President Zeman to hand out state decorations on Czechoslovak Independence Day

Miloš Zeman, photo: archive of Czech Radio

Sunday’s celebrations of 100 years of Czechoslovak independence will also bear witness to the traditional state decorations ceremony at Prague Castle, which President Miloš Zeman will bestow on selected members of the public. This year’s recipients include universally respected personalities such as the two-time Olympic gold medallist, Ester Ledecká, retired tennis player Radek Štěpánek, or head of the anti-Nazi resistance movement, Josef Bílý, but also controversial figures including businessman Pavol Krúpa and singer Michal David.

Miloš Zeman,  photo: archive of Czech Radio
As tradition dictates, various state dignitaries and distinguished citizens are to gather in the Vladislav Hall at Prague Castle on the evening of the 28th of October, the anniversary of Czechoslovak statehood. This year’s ceremony is particularly special, as it marks the centenary of the birth of the independent republic in 1918 and will represent the culmination of the celebrations.

Those that are to receive awards include Ester Ledecká, the first woman to win a gold medal in two different sports in a single Winter Olympic Games. Another sportsman, who will be decorated is Radek Štěpánek, one of the leading figures in Czech Republic's Davis Cup victories in 2012 and 2013.

Important historical figures will also be honoured in memoriam. Among them Antonín Švehla, leader of the Agrarian Party who served three terms as the prime minister of Czechoslovakia during the first republic era, as well as general Josef Bilý, who led the Czech resistance organisation Obrana národa in the early stages of the Protectorate, until he was arrested by the Gestapo in 1940 and executed a year later.

Darina Nešporová, the Czech teacher who saved four children from a car accident, while risking her own life, in 2017, has also appeared on the list.

Artists who are to be awarded include actor Jiří Krampol and musician Michal David. The announcement of the latter’s decoration has met with contention among parts of the public and media. Due to his popularity in the 1970s and 1980s, some see him as a symbol of socialism.

Other controversial recipients include Slovak businessman and billionaire Pavol Krúpa, who carries a poor reputation among some circles for his alleged business practices and is known for his bad relationship with fellow billionaire Zdeňek Bakala, whom the president frequently criticizes.

Proposals for those to be decorated are sent to the president from a wide range of petitioners. However, the final decision always lies with the head of state.