expect Mr. Babiš to follow the demands set out by the protesters and that the only way to change the situation was through elections.
At Hlávkova kolej in Prague's Albertov neighbourhood, around 200 people attended the commemoration of the tragic events of autumn 1939, when during an anti-Nazi protest, German occupation units shot and killed the student Jan Opletal and then, on November 17, closed down Czech Universities. The event saw speeches by members of the academic community and politicians including the deputy head of the Czech Senate Milan Štěch of the Social Democrats, who said that the events of November 17 1939 and 1989 are connected by a common strive for freedom and democracy. Charles University rector Tomáš Zima urged those attending to focus on what unites them rather than on divisive issues.
The commemoration was also marked by some attendees booing and whistling during rector Zima’s speech. Dr. Zima has been in the spotlight in recent weeks for his role in establishing the Czech-Chinese Centre at Charles University, where some events seem to have been funded by the Chinese Embassy. The centre was closed earlier this week, but students demonstrating against the rektor and for a greater awareness towards climate change at the university, have vowed to continue occupying its main building until the end of the weekend.
Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš laid down flowers at the Velvet Revolution memorial on Prague's Národní třída on Sunday morning. The act was acompanied by loud whistling and verbal disagreement from onlookers. Flowers have also been laid down by other leading politicians including Minister of Finance Alena Schillerová, Prague Mayor Zdeněk Hřib and Social Democrat leader Jan Hamáček.
The move by the prime minister was not expected. Earlier in the week he had announced that he would give his speech related to the anniversary at the opening of a special exhibition at the National Museum. His public tributes to anniversaries connected with resistance to Communist rule have been repeatedly met with scorn from onlookers in the past years, who highlight the fact that he had been listed as an agent of the Secret Police in Slovak archives.
Josef Hasil, also known as the "King of Šumava" due to his role as a people smuggler for those who were trying to cross the tightly guarded Czechoslovak-German border after the onset of communism, died in the United States on Saturday at the age of 95.
Hasil was a border guard, which enabled him to help persecuted people find a way into West Germany. In 1949 he was exposed and arrested, but managed to escape from jail and serve as an agent for the CIA. He eventually emigrated to the United States.
The man, whose life inspired a number of books and a film adaptation, received the Medal for Bravery from then president Václav Havel in 2001.
Parking zones in the Czech capital will be extended in Prague 5 and 6. Next year, zones will also be extended in Prague 9 and new parts of Prague 4, the Czech News Agency reported on Sunday. Last year, City Hall collected CZK 130 million more in year-on-year terms by charging for parking spaces in districts 1 to 8. Parking fees in the capital amount to CZK 1,200 a year. However, hybrid cars have a lower rate and electric cars can park for free.
Monday will see showers across much of the northern and eastern parts of the Czech Republic, while in the west and south it is expected to be cloudy without rainfall. Temperatures will hover between eight to ten degrees Celsius.
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