State awards ceremony at Prague Castle overshadowed by Czech president’s previous pro-Putin stance

Order of the White Lion

On Monday, March 7, hundreds of guests are expected to gather at Prague Castle for an awards ceremony which will see state honours handed out for the first time since 2019. The ceremony has been overshadowed by the war in Ukraine and several leading state dignitaries have announced that they will boycott the event in view of the president’s previous cordial relations with Vladimir Putin.

Every year leading state officials and academics gather in Prague Castle’s Vladislaus Hall on October 28, the anniversary of Czechoslovak Independence Day, to attend a state awards ceremony in which the country’s president hands out honours and decorations to selected individuals.

The event was cancelled both in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic and the president’s ailing health and was rescheduled for March 7, the birthday of Czechoslovakia’s first president, Tomas Garrigue Masaryk.

However even this term has not proved opportune. The ceremony is taking place less than two weeks after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, an act of aggression reminiscent of the 1968 invasion that has sent shock waves through the Czech public, which is now intent on helping the growing influx of war refugees. Prague Castle spokesman Jiří Ovčáček told Czech Radio that the ceremony will be held under a theme of solidarity with Ukraine.

“At midday, during the ceremonial changing of the guard at Prague Castle, we have decided to fly the national flag of Ukraine in the first courtyard of Prague Castle and play both the Czech and Ukrainian national anthems.”

Miloš Zeman | Photo: René Volfík,

The President’s Office will also ask guests to contribute to a special Ukraine fund during the ceremony and the subsequent reception has been cancelled.

However, despite these gestures, many leading Czech officials, including the chairs of both houses of Parliament, the head of the Constitutional Court and at least three university rectors, have announced that they will not be attending due to President Miloš Zeman’s past cordial relations with Vladimir Putin’s Russia as well as his frequent attempts at discrediting Czech intelligence services warning of hostile Russian actions in the country.

Senate Chair Miloš Vystrčil said that his memory was “too good” to forget the president’s past politics. His counterpart in the lower-house of Parliament, Markéta Pekarová Adamová, gave very similar reasons for her absence at Monday’s event.

“It is good that President Zeman has changed his stance, but I cannot forget who it was that closed his eyes for years amid Vladimir Putin’s aggressive and imperialistic behaviour.”

It is not just the president’s past words and actions that are being cited as moral reasons for a boycott, several of the leading officials working in the Office of the President have been accused of holding similar pro-Putin sympathies. This has been most evident in the person of the president’s advisor Martin Nejedlý, a businessman with Kremlin ties who many see as the grey eminence at the court of the Czech head of state.

Among those who will receive the Czech Republic’s highest state honour, the Order of the White Lion, in memoriam is Czechoslovak WWII pilot Alexander Hess, Czech billionaire Petr Kellner and Alfred Duff Cooper, 1st Viscount Norwich, a British anti-appeasement politician who resigned as First Lord of the Admiralty following the signing of the Munich Agreement in 1938. Actress Jiřina Bohdalová, epidemiologist Roman Prymula and the first Czech cosmonaut Vladimír Remek are also set to receive the award.