President Klaus awards state honours to 21 personalities

President Vaclav Klaus, photo: CTK

Thursday was a state holiday in the Czech Republic on which Czechs celebrated "independence day" - the 86th anniversary of the birth of Czechoslovakia.For twenty one Czechs the occasion was very special indeed. They received high state distinctions from President Klaus in a ceremony which was broadcast live on national television.

Frantisek Fajtl, photo: CTK
The life of each of the 21 people selected for this honour would have made a movie or a good book - they are from all walks of life and they are all exceptional.

Frantisek Fajtl and Rudolf Severin Krzak - legendary Czechoslovak pilots who served in the RAF during WWII and were later persecuted by the communist regime, world renowned immunologist Vaclav Horejsi, athlete Roman Sebrle gold medallist at the Olympics games in Greece, conductor of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra Zdenek Macal who travels around the world wowing the crowds with the legacy of Czech masters, director Otakar Vavra with 48 Czech films to his name, and one of the country's best known film actresses Jana Brejchova, to name just a few.

President Vaclav Klaus and athlete Roman Sebrle, photo: CTK
The list of honoured personalities also included some unexpected professions such as a leading expert in wine growing and the longest serving parliamentary stenographer, decorated in memoriam. Had he lived to see the day Josef Kocourek would have had many fine memories to share - having watched Czech history in the making - a war hero and stenographer to the vast majority of Czech politicians - from the SWW to the present day.

As they walked down the red carpet to receive their distinctions all showed signs of emotion and nerves - but not all of them spent the day worrying about what to say or what to wear. Film director Otakar Vavra had not opened his mail for a week and had no idea he was getting a state distinction on that day. "My God he's gone to walk the dog and may not be back for hours," his wife exclaimed when a friend called in the afternoon to offer his congratulations.