The Czech Republic capped off celebrations of the 100th anniversary of Czechoslovakia’s founding on Sunday with displays of fireworks – and firepower – after a weekend packed full of parades, memorial acts, speeches and concerts, as well as a dazzling video mapping on the façade of the newly re-opened National Museum atop Prague’s iconic Wenceslas Square.
Let’s start with the climax – the fireworks display atop Letná Hill overlooking the historic Prague centre. It began precisely at 19:18, military time – symbolizing the year of the birth of Czechoslovakia – and was dominated by the national colours – blue, red and white. The narrated display, under the theme “Our Common Century”, highlighted the nation’s historical and cultural milestones, as well as its natural beauties and sporting achievements, accompanied by excerpts from Czech classics such as Bedřich Smetana’s Má Vlast (My Country).
Earlier in the day, the biggest military parade in this country’s modern history took place with the appropriate pomp and circumstance. In a unique gesture, it not only included hundreds of professional soldiers from elite Czech units but also troops from Slovakia, the UK, France, Italy, and the US – all NATO allies.
From a special tribune, Czech President Miloš Zeman viewed the procession alongside his Slovak counterpart, Andrej Kiska, along with top officials from both countries, members of the diplomatic corps, and visiting foreign dignitaries, such as US Secretary of Defence James Mattis.
Despite heavy rain, a flyby of fighter jets and helicopters went ahead, streaking the sky in the national colours, as crowds of spectators braved the downpour to cheer on the mighty procession of tanks, armoured vehicles, and artillery down Evropská Street, formerly named after Vladimir Lenin.
Presidents Zeman and Kiska, paying homage to those who had laid down their lives for the former Czechoslovakia, earlier took part in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Vítkov Memorial, along with their respective prime ministers, Andrej Babiš and Peter Pellegrini.
Shortly after, Zeman appointed new army and police generals. And in a ceremony later on Sunday evening at Prague Castle, the Czech president also handed out state distinctions to 41 people, including several generals and a First Republic prime minister honoured in memoriam.
He began his speech by honouring three soldiers killed in Afghanistan this summer, who Zeman said had died fighting terrorists determined to destroy hundreds of years of European civilisation – echoing comments he had made at the military parade earlier.
He called on the nation to exemplify the soldiers’ courage so they would
not have died in vain, and also paid tribute to those who had fought for
freedom in other ways, such as an honouree Lenka Procházková, a Charter
77 signatory, and former Czechoslovak Radio chief Karel
Lánský, who kept broadcasts going during the Soviet-led invasion in 1968.