Czechs on Tuesday began to mark the 20th anniversary of the start of the Velvet Revolution with a series of commemorative events, exhibitions and concerts across the country. In Prague alone around 20 special events are being staged on November 17. Czech television will during the afternoon and early evening recreate the events surrounding the students’ march in Prague whose brutal suppression sparked the civic protests that were to topple the Communist regime.
Around 4,500 people took part in a march retracing the students’ steps 20 years ago. The event organised by the civic association Opona will end in Narodní třída with speeches and a concert. Speakers will include Chinese journalist Kao Ju and Russian human rights activist Oleg Orlov. The students’ demonstration of 1989 had been authorised by the authorities to mark international students’ day and the martyrdom of Jan Opletal and other students during the Nazi occupation of the country 50 years earlier.
Prime Minister Jan Fischer warned at a commemorative conference on Tuesday of the dangers of a dysfunctional democracy. He said that the Czech Republic had all the institutional requirements of a free and functioning democracy but citizens still had to play their part in making it work properly. The Prime Minister warned that the rise in violence, selfishness, xenophobia, racism and disconnection from society all contributed to a dysfunctional democracy. The right institutions were just packaging without the parallel moral contribution from citizens, he added.
Czech president Václav Klaus underlined the links between the events of 1989 and the more tragic events of 1939 during a visit to Prague’s Hlávkova students’ hall of residence on Tuesday. Nazi authorities rounded up around 1,200 students and executed nine of them on November 17, 1939. All Czech universities and centres of learning were closed. The clamp down was a reaction to demonstrations that had followed the death of one student, Jan Opletal.
President Klaus pointed out that the commemoration of the first event led to the second and the Velvet Revolution. He warned that proponents of Nazi and Communist ideologies still sought to impose their ideas at any price. He was later heckled when he laid a wreath at the plaque commemorating the police attack on students in 1989.
Police detained 36 people following a demonstration by right-wing extremists on Tuesday. Around 300 people took part mid-day in the unofficial demonstration near Prague’s National Theatre including the chairman of the extreme right-wing Workers’ Party, Tomáš Vandas. Police moved on the demonstration which threatened to clash with events planned to mark the anniversary of the start of the Velvet Revolution. Scuffles laetr broke out near the river at Výton after police blocked the extremists from re-entering Narodní třída.
Around three-fifths of Czechs believe that life is now better than it was before the revolution that toppled the Communist regime 20 years ago. A survey by the STEM polling agency found 58 percent of respondents believed the Velvet Revolution had resulted in a change for the better. But 23 percent believed life was better under communism and 19 percent saw little difference between life before and following the Velvet Revolution. Organisers of the survey say that the proportion of around half of respondents having mixed views of the momentous change has hardly moved since 2001. Most of those who see no improvement are aged over 60.
The Czech Republic’s corruption performance has worsened according to the 2009 annual evaluation made by the anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International. It placed the Czech Republic joint 52 alongside Lithuania in a global ranking of 180 countries corruption performance. This is a drop from the 2008 position of 45. The watchdog blamed political instability combined with a low priority for reform and anti-corruption measures for the deterioration.
Health minister Dana Jurásková has said that schools can close for a week if between 15 and 20 percent of pupils are affected by flu. The minister added that around 95,000 doses of vaccine against swine flu should be available in the next days. A further around 100,000 should follow by the end of the year, she added. Around half of the first batch of vaccine would be sent to doctors so the chronically sick could be treated with the rest going to vaccination centres for treatment of priority groups such as patients on dialysis and pregnant women. The minister said the number of Czechs infected by swine flu is not clear. So far three people have died from the virus.
Hradec Králové‛s faculty hospital has banned visits until further notice on the grounds that they could infect patients with flu. The 1,500 bed facility is one of the biggest in the country. The ban also applies to local hospitals in the region. The steps have been taken following warnings that the swine flu epidemic is likely to hit the Czech Republic from the middle of December.
Czech Davis Cup team manager Jaroslav Navrátil has said that the Spanish line-up for the final against the Czech Republic was predictable. His Spanish counterpart named Rafael Nadal, Fernando Verdasco, David Ferrer and Feliciano Lopez in the squad to take on the Czechs in Barcelona from December 4-6. Navrátil said everyone knew that Nadal, who has been plagued recently by injuries, wanted to play. The Czech team for the final is Radek Štěpánek, Tomáš Berdzch, Lukáš Dlouhý and Jan Hájek.
The coming days will be sunny with occasional showers and maximum daytime temperatures of 12 degrees Celsius.