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06/12/2016

Czechs commemorate the Velvet Revolution with alarm clocks

Central Europe

Czechs commemorate the Velvet Revolution with alarm clocks

Not celebrating: Miloš Zeman. [Czech Radio]

In the Czech Republic, tensions stirred by President Miloš Zeman, who calls himself “the Czech Trump”, are making themselves felt. EurActiv Czech Republic reports.

On Thursday afternoon (17 November), the sound of alarm clocks filled Wenceslas Square, one of the most famous spots in Prague, which resounded with ringing keys during the Velvet Revolution twenty-seven years ago.

The alarm should have been a wake-up call for Czech civil society to fight for democratic values and principles, according to the organizers of the event.

The anniversary of the student demonstration against Nazi occupation in November 1939, and the November 1989 protest that started the Velvet Revolution has traditionally been a date for various demonstrations.

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But in recent years, many Czechs have felt that such a wake-up call is needed because democratic values have become endangered with the rise of nationalism and populism in Europe.

Islam in the Czech Republic?

On Thursday, not only was history commemorated. Public events intended to express aversion towards Islam took place, as well as demonstrations against nationalism and racism. One could say it is slightly ridiculous in a country with less than four thousand professed Muslims. But this is what the fear unleashed by the debates on migration crisis has done to Czech society.

On the popular Letná Plain, supporters of President Miloš Zeman got together, to promote a petition for a ban on Sharia law from being exercised in the Czech Republic.

In 2015, Zeman made an appearance at Albertov district – the place where the students’ demonstration started in 1989 – sharing the same stage with a leader of an anti-Islamic and nationalist movement.

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The Czech Republic’s ruling party might consider forming a government with the Communist Party (KSCM) next year, the prime minister told a newspaper on Wednesday (5 October), contemplating an alliance that would break a 27-year-old taboo.

Bohuslav Sobotka told daily Hospodarske Noviny his Social Democrats did not rule out joining forces with the KSCM after …

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This year, the celebration at Albertov passed without incident, with representatives of the academic community giving their speeches, and the President stayed at his residence in Lány. But the tension stoked by the “the Czech Trump” remains apparent.

Divided society

At the end of October – on the occasion of another public holiday – a gathering of thousands took place in the Old Town Square in Prague, calling for the protection of democracy in the Czech Republic. The demonstration was not aimed directly at Zeman, but most of the people in the crowd were probably critics of the current president who has presented himself as pro-Russian and pro-Chinese for a long time now.

Yesterday, a smaller, openly anti-Zeman demonstration, took place in Prague, calling for a clear orientation of the Czech Republic to the Western, democratic world.

Some people could feel it was the last opportunity to air their criticisms of Zeman, after a group of 60 members of the 200-seat Chamber of Deputies proposed a law that would make it possible to assess a “defamation” of the president as a criminal act.

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Zeman’s controversial behaviour is dividing Czech society, and his unconventional press officer, Jiří Ovčáček, skillfully stirs up disagreement, regularly offending those who are not in Zeman’s camp.

Partly this is an artificial division, exploited by politicians who wish to gain support and voters. But the roots of the misunderstanding lie in the dissatisfaction of socially weaker groups who mistrust the country’s political and intellectual elites.

It is, therefore, crucial what Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said during the celebrations on Thursday: many people are not satisfied with the democratic establishment because of the quality of their lives.

According to Sobotka, it is important that the democratic state contains also a social dimension, and guarantee a dignified life and justice for all.

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