Awards-scandal threatens to blight official celebrations of Czechoslovak Independence Day

George Brady, photo: CTK

A scandal has broken out in connection with Friday’s award-giving ceremony at Prague Castle, that threatens to blight the official celebrations of Czechoslovak Independence Day on October 28. Culture Minister Daniel Herman has accused the president of having threatened him that, if he met with the Dalai Lama, his uncle, Auschwitz survivor George Brady, would be taken off the nominees’ list for a state award. The claim –and Brady’s absence on the list - have sparked widespread criticism and demands for an explanation.

George Brady, photo: CTK
The scandal surrounding the awards ceremony at Prague Castle broke on Friday when the news site aktualne.cz wrote that George Brady, a Terezín and Auschwitz survivor, who was up for a nomination had been crossed off the list at the last minute because his nephew Culture Minister Daniel Herman had angered the president by meeting with the Dalai Lama against his wishes. Within hours Herman himself confirmed the allegations on Czech Television.

“The president himself told me that if I meet with the Dalai Lama, my uncle will be taken off the awards list. And that is exactly what happened.”

The words exploded like a bombshell on the Czech political scene. Politicians across the board demanded an explanation but, apart from isolated statements on Twitter by the president’s spokesman in which he accused the culture minister of having tarnished the holiday with his petty tales, no official statement was released.Later Czech Television reported that in a private conversation with Deputy Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, President Zeman had admitted asking the culture minister not to meet with the Dalai Lama, but denied having linked the issue with an award for George Brady.

Within hours politicians started declining invitations to the event at Prague Castle. The leaderships of the Christian Democratic Party, ANO and the Civic Democrats are to meet this week to discuss how best to proceed under the circumstances. The Speaker of the lower house Jan Hamáček of the Social Democratic Party said that if Mr. Herman’s words were confirmed he would not attend the ceremony. Speaker of the Senate Milan Stěch said that unless the matter was adequately explained and decently resolved he too would stay away from the official celebrations.

Dalai Lama, Daniel Herman, photo: CTK
Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka urged the president to act like a statesman and decorate George Brady because otherwise the celebrations of Czechoslovak Independence Day would turn into “a festival of pettiness and discord”. Deputy Prime Minister Pavel Bělobrádek, echoed the appeal on Monday, saying that George Brady was a deserving candidate and since he had been promised an award it would be honourable to deliver on that promise.

George Brady’s arrival at Prague’s Vaclav Havel Airport on Sunday turned into a media event. The 88-year-old Auschwitz survivor was asked to confirm the story and said he had been informed he was to receive the T.G. Masaryk award by the president’s chief of protocol Jindřich Forejt.

By this time calls for a boycott of the Prague Castle celebrations were growing and opposition politicians were organizing a separate celebration of Czechoslovak Independence Day on Old Town Square. Civic Democrat leader Petr Fiala said the idea of marking the holiday at Prague Castle was unthinkable.

Miloš Zeman, photo: Filip Jandourek
“The president has degraded the public holiday on many previous occasions, but this truly goes beyond everything.”

Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka has attempted to dissuade political leaders from boycotting the official celebrations, saying Czechoslovak Independence Day should unite and not divide the nation, but Prague Castle, on which all eyes now rest, remains silent.