Pre-election atmosphere at Prague Uprising ceremony

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Sunday marked the 57th anniversary of the Prague Uprising, the bloody events at the end of World War Two when the people of the Czech capital took up arms against the German occupiers. The uprising, organised by the Czech resistance, began with a call to arms, broadcast on the radio, and soon became to a large extent a battle for control of the radio station itself. Around 30,000 people spontaneously joined the freedom fighters in the Czech capital. Dozens laid down their lives protecting the Radio building here on Vinohradska Street, where one of the toughest battles took place. 1,691 civilians lost their lives in other street battles, defending the barricades they built against the Nazi army. Every year, a commemorative ceremony takes place outside the Czech Radio building. Pavla Horakova was there on Sunday.

Remembrance ceremony outside the Radio Building in Prague, photo: CTK
Traditionally, the event is marked by the Czech war veterans' association with a remembrance ceremony outside the Radio Building here in Prague and is usually attended by a handful of officials. In previous years, the gatherings had a rather formal character but 2002 is an election year in the Czech Republic and politicians have that in mind whenever they appear in public. On Sunday, there was a remarkable turnout of Czech politicians. The country's prime minister, the chairman of the Senate, the deputy speaker of the lower house, the mayor of Prague, and the chief of staff all laid wreaths in front of the Radio Building and paid homage to those who lost their lives such a short time before the end of the war.

In an emotional speech, Prime Minister Milos Zeman remembered the atrocities of the Second World War and he said that there had been a similar upsurge of hatred in recent months in neighbouring Bavaria, Austria and Hungary. He was referring to the ongoing dispute over the Benes decrees, the post-war Czechoslovak denazification laws which sanctioned the expulsion of Germans and Hungarians from the country. Mr Zeman noted that direct or indirect followers of Nazism and fascism are succeeding in free and democratic elections in Europe and didn't pull any punches, naming Joerg Haider of Austria's Freedom Party and the controversial French presidential candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen. Mr Zeman also said he welcomed the recent resolution of the Czech Lower House concerning the Benes decrees and strongly opposing any questioning of the results of the Second World War. Prime Minister Zeman ended his speech with an appeal to Czech citizens and journalists: "Let's not behave like servants, lest we should again become servants."