Prague witnesses first major military parade in 23 years

Photo: CTK

Prague witnessed its first major military parade since 1985 on Tuesday, to mark the 90th anniversary of the creation of Czechoslovakia in 1918. Czechoslovakia weathered many storms before finally splitting into two countries in 1993, but the anniversary is still celebrated here in the Czech Republic, although not in Slovakia. The idea to hold a large-scale military parade attracted criticism in some quarters, but seems to have been positively received by the public.

Vlasta Parkanová, Václav Klaus and Vlastimil Picek, photo: CTK
The head of the Czech armed forces Vlastimil Picek gave the order for the start of the first full-scale military parade in Prague 23 years. Two thousand soldiers and 200 armoured vehicles were waiting for his command to begin the parade down Prague’s Evropská street, lined with thousands of spectators.

The parade showcased all the major elements of the Czech armed forces, from mobile anti-aircraft units tanks to special forces in desert camouflage. Only the heavy cloud spoilt the flypast by a team of Gripen fighters, the pride of the Czech air force. They were heard, but not seen by the crowds.

Photo: CTK
Representatives of the armed forces were joined by units of the police and fire brigade, in a bid to emphasise that the parade was a celebration and a reminder of the work being done by all men and women in uniform, both civil and military. Ostentatious military parades, however, were a regular feature of life in communist Czechoslovakia, and not everyone in this country was comfortable about seeing the tradition revived. President Vaclav Klaus sought to put those fears to rest in his speech to the assembled crowds:

“The older generation will certainly remember the annual military parades on Letná Plain, which were an expression of the military ambitions of our communist regime and a show of strength, both to enemies abroad and opponents at home. We do not adhere to this tradition. We’re not a country of formal ceremonies and ostentatious displays. This is not a manifestation of military might.”

Photo: Martina Stejskalová
Those watching the parade appeared to agree with him, and didn’t share the view expressed by some in the media that the event was inappropriate for a small, peaceful and militarily modest country such as the Czech Republic.

Onlookers told Radio Prague they thought the parade was a good idea, primarily because it showed how tax-payers’ money was used for the armed forces, but also because it demonstrated that the Czech army was trained and equipped to a high standard.

But it was only those well-equipped, well-trained units who paraded down Evropská street on Tuesday, and some critics have claimed that the reality of the Czech Army is rather different. They say the 15 million crowns spent on the parade could have been put to better use.