This October 28 marked 90 years since the founding of Czechoslovakia as an independent state. According to tradition, on the day the Czech president always addresses the country before bestowing state honours for outstanding individual service. Jan Velinger has more on the president’s speech and Tuesday’s ceremony at Prague Castle’s Vladislav Hall.
Václav Klaus, photo: CTK
The president’s speech and presenting of state honours on October 28 is always a highly-anticipated televised event - a chance for the president to address the state of the nation, its direction, and history. It has now been 90 years since the founding of independent Czechoslovakia, a date still marked in this country even though the Czech Republic split from Slovakia in 1993. In his speech on Tuesday, President Václav Klaus focused on past sacrifice in that common history – of soldiers in World War I preceding the founding of the state. He also discussed the Czechs’ current place in Europe, saying that reasonable optimism was justified, especially in light of recent events. He touched upon the global financial crisis saying the country had not been directly affected due to its having retained – for now - its own currency. He also discussed EU membership, Czech sovereignty, the concept of home and country, as well as solidarity with like-minded countries founded on the same principals of democracy.
Jiří Zenáhlík (left) with Václav Klaus, photo: CTK
In the ceremony that followed, 28 individuals received the state’s highest honours. They included several World War II resistance fighters, soldiers currently serving in Afghanistan, plus artists, and one very famous footballer. Some of the names and stories: 87-year-old Jiří Zenáhlík, awarded the country’s highest honour The Order of the White Lion: In World War II he escaped to Great Britain and took part in the invasion of Normandy and later the liberation of Czechoslovakia, only to be persecuted by the Communists, who sent him behind bars.
Václav Pačes (right) with Václav Klaus, photo: CTK
Twenty-eight-year-old Tomáš Krampla, awarded a Medal for Heroism, a soldier serving Afghanistan who proved cool under fire and whose actions saved the lives of fellow personnel. Seventy-nine-year-old Marta Kottová, a Holocaust survivor, given a Medal of Merit for her work teaching students about the Holocaust and the horrors of Nazism. And, 60-year-old Antonín Panenka, a footballer whose name is legend for having taken one of the most audacious penalty kicks in football history. His goal saw Czechoslovakia triumph in penalties over West Germany at the European Championship in Belgrade in 1976.
Of course there were others – Václav Pačes, the head of the Czech Academy of Sciences or architect Alena Šrámková, also honoured. The full list is too long to mention here but they share one thing in common: dedication to their country in their respective fields.