Anti-Zeman protests dominate revolution anniversary celebrations

Photo: CTK

Events on Monday marking the 25th anniversary of the start of the Velvet Revolution were overshadowed by large protests against the Czech president, Miloš Zeman. At one event in Prague, eggs were thrown at the head of state in front of several of his peers from the region.

Photo: CTK
A large crowd turned out at Prague’s Národní St. at 11 AM on Monday for a demonstration against the Czech president, Miloš Zeman, with thousands whistling and holding up red cards.

The organiser of the protest said it had been aimed at highlighting the president’s criticism of anti-Russian sanctions and warm relations with China.

Many participants were also incensed by a recent expletive dotted radio interview, while a statement seeming to play down the violence seen on the first day of the Velvet Revolution similarly raised hackles.

Mr. Zeman did not experience the red card protest at first hand, having broken with the tradition of presidents laying wreathes every November 17 at a memorial where the revolution was sparked on Národní St.

Miloš Zeman,  photo: CTK
But in mid-afternoon he did appear before the public at the spot from which a historic student march took off on that day in 1989. He was there for a plaque unveiling ceremony also attended by the presidents of Germany, Slovakia, Poland and Hungary.

It was there the protests reached a climax, with catcalls and chants demanding Mr. Zeman’s resignation. Bodyguards had to unfurl umbrellas to block eggs, sandwiches and other missiles being hurled in his direction.

Flanked by the other heads of state, the Czech president was defiant, telling the hostile crowd he wasn’t scared of them – just as he had not been scared to demonstrate on November 17, 1989.

“I don’t know which of you were on Národní St. I was. It is cowardice on the part of those who were not there to come here and throw eggs and other items now.”

During subsequent speeches by the other presidents the crowd calmed down and were respectful and enthusiastic. However, when Mr. Zeman went to unveil the plaque there were chants of “don’t touch it”, using the informal imperative.

Joachim Gauck,  photo: CTK
The Czech president’s office later said that Germany’s Joachim Gauck had been “shaken” by the missile throwing. However, the German Embassy issued a statement saying he had only been hit by eggshells and had taken the whole thing in good humour.

Other reactions have been mixed. Some have described the protestors’ behavior as inappropriate, though several commentators have pointed out that they were making use of the freedom fought for 25 years previously.