Biggest military parade since 1989 commemorates VE Day in Prague


On Sunday, Czechs are marking VE Day - the 60th anniversary of the surrender of Nazi Germany. On this cold and windy day, thousands gathered on Prague's Letna Plain, a huge open park just to the east of the Castle, to watch a unique military parade.

Photo: CTK
Prague's Letna Plain has not seen so many people since 1989. People of all generations came to watch the parade that featured both historical and modern technology and machinery.

Tanks and armoured vehicles in camouflage colours paraded and units in historical uniforms marched past, saluting crisply to the guests on the grandstand. Among the guests of honour were many war veterans, the Czech Defence Minister, Karel Kuehnl and as the supreme commander of the Czech Armed Forces, also President Vaclav Klaus.

Around 1,100 people, 250 vehicles and 9 horses filed past on Letna Plain in what was the biggest military parade in the Czech Republic since 1989. Besides the land forces, the crowds could watch a fly-past of Czech helicopters, two types of Czech-made subsonic fighters and for the first time ever - a couple of brand new Jas-39 Gripen fighter jets that will gradually replace an aging fleet of Soviet Migs.

In the historical part of the parade people could see Czechoslovak units fighting in foreign legions during the First World War, the army of independent Czechoslovakia before the Second World War, then the Czechoslovak troops who fought during the Second World War in Britain, Russia and Africa; and also the Allies' armies - the Red Army and the US army as well as Polish and Romanian troops.

Finally, Czech police units marched past, followed by Czech veterans of the Gulf War as well as UN missions in the former Yugoslavia and participants of operation Enduring Freedom. The parade was concluded by Czech Tatra trucks, traditional Czech military vehicles. All the machinery remains on display on Letna Plain for the rest of Sunday where it will be admired especially by children, such as this young boy.

"It was really nice, I liked the tanks, both American and Czech."

His little brother was particularly thrilled by the supersonic jets.

"The fighter jets at the end were the best."

Photo: CTK
I also spoke to two friends, an American and a Czech, who had watched Sunday's parade.

Young American: "I thought it was beautiful. It was very nice to see everyone come together."

Do you think that these things should take place more often?

Young American: "Yes, because I believe we should appreciate the people that were there before they disappear because they are dying at a very high rate. So while we can appreciate them, we should."

And which part of the parade did you enjoy most?

Jas-39 Gripen, photo: CTK
Young America: "The tanks - that's what I did in the Marine Corps, so I'm very partial."

And how about you - what did you think of today's parade?

Young Czech: "I think the parade was great, I enjoyed it very much. I especially enjoyed the tanks."

And did you enjoy the helicopters and the fighter jets?

Young Czech: "Of course, I like the Gripens."

Photo: CTK
You look very young, did you ever see anything like that before?

Young Czech: "Yes, maybe two years ago, I saw something similar, it was in Pilsen. But I think this event is much better."i

And do you think these things should take place more often?

Young Czech: "Yes, of course, because especially the young people have to know more about history - so I think - yes."

Although Sunday's military parade took place on exactly the same spot as communist parades before 1989, the organisers of Sunday's event say there is one important difference. While communist parades were demonstrations of power, the principal purpose of Sunday's file-past was to commemorate all those who fell to liberate Europe from Nazism 60 years ago.