Many different November 17 demonstrations, worlds apart

Photo: CTK

There were supposed to have been around 17 demonstrations in Prague on the November 17 state holiday to commemorate the start of the students’ protest that sparked the Velvet Revolution and the fall of Communism.

Wenceslas Square, November 17, 2015, photo: CTK
I passed one of them at the top of Wenceslas Square and I hope I was not counted as one of the 500 or more participants. It’s not always easy to say sometimes who are the participants and who are the casual passers by at such events. But it was pretty clear on this occasion that many were fully committed participants in one of a series of anti-immigrant rallies being held on the day.

There were a splash of Neo-Nazis from the Workers' Party, a lot of banners opposing the Islamisation of Europe, with one middle-aged woman carryied a placard : “Immigrants: Welcome to Hell.”

I’d just come from Narodní Trida, the usual place of homage to the 1989 Velvet Revolution and earlier heroes, where a long and silent line waited to lay candles or flowers on the plaque that commemorates the 1989 police violence on the street that protests, strikes, and final overthrow of Communism a few weeks later. There, there was a carnival atmosphere with large puppets poking fun at Czech head of state Miloš Zeman, Vladimir Putin, and other targets. The places were 10 minutes apart, but worlds away.

Maybe the many demonstrations are a sign of progress, but the anti-immigrants borrowing of a song by Czech musician Karel Kryl, a dissident musician who eventually emigrated to West Germany, just seemed incongruous.

Národní třída, photo: Martina Schneibergová
I had not intended to pass by any demonstrations at all on Tuesday and had vaguely pondered the idea of a bike ride through Prague. But the cycle tyres were flat and the pump was at the office thanks to a previous bike ride there earlier in the Autumn. Added to that, there was hesitant rain and a shy sun.

So, I decided instead in the morning to tour the historical green patch on my doorstep, Vyšehrad. I haven’t been there for a few months but whatever the weather, the views of Prague are always spectacular. The ancient fortress sort of juts out into the Vltava river and from some angles it looks like it’s on collision course before veering away.

The river was calm, brushed by a slight wind, with only the odd canoe and two traditional flat bottomed fishing boats down below the fortress cliff. At least one of these flat bottomed boats always seems to be there with the fisherman hunched up inside.

In the Vyšehrad grounds there were a few dog walkers, joggers, one or two tourists, and that was about it. That’s a big contrast with the summer when the grounds are a target for tourists and Prague citizens alike.

On such a mournful day, I decided to take in the famous Vyšehrad cemetary as well. This is where most of the Czech great and good end up, although I suspect there might be an intruder or two because I once saw a tomb for sale on the Internet. I am not sure how that would have worked out in practice since I am sure there is a screening process for who gets into the hallowed space.

Vyšehrad cemetary, photo: Kristýna Maková
Actually, I have some doubts about how much free space there is for new Czech heroes there. I spotted a few new graves, for example, one to world famous architect Jan Kaplický, but I suspect that his illustrious family predecessors were already there before he was added. Most of the great and good belong to the nineteenth and early 20th centuries, and if you don’t know who they are the names sound familiar from the Prague streets that have been named after them.

So the rather sombre thought I took with me on the rest of my November 17 walk was ‘Are there no more heroes any more, or if there are, where will their final resting place be?’