President honours war veterans, scientists, artists, and ordinary citizens

President Vaclav Klaus at the grave of the first Czechoslovak president T. G. Masaryk, photo: CTK

Friday, October 28, was a state holiday in the Czech Republic as the nation marked the 87th anniversary of the foundation of independent Czechoslovakia. High state officials visited the grave of the first Czechoslovak president Tomas Garrigue Masaryk and politicians and war veterans came together for a reception at the National Museum. At a ceremony at Prague Castle, President Vaclav Klaus awarded 23 state medals. The highest order was given to two WWII veterans, who later suffered at the hands of the Communist regime.

President Vaclav Klaus at the grave of the first Czechoslovak president T. G. Masaryk,  photo: CTK
Michal Velisek, who was shot dead two months ago when he tried to come to the rescue of a young woman being harassed by an armed man, received an honour for bravery in memoriam, eighteen people were awarded the Order of Merit, for their service to society; a doctor, a priest, and a former RAF pilot accepted the Order of T.G. Masaryk.

But the highest state distinction, the Order of the White Lion, was given to WWII veterans who fought to free Europe from the Nazi fist only to suffer a terrible fate under the Communist regime.

General Rudolf Pernicky and President Vaclav Klaus,  photo: CTK
Like many other who fought alongside the Allies to liberate Czechoslovakia in the Second World War General Rudolf Pernicky was persecuted when the Communists came to power. In 1948, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison. He spent eleven years in uranium mines. General Pernicky dedicated the Order to the hundreds of war veterans who suffered a similar fate.

Josef Bursik, who miraculously escaped from a Communist prison and fled to Britain, was given the Order of the White Lion in memoriam. The regime had tried to wipe him from the public consciousness, and did not fall short of removing him from photographs of those who had resisted the Nazis.

Ironically, says historian Jaroslav Cvancara, Czech TV itself accidentally showed one of these retouched photographs during its live broadcast of Friday's ceremony. Josef Bursik was not on the picture, because after he fled to Britain, the Communist government dubbed him a traitor and he was carefully airbrushed out of all pictures in circulation.