Two hundred and sixty-two

Czech Republic: Struggle for Freedom and Democracy Day

With the Occupy Movement as the hot topic of the news here in Canada, this holiday is very appropriate.  Struggle for Freedom and Democracy Day commemorates uprisings by Czech students against totalitarian regimes.  (Note: by no means am I saying that the situation in North America is anywhere close to as bad as what happened in the Czech Republic  – just making a broad connection)

A timeline of the history of this important day:

  • Novemember 17 1939 – ten student leaders were executed by the Nazis and 1,100 student demonstrators were sent to concentration camps after anti-occupation student demonstrations.  The Nazis also declared all universities to be closed for three years.
  • 1941 – exiled Czechoslovak government proclaims November 17th to be International Students’ Day.
  • November 17 1989 – fiftieth anniversary of the Nazi horrors.  Students organize a peaceful protest.  The crowd grows increasingly bold and critical of the regime.  Police brutally suppress the protest at National Avenue.  This was the spark to ignite the Velvet Revolution, which led to the end of the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia.
  • 2000 – November 17 declared a state holiday.
  • see and for more details
There are rituals held every year to commemorate this day, including the president laying flowers at the commemorative plaque on National Avenue in Prague.  Anti-government demonstrations are happening this year alongside the more traditional commemorative events.(See the Prague Daily Monitor for some of the events happening this year).  As award-winning Czech journalist Petr Nováček puts it in an article on the Velvet Revolution and Struggle for Freedom and Democracy Day on “Back in 1989, most people in the country were filled with a sense of pride and hope for a better future. Today the opposite is largely true. This government has not won the minds, let alone the hearts or confidence, of the populace.” 

Struggle for Freedom and Democracy Day strikes a chord with me.  As a former student, I am proud that a student protest could incite political change.  I also can’t imagine living in a country where standing up for what you believe in will get you executed.  This still happens many places around the world.  I am forever grateful to have the fortune of being born in a country with freedom of speech.

I also worry about the Occupy Movement.  The Occupiers should continue to voice their opinion, but why not try peaceful protests or rallies – if the tent city isn’t safe, up to fire code, or healthy?  You might find there are a lot of people out there who would support your cause if you were just clear on your message and were physically more in the public eye.  Maybe then the revolution you are looking for could happen.  It has been done before, in way more severe regimes, past and present.

Recap recap

I’m going to pause this section until I’m feeling better and am actually able to celebrate anything that doesn’t involve me in my sweats at home.  I know I was supposed to physically celebrate all these holidays.  And I do emotionally when I write about them.  But, sometimes health comes first.