After attending commemorations in Prague earlier on Sunday, Czech Prime
Minister Andrej Babiš flew to Slovakia to honour the victims of communism.
The ceremony took place at the Freedom Gate memorial near the Slovak castle
of Děvín by the border with Austria, where many died while trying to
cross the tightly guarded border with the West during the Cold War.
Mr. Babiš laid a wreath at the memorial and said that it was important that Czechs and Slovaks were celebrating 30 years since gaining freedom and democracy. Above all, he stressed the importance of free elections, something, that he said was the most important goal of the Civic Forum and its Slovak equivalent, Public against violence, at the time.
His Slovak counterpart Peter Pellegrini said that it is precisely the Freedom Gate memorial which shows the tragic nature of the communist regime.
On Sunday, at exactly 17.11 (5.11pm Central European Time), chruch bells
across the country rang out to honour the victims of communist era
persecution and those who stood up to it. At the same time, many of the
country's public and private radio stations played the song Modlitba
pro Martu (A Prayer for Marta), which many Czechs see as one of the anthems
of the revolution.
The song was sung by Marta Kubišová, a singer known for her resistance to the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, who was banned from performing by the regime from 1970 until 1989, when she sang to the public during the revolution. She sang the same song at Saturday's special anniversary concert titled Samet 30 (Velvet 30), finishing her performance with the national anthem.
Around 10,000 people recreated the route taken by demonstrators on November 17, 1989 in Prague this Sunday afternoon. The march, which is organised by students from Charles University, set out from Albertov and headed towards Národní třída, the site of the brutal crackdown on demonstrators by members of the police, which sparked the Velvet Revolution.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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