On the occasion of Czechoslovak Independence Day President Milos Zeman
awarded high state distinctions to 30 personalities from different walks of
life. Among those awarded the Order of the White Lion, the country’s
highest state distinction, were WWII veteran general Jaroslav Klemeš,
Archbishop of Prague, Cardinal Domink Duka and former EU commissioner
Günter Verheugen. The Czech ambassador to Syria Eva Filipi, film director
Juraj Jakubisko and singer Daniel Hůlka were among those who received a
medal for merit.
The ceremony at Prague’s Castle’s historic Vladislav Hall was overshadowed by controversy. Many politicians, academics and cultural figures boycotted the ceremony in a show of solidarity with Holocaust survivor George Brady,who was reportedly crossed off the list of nominees after his nephew, Culture Minister Daniel Herman met with the Dalai Lama against the president’s wishes. The Office of the President has denied the allegations.
Several thousand people, among them two government ministers, members of right wing opposition parties, cultural and academic figures and church representatives attended a separate celebration of Czechoslovak Independence Day on Prague’s Old Town Square. Many of the speakers stressed the need to defend democracy in the country and not remain passive to developments such as the joint proclamation of the country’s senior officials with respect to China during a visit to Prague by the Dalai Lama. A guest of honour at the celebrations was Holocaust survivor George Brady who received an academic award from Palacký University in Olomouc in the course of the evening.
Leading cultural figures have called on the public to take part in protest gatherings in support of democracy. In a proclamation issued on the occasion of Czechoslovak Independence Day, several dozen actors, singers and writers criticized the president and government for its "submissive foreign policy" in relation to China saying that the country’s leaders do not have a mandate to turn the helm of the country eastward. They urge the head of state to stop spreading lies and apologize for his behavior. The signatories include the president of the Karlovy Vary Film Festival, Jiří Bartoška, singer Vojtěch Dyk, head of the drama ensemble at the National Theatre, Michal Dočekal, and journalist Karel Steigerwald, among others.
The Office of the President does not need to apologize for comments the president made about journalist Ferdinand Peroutka until the Supreme Court rules on the appellate complaint lodged by the Office of the President regarding the verdict. Czech Radio reported on Friday that the Supreme Court had postponed the deadline for an apology until it ruled on the complaint filed by Prague Castle. The ruling came shortly after the Office of the President was ordered to pay 100,000 crowns for failing to apologize.
In an address on Czechoslovak Independence Day, the former president Václav Klaus stressed the need to defend and protect the sovereign Czech state in connection with the migrant crisis, which he said presented a threat to the whole European Continent. Uncontrolled mass migration threatens the existence of Europe such as we know it and want it, Mr. Klaus said, adding that mass migration would radically alter the national, ethnic, and cultural character of Europe and threaten the traditional values it is built on.
A number of institutions opened their doors to the public on the occasion of the 98th anniversary of the founding of Czechoslovakia. The Karel Kramář villa, the official residence of Czech prime ministers, offered guided tours of the villa with its 56 rooms built in 1915. The villa was home to the first Czechoslovak prime minister Karel Kramář and his wife Naděžda. People could also visit the premises of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate including the assembly halls which are usually off limits.
Rectors and students from universities around the country assembled at the statue of T.G. Masaryk on Hradčany Square on Friday to mark the 98th anniversary of the founding of Czechoslovakia and pay their respects to the country’s first president. The Czech Association of Rectors has said its members would not be attending the official celebrations at Prague Castle on Friday evening in protest against President Zeman’s policies. Representatives of student organizations expressed support for the decision. The ceremony was also attended by the president of the Czech Academy of Sciences, Jiří Drahoš, who said the academic world must stick together and confirmed that academics would also stay away from the event. Many students and academics are expected to take part in the alternate celebrations which are to be held on Old Town Square.
Commercial TV broadcaster Prima screened the original version of Jan Kraus’ talk show on Thursday evening following accusations of censorship. The program, which was originally scheduled to go out on Wednesday night, was pulled by managers who cited fears of a possible fine from the state-appointed radio and television watchdog for breaking the set standards of objectivity. The argument was later brushed off by the Council for Radio and Television Broadcasting which said it had ruled earlier that entertainment programs featuring subjective views of guests did not keep to the highest standards of objectivity and balance that might be demanded elsewhere. This particular episode of the Kraus show contained many critical references to the head of state, President Miloš Zeman.
Big stores and supermarkets have been forced to close their doors on the public holiday for the first time this year due to a new law according to which outlets bigger than 200 square meters must remain closed on all big public holidays. According to a poll conducted by the Median agency 65 percent of Czechs do not have a problem with this. The new law means that big stores will no longer be able to serve customers on New Year’s Day, Easter Monday, May 8, September 28, October 28, December 25 or December 26. On December 24 – on the eve of which Czechs traditionally celebrate Christmas – large retailers will have to shut at noon.