Country, president, mark 89th anniversary of founding of Czechoslovakia

Stanislav Hnelicka recieving the Order of the White Lion, photo: CTK

This Sunday marked the 89th anniversary of the founding of independent Czechoslovakia, a holiday on which the Czech president addresses the nation and honours individuals for outstanding service for their country.

Stanislav Hnelicka recieving the Order of the White Lion,  photo: CTK
Sunday, October 28th: Vaclav Klaus marks the founding of Czechoslovakia, his fifth time as the country's president. This year, Mr Klaus' speech was seen by some observers as apt, by others as tamer than expected, although he focussed rather on the "bigger" picture: international issues such as the future of nuclear energy; strong ties between the Czech Republic and the country's neighbours like Slovakia and Poland, transatlantic ties and debate over a US radar base in the Czech Republic and one of the president's trademark issues: sovereignty within the European Union.

Afterwards, a total of 24 Czech men and women were honoured, among them Rudolf Hrubec (in memoriam) who trained Czechoslovak paratroopers in England in World War II. He played a key role in the mission to assassinate the Nazi butcher of Bohemia Reinhard Heydrich. Hrubec himself died in battle in Italy in 1944. He was awarded the country's highest honour, the Order of the White Lion.

Vaclav Klaus and Vaclav Hudecek,  photo: CTK
85-year-old Stanislav Hnelicka, who fought in exile and was wounded at Dunkirk, also received the country's highest recognition.

Others, given the Order of T.G. Masaryk, included Czechs in exile who fought against communism abroad. Medals for Heroism were then given to two Czech military police officers from the rapid-response unit who saved the life of the Czech charge d'affaires in Afghanistan earlier this year when their vehicle was targeted by grenades and machine gun fire.

Seventeen people were given Orders of Merit, among them famous Czech jazzman Jiri Stivin, violinist Vaclav Hudecek, and world-class scholar Dagmar Capkova, known for her work on Czech 17th century thinker Comenius. A little earlier she shared her impressions on receiving an Order of Merit this year:

"To be sincere it was a complete surprise for me: I had no idea until I got a letter from the president's chancellor. The atmosphere at the castle was very festive and very friendly and sincere and I felt quite well. Of course I was very happy and it is a great honour for me. It is also something that will 'expect' further work from me and influence perhaps in Comenius research."

Not honoured on the evening were the Masin brothers, who shot their way out of Czechoslovakia in the 1950s. Their names have repeatedly been put forward by the Czech Senate but are generally seen as too "controversial" to be honoured officially on October 28th.