Politicians clash over move to re-name November 17 holiday

Photo: Filip Jandourek

The sometimes incendiary nature of recent Czech history has once again been demonstrated. Lower house of parliament lawmakers have backed a proposal to rename the November 17 holiday which marks the start of the Velvet Revolution in a move which has been interpreted as a victory of sorts for the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSČM).

Helena Válková,  photo: Filip Jandourek
“Those who control the present, control the past and those who control the past control the future,” those words from George Orwell’s dystopia 1984 perhaps go a long way to explaining the furore over the name of a day.

A proposal to add the pre-fix International Students’ Day to the traditional description of the November 17 holiday as The Day of Fighting for Freedom And Democracy was made two years by the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia. It failed.

On Wednesday the same proposal came back, this time though fronted by former minister justice and ANO lawmaker Helena Válková and succeeded. It still need the approval of upper house and president.

Photo: Katerina Ajzpurvit
Válková said the move was aimed at bringing back to the forefront the events of 1939, when the Nazi rulers of the occupied Bohemia and Moravia savagely reacted to a students’ protests against the regime.

In an initial protest, one student, Jan Opletal, received fatal injuries and died. The funeral procession attended by thousands turned into another manifestation of opposition with the Nazis rounding up hundreds and soon after executing nine students and professors on November 17. Other student leaders were sent to camps in Germany, where some were later executed.

But Wednesday’s rechristening move outraged many opposition members of parliament who argued that the 1989 suppression of the students’ protest that sparked the Velvet Revolution and the fall of Communist rule after just over 40 years was being downplayed and that the clock was being put back to the pre-1989 era.

Marek Benda,  photo: Filip Jandourek
One of those opponents was Civic Democrat Marek Benda: “International Students’ Day has a really negative connotation because it was abused by the Communist regime.”

But deputy leader of the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia, Jiří Dolejš, denied the name change was just a Communist backed proposal:

“This move has for a long time been proposed by the Czech Association of Fighters for Democracy with regards to the events of 1939 when Czech students were expelled from university. The move has backing from different sides of the political spectrum and the formulation of this holiday has come from the outside. It is not at all a Communist holiday and I don’t understand the opposition from some of my colleagues.”

Jiří Dolejš,  photo: Filip Jandourek
Emotions about November 17 have already been running high of late with some feeling that the last commemoration was to some extent hijacked when President Miloš Zeman shared a podium with anti-Islam and anti-immigration protestors.

In a separate move on Wednesday seven Czech groups called for criminal proceedings to be launched against the communist party after it issued a press release highlighting the ”revolutionary legacy” of the takeover of power in February 1948 on the 68th anniversary of the event. The groups said the party was downplaying and denying the crimes committed by the regime.