Independence Day celebrations in Czechia mark country’s 104th birthday

Traditional ceremony at the Vítkov Memorial

October 28th is Czechoslovak Independence Day, marking the establishment of Czechoslovakia in 1918.  Czechs will commemorate the 104th anniversary of the birth of the Czechoslovak Republic with a host of events, including the traditional ceremony at the Vítkov Memorial, remembrance events for the country’s first president and an award giving ceremony at Prague Castle.

Masaryk’s graveside in Lány  | Photo: Radio Prague International

Czechoslovak Independence Day traditionally starts with a commemorative ceremony at the Vítkov Memorial in Prague attended by the president, government officials, parliament representatives, church dignitaries and cultural figures who lay wreaths at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to pay homage to those who laid down their lives for the country. President Miloš Zeman, who had to miss last year's event due to ill health, has confirmed that he will attend the ceremony this year.

In the course of the day, Czechs around the country remember Czechoslovakia’s first president T.G. Masaryk. Official wreath-laying ceremonies take place at Masaryk’s graveside in Lány and his statue on Prague's Hradčany Square but people also make their way to the hundreds of busts, statues, monuments and plaques dedicated to Czechoslovakia’s co-founder in towns and villages around Czechia to lay flowers and light candles. Often, a live band will play President Masaryk’s favourite song Ach, synku, synku.

Independence Day celebrations at Prague Castle  (2018) | Photo: Filip Jandourek,  Radio Prague International

A ceremonial change-of-guard at Prague Castle at midday traditionally attracts a crowd of onlookers. Meanwhile, inside Prague Castle President Zeman will appoint new army generals. In previous years, Miloš Zeman attended the swearing-in ceremony of army recruits on Hradčany Square on the day of the national holiday. This year, however, the event took place in the barracks in Brno a day earlier.

The Czechoslovak Legionary Community will honour fallen legionnaires on Emauzy Square and in the evening the Prague Symphony Orchestra will perform a Concert for the Republic at the Prague Municipal House.

Traditional ceremony at the Vítkov Memorial | Photo: Tomáš Adamec,  Czech Radio

Unlike last year, however, Prague Castle will not be illuminated in the country’s national colours – white, red and blue, due to the energy-saving measures.

The celebrations will culminate with an award giving ceremony in the Vladislav Hall of Prague Castle. In the past two years, the ceremony had to be put off first because of the Covid pandemic and last year due to President Zeman's health problems. The awards for 2020 and 2021 were thus presented this year on 7 March.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy | Photo: Česká televize,  ČT24

The list of laureates for 2022 is being kept under wraps but it has been officially announced that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will receive the Order of the White Lion, the highest state honour in the Czech Republic, in absentia.

This year’s award ceremony on October 28, will be followed by a reception, which was cancelled in March due to the war in Ukraine. However as in previous years, the ceremony will be marred by political controversies. The majority of government ministers will not be present, either because they failed to receive an invitation from the head of state due to personal animosities or because they will absent themselves in protest of the fact that the president sends out selective invitations to what should be a state occasion.

Meanwhile around the country, people have organized outdoor gatherings, lantern parades and  concerts to celebrate the country’s birthday.

The Sokol association is holding its fourth annual Sokol Run of the Republic in 53 Czech towns, including  a children's route for young runners. Czechs living abroad can also don their running shoes since the run will also take place in selected cities in Europe and the United States.

Several institutions in Czechia will mark the national holiday by opening their normally inaccessible premises to the public. People will be able to visit the seat of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. The government's Liechtenstein and Hrzán Palace will also be open, as will the newly reconstructed Skoda Palace and Clam-Gallas Palace. The town halls in Prague, Liberec and Ostrava will also open their doors to the public.