Academics denounce ‘hijacked’ anniversary as students barred from Albertov site

Students were denied access to Albertov, November 17, 2015, photo: CTK

Emotions are running high following Tuesday’ anti-Islamic demonstration at Prague’s Albertov, held on the 26th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution. Academics from Charles University have strongly criticized the fact that students were denied access to the historic site because of a political gathering.

Students were denied access to Albertov,  November 17,  2015,  photo: CTK
In a statement issued a few days ahead of the public holiday, the Rector of Charles University along with the deans of its faculties located at Albertov in Prague warned against attempts to hijack the anniversary by people promoting hatred and intolerance. They reminded the public that it was a gathering of students at Albertov that actually triggered the Velvet Revolution 26 years ago.

November 17 also commemorates the violent suppression of protests by Czech university students on 28 October 1939, resulting in nine students being executed on 17 November and over a thousand being sent to concentration camps. It was the 50th anniversary of these events that sparked the demonstrations in November 1989.

Twenty-six years later, however, students wanting to pay homage to the victims, were denied access to the historic site. Jan Kříž, a student of the Faculty of Science and a member of the faculty’s Academic Senate, was among those who wanted to lay flowers and lights candles at a commemorative plaque at Albertov on Tuesday:

“We knew that there was to be a demonstration and a few days ahead of the event we called on our students and everybody else to be really calm and only to bring flowers. So we tried really hard to pay tribute as peacefully as possible, but we really didn’t expect that someone would not allow us to do that.”

Supporters of Bloc Against Islam,  Albertov,  November 17,  2015,  photo: CTK
Although the police argued that the students had been denied access for security reasons, Mr Kříž finds this hard to believe. He points out that while they were not let into the cordoned-off area, the president’s supporters were allowed inside just a few minutes later. He also argues that the initiative Bloc Against Islam had no right to block the spot in the first place:

“I don’t think that any particular party should be allowed to have a demonstration there. It should be accessible to anyone who wants to pay tribute, especially on a day such as this. It should be done in peace, in the name of liberty and not in the name of hate speeches or whatever the group intended to do there.”

In his statement reacting to Tuesday’s events, the dean of the Faculty of Sciences, Bohuslav Gaš, said that students and their teachers actually lost their freedom at Albertov this year, and warned that such a thing must never be allowed to happen again.