Plaque unveiled on Nerudova street to commemorate 1948 student march

Placa conmemorativa en la calle Neruda, foto: CTK

Tuesday is the fifty-fifth anniversary of what the Communists called Victorious February. On the 25th February 1948, the Communist Party chief and hardline Stalinist, Klement Gottwald, announced to ecstatic crowds on Prague's Wenceslas Square that Czechoslovakia's government had resigned, and that his Communists were now in power. This was the last nail in the coffin of Czechoslovakia's fragile post-war democracy, and the start of forty years of hardline communism. A service to mark one of the bleakest anniversaries in modern Czech history was held on Tuesday morning at the Church of the Virgin Mary in Prague's Nerudova Street, and a little further up the same street a memorial plaque was unveiled. This was the spot where the police had used force to turn back a march by non-communist students. The students had been making their way up to Prague Castle to express their support for President Edvard Benes, the last hope for democracy. The suppression of the march was a taste of things to come. Four months later President Benes was succeeded by one of the most brutal post-war Communist dictators, Klement Gottwald. Dita Asiedu brings this report from the ceremony:

Ceremony in Prague's Nerudova Street, photo: CTK
I am currently on Prague's Nerudova street, surrounded by over a hundred people singing the Czech national anthem in commemoration of the victims of communism. A plaque was unveiled at the top of the street to honour and remember the student march fifty-five years ago. Just before the ceremony began, I spoke to one of the brave young men who took part in the protest:

"Today is an emotional day for me as this is a place that I will always remember because of the experience that I had. My friend was beaten up badly here during the demonstration and had to flee to Canada afterwards. I always think of him on this day. I myself was here although I was not a student but worked as a soldier a few metres away."

The Chairman of the Senate, Petr Pithart, also came to the ceremony:

"The whole story was nearly forbidden in recent decades and this gathering is part of our efforts to remember all events relating to the Prague coup d'etat in February 1948. Part of it was the demonstration of students. There were many marches across Prague at the time but this one was completely omitted from our history for many decades. This ceremony is to for ever remind us of these young and brave men and women."

Prague, the 25th February 1948
Why do you think did it take so long?

"I'm afraid that Czechs are now not open to discuss this painful aspect of their history. It will be up to the future generation. That is normal. We are not the only nation in Europe, which has postponed the crucial debate about the past. So, I am not impatient and not terribly disappointed."

You've just expressed hope in the future generation. Over the years, the number of people who have actually taken part in events such as this one today has decreased...

"The will to discuss even the most tragic aspect of our history is approaching in waves. I am sure of that. The wave of deep interest is approaching. Now is a time of oblivion but you can be sure that it's not for ever."