President awards highest state honours
As is customary on the Day of Czechoslovak Independence, the Czech president awarded the highest honours of the land last week to doctors and scientists, soldiers and artists, political prisoners and everyday heroes. Many received the orders of the Czech Republic after tremendous travails, one after giving his own life.
General Mikuláš Končický joined the Czechoslovak troops in the Soviet Army when he was 19 years old and became one of the top experts in the country in tank warfare after the war. In 1970 however he fell from grace in the army when he stood up against the Soviet occupation and was dismissed. He was not the only person esteemed on Friday for that act. After the invasion, Colonel Jan Velík went to the Soviet Embassy and returned the medals he had received as a soldier on the eastern front in WWII. This year he turned 90, and was awarded the Czech Republic’s highest military honour, the Order of the White Lion.
Six other notable victims of the Communist regime were offered the Order of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, awarded for outstanding contributions to the development of democracy, humanity and human rights. Altogether Vladimír Lopaťuk, Karel Páral, Sister Anna Magdalena Schwarzová, Ladislav Suchomel, František Suchý and Marie Škarecká were sentenced to 81 years’ prison and hard labour, and all of them continued to combat communism even after their release.
Among the recipients of the Medal of Merit there is often a great figure from the world of sport and this year was not different in that regard. 70-year old Jiří Raška was honoured as a legend of ski jumping, having won Czechoslovakia’s very first Winter Olympics gold in Grenoble in 1968 and long served as a successful trainer, including for the national team.
The outstanding merits of artists and entrepreneurs were of course also rewarded, with illustrator Vladimír Renčín and translator Martin Hilský singled out in particular in the press. Martin Hilský was just honoured last week by the Ministry of Culture for his 28 years of Shakespeare translations. The artwork of Vladimír Renčín, meanwhile, is amongst the most recognisable in the Czech Republic, as his cartoons have been a staple of Czech journalistic publications decade after decade. Composer Emil Viklický and theatre director Jiří Srnec were also hailed for their contributions to Czech culture, and a Medal of Merit went to Zbyněk Frolík the founder of the company Linet, which he made into a global manufacturer of medical technologies.