Petr Pavel sworn in as new Czech president

Retired general Petr Pavel was officially sworn into office as president of the Czech Republic on Thursday. The ceremony, which took place at Prague Castle, is part of a wider programme of inaugural events that will also see the new head of state pray in the Cathedral of Saint Vitus and greet members of the assembled public.

Symbolically closed during the half-day interlude between the end of Miloš Zeman’s term in office on Wednesday night and the inauguration of Czechia’s new head of state, the Giants’ Gate of Prague Castle ceremoniously opened just before noon on Thursday as Petr Pavel and his wife were driven in from Hradčany Square.

It wasn’t the perfect day for standing outside, the sky over Prague was overcast with showers interrupted by brief spells of sunshine. But people could be seen gathering around the premises of the castle already since the morning in the hope of witnessing and perhaps even grabbing a word with the retired general who won the Czech presidential election two months ago with the largest margin since the public vote was put in place.

More than a hundred bikers also drove through the centre of Prague to honour the new president, who is known to be a motorcycling enthusiast, around the time that his car arrived in front of the castle.

Main Gate of Prague Castle | Photo: Barbora Němcová,  Radio Prague International

After a private lunch session attended by both the incoming and outgoing presidents and their wives, the state ceremony began in earnest with the official swearing in of Pavel as Czech head of state.

In it, the new president swore to be loyal to the Czech Republic, uphold its constitution and laws and promised to act in the best interests of the country’s people.

In his subsequent speech, President Pavel also thanked his voters and promised to be a president for all citizens, pledging, in his words, to return “dignity, respect, decency and other values” to the office of head of state.

“You came to the polling stations to say: Enough of chaos. And, to open up the way for being willing to find solutions together. Thanks to you we can contribute to the return of value-driven politics. Thanks to you, truth has prevailed again.”

The ceremony took place in the Vladislav Hall of Prague Castle. The large venue, known for its late-Gothic architecture has served as an important state venue for centuries and was the site for coronations of Bohemian kings before Czechia became a republic.

It was attended by around 800 guests, including members of both chambers of parliament, the now retired presidents Václav Klaus and Miloš Zeman as well as the widow of the deceased first head of state of the Czech Republic, Dagmar Havlová.

Czechia’s new head of state also chose a symbolic gesture to underline the promises made in his speech. Namely, by unveiling the repaired presidential standard that had been taken and cut to pieces by activists, to assembled members of the public who had come to greet him on the third courtyard of Prague Castle.

The standard had been taken down by activists from the group Ztohoven in 2015 and then cut to pieces, replaced by a giant pair of red underpants as a symbol of protest against what they, and parts of Czech society, saw as unworthy behaviour of the then head of state, Miloš Zeman. The red underpants were subsequently burned by Mr. Zeman in a surprise press event.

Pavel told onlookers that the standard will become a part of Prague Castle’s exhibits together with its accompanying story.

“It will soon become a part of the exhibition at Prague Castle together with its story, so that we can be reminded that values are something that can quickly be lost. That we must protect them to make sure they don’t get lost like this standard did for a short while. My wife and I will do everything to ensure this and I look forward to your help too, because we won’t manage it alone.”

The new president also pledged to be a president from bellow the castle (“z podhradí) in his opening speech. The wordplay, which is based around the fact that Prague Castle is located on a hill perched above the capital and its inhabitants, was intended to show listeners that he intends to listen more to debates within the public sphere and find solutions to societal issues.

Leaving the balcony, he then went to lay flowers in front of the statue of Czechoslovakia’s first president, T. G. Masaryk, on Hradcany Square and shook hands with individuals within the crowd that had gathered to see him.

This was followed by a short reception for selected guests within the castle’s Spanish Hall, another extensive ceremonial space that one of the largest castles in the world possesses, whose origins date back to the time of Prague’s eccentric Emperor Rudolph II.

Some experts have remarked that both the powers of the Czech president and the nature of the head of state’s inauguration ceremony echo those of the coronation of a monarch.

Vladislavský Hall | Photo: © City of Prague

These features are especially noticeable in the programme that is planned to take place later in the day. The freshly sworn in president will briefly meet with members of the public on the wider premises of the castle and attend a gathering with selected guests.

Then at around 6pm, he and the first lady will move to the Cathedral of Saint Vitus. Within the spaces of Czechia’s largest and most important church President Pavel will meet with the Archbishop of Prague and other assembled prelates that represent the Ecumenical Council of Churches in the Czech Republic. Those assembled will then attend a joint prayer within the cathedral’s most sacred space – the Chapel of Saint Wenceslas – and the nation’s most prized relic, the skull of Saint Wenceslas, will then be honoured after which another prayer for the country will follow.

Aside from this religious component the cathedral will also serve as the venue for a special accompanying concert directed by one of Czechia’s most accomplished conductors, Jakub Hrůša, who will be leading the Czech Philharmonic and the Prague Philharmonic Choir. They will perform Josef Suk's - Meditation on the Old Czech Chorale 'St. Wenceslas', which is based off one of the oldest Czech church hymns, as well as two pieces from the famous composer Antonín Dvořák, a part of the Saint Ludmila oratorio and Te Deum.

When the new president wakes up on Saturday, it’s possible that he may dedicate some time to reading the mail. His mailbox has already received several letters of congratulations from other heads of state. Among them, King Charles III of the United Kingdom, who wrote that the two countries share a “close partnership” that is rooted in their “shared history” and “commitment to defending liberty and democracy.”

Petr Pavel | Photo: René Volfík,
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