History, politics, culture: what you can do in Czechia on November 17
The full title of this Czech public holiday is Day of Freedom and Democracy and International Student Day, and it commemorates two significant moments in the country's history. What events are taking place for those who want to learn more about this history, enjoy some culture, or simply mark the day?
Struggle for Freedom and Democracy Day on November 17 commemorates not only the start of the Velvet Revolution in 1989, but also the 1939 Nazi storming of the university in Prague following student demonstrations against the occupation of Czechoslovakia, which led to the execution of nine student leaders and over 1200 students being sent to concentration camps.
In fact, the two events are closely interconnected – the peaceful march in 1989 that sparked the Velvet Revolution was initially intended to be simply a memorial march commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1939 student revolt. It only turned into a series of mass protests, demonstrations and strikes which eventually toppled the regime after the authorities tried to suppress the march.
There are around 100 events taking place on the day this year, including a number of memorial events at a few locations around Prague.
If you are looking for something less sombre, there are several music and cultural events taking place, including the Concert for the Future, which will take place from 4.30pm on Wenceslas Square and includes both musical acts and speakers from civil society organisations in its programme. There will also be a street party in Národní třída starting at 10 a.m., which includes a rich programme of performances, concerts, debates and other events.
As in previous years, there will be public readings by actors as part of the “Obývák Václava Havla” (Václav Havel’s Living Room) event, starting at 10.30 a.m. on Václav Havel square. Theatre actors will read excerpts from Havel’s literary and political works, and this year the event is dedicated to Olga Havlová, Havel’s first wife who died in 1996, as this year would have been her 90th birthday.
You can also find some events in English – for example, at 10 a.m. there will be a tour in English led by Dr. Joshua Hayden, a lecturer at the Anglo-American University in Prague, starting at Újezd tram stop and ending at Wenceslas Square. The tour is intended to be an interactive and experiential way to learn about the Velvet Revolution and why it still matters.
And the events are by no means only in Prague – there will also be things happening in dozens of other cities. For example in Brno, there will be a festival on Náměstí Svobody culminating in a traditional lantern parade through the city centre ending on Kraví hora, a park on a hill with a good view of Brno, where students will sing the Czech and Slovak national anthems.