84th anniversary of Czechoslovak independence

October 28th 2002, marks the 84th anniversary of Czechoslovak independence. Although Czechoslovakia was split into two separate states - the Czech Republic and Slovakia - in the so-called "Velvet Divorce" almost ten years ago, the Czechs, unlike the Slovaks, still celebrate October 28th as a national holiday. Dita Asiedu looks into its history and the importance it has held since 1918:

After the fall of the Austro-Hungarian empire, Czech and Slovak nationalist activists were instrumental in pushing for a separate and independent Czechoslovak state. In fact, a provisional government was already established abroad and recognised by the entente powers a fortnight before October 28th. Czech historian and Charles University professor, Jan Rychlik:

"Czechoslovakia was born as a result of the First World War and there were two factors. The first was a domestic resistance among the Czechs and Slovaks and the resistance of some Czech and Slovak politicians - Professor Tomas Masaryk, Doctor Eduard Benes, and the Slovak astronomer living in France Milan Rostislav Stefanek. The other factor was the decision of the Entente Powers of Great Britain, France, the United States of America (after 1917), and earlier Russia that it's necessary to dismantle the Austro-Hungarian Empire and to set up new states on its ashes. Both of these factors worked together in 1918 and so when the Austro-Hungarian Empire lost the war together with empirical Germany, it was the right time for the national committee in Prague to take power."

In its 84 years of glory, the importance of October 28th went through several significant changes. The first came in 1938, when it ceased to be a national public holiday following the Munich Agreement in which Hitler was appeased by the Great powers with the Sudetenland - a region in Czechoslovakia populated by mostly ethnic Germans. October 28th was only commemorated quietly and peacefully. One year later, however, after the Nazi occupation that incorporated Bohemia and Moravia into the German Reich's protectorate, students' demonstrations arose in Prague. As they were dispersed by the German police, one protester was killed and another was wounded, only to die from his injuries later. On November 17th, during the funeral, fresh demonstrations began, resulting in the closing of all universities by the Germans. From 1939 until the end of the war, October 28th became the symbol of national resistance against German occupation - just as Czechoslovakia was born in 1918, it would be reborn once Germany was defeated. But that was not necessarily the case as after the Second World War, when the Communists rose to power, October 28th was given another significance. It was renamed the "nationalisation of property" day. Mr Rychlik explains:

"In 1945, on the 27th of October, which means on the eve of the anniversary of Independence Day, President Eduard Benes signed the so-called nationalisation decree by which a big part of the heavy industry, banks, insurance companies and all factories with more than five hundred employees were nationalised. This was also a reason why after 1951, the 28th of October started to be celebrated not as Independence Day but as Nationalisation Day. In 1968, on the 27th of October, Czechoslovakia was federalised. Until 1975, it was celebrated as the Day of Relation. Then in 1975, during the period of the so-called normalisation, it was abolished as a public holiday as it was during the Nazi period and restored in 1988 during Perestroika and Glasnost as the Independence Day, which we celebrate until now regardless of the fact that it was a state that ceased to exist on December 31st 1992."

Unlike U.S. citizens on their independence day on July 4th, the Czech Republic has no mass parades and no public celebrations. Whilst the Czech President uses the holiday to award citizens with medals of honour, only a small number of politicians hold public speeches. Ordinary citizens, apart from welcoming the fact that it's a day off work, see it as an opportunity to think of their nation's past, present, and future.