Czech government declares Saturday and Sunday days of national mourning

Václav Klaus, photo: CTK

The world is still in shock over Saturday’s tragedy, when 96 passengers, including the Polish president Lech Kaczynski, died in a plane crash near Russia’s Smolensk. The Polish delegation was on its way to mark the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre. In the Czech Republic, the upcoming weekend will be one of national mourning, during which Czechs will commemorate the Polish president and others who died. Sarah Borufka has the story.

Photo: CTK
The Czech government has declared this Saturday and Sunday days of national mourning. At the weekend, the country will commemorate the victims of last Saturday’s crash of a government plane that killed Polish president Lech Kaczynski, his wife and many other members of Poland’s elite. Jan Kohout, the Czech foreign minister, announced the decision on Wednesday.

“The Czech Government is calling on its citizens to hold a minute of silence at noon on Saturday to commemorate the victims. On both days, flags on all government buildings will be drawn to half-mast.”

Jan Kohout,  photo: CTK
Last weekend Václav Klaus, the Czech president, was among the first to express condolences. He then said on Monday that he had lost a close friend in Lech Kaczynski and that the Polish head-of-state, who shared his conservative views, had been his only ally in the fight for the sovereignty of EU nations. A day later, Mr. Klaus signed the book of condolences at Prague’s Polish Embassy. Jan Pastwa is the Polish Ambassador to Prague.

“Yesterday morning Mr. Klaus came to our embassy to sign the book of condolences. The same was done by former president Václav Havel, by several ministers, representatives of the political and cultural life of the Czech Republic, and we have received a number of letters and emails from numerous places throughout the country.”

Václav Klaus will be traveling to Poland to attend both the ceremony commemorating the crash victims – in Warsaw on Saturday – and the funeral of the Polish president and his wife in Krakow on Sunday.

Václav Klaus,  photo: CTK

During this difficult time for Poland, Czech politicians aren’t the only ones marking deep sorrow and showing support. Many Prague residents have placed candles and flowers in front of the Polish embassy. The Polish Ambassador Jan Pastwa again:

“The reaction of the ordinary public together with the top politicians and representatives of the Czech Republic’s elite surprised us very much. From the very beginning, we’ve had flowers and candles laid by our embassy. There’s even been a very long queue inside the embassy of people that want to sign the book of condolences. This shows us that the Czech people are with the Poles in these hard days.”

At the Polish embassy in Prague, the flag will continue to fly at half-mast until Sunday. The book of condolences will remain open to the public until Friday.