November 17 is Struggle for Freedom and Democracy Day in the Czech Republic

November 17 is Struggle for Freedom and Democracy Day in the Czech Republic

As the past 100 years of Czech (and Slovak) history have shown, freedom and democracy don’t come easy.

After gaining independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire following WWI, Czechoslovakia was officially formed on October 28, 1918.

But following 20 years of independence, the country was occupied by Nazi forces in 1938 until being liberated in 1945, a time the Czech lands officially spent as the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.

On November 17, 1939, Nazi forces stormed Czech Universities including Charles University in Prague after organized demonstrations following the killings of student Jan Opletal and worker Václav Sedláček.

Nine Czech students and professors were executed on the 17th, and 1,200 were sent to concentration camps.

As soon as the following year, Czechoslovak Army forces in England commemorated the November 17 tragedy with a remembrance. And in the years following the war, the date became a national holiday in Czechoslovakia and other countries known as International Students’ Day.

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In 1948, communists seized control of the country in a coup d’état, and it become the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic for the next 40 years.

But student demonstrations in Prague and elsewhere on November 17, 1989 sparked the Velvet Revolution and the end of the Soviet era in Czechoslovakia.

Now, November 17 is a national holiday in both the Czech Republic and Slovakia known as Struggle for Freedom and Democracy Day.

It commemorates two student demonstrations that bookend 50 years that Czechoslovakia spent (mostly) under the thumb of foreign powers.

Today in Prague, a street festival on Národní will celebrate 2018’s Struggle for Freedom and Democracy Day. Demonstrations are also planned against Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, who has been called to resign after another scandal involving allegations by his son.

Lucas Němec

Prague-based author with two decades experience living in and writing about the Czech Republic for local and international sites and publications. Nakládaný hermelín enthusiast and frequent Club-Mate drinker.

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