Students’ 1948 bid to save democracy remembered

February 1948 in Prague

In a year which will commemorate students’ role in the Velvet Revolution that brought down the communist regime twenty years ago, a solemn ceremony today marked the last attempt by students to prevent the Communist seizure of power in 1948.

February 1948 in Prague
On February 25th of 1948 around 6,000 university students marched on Prague Castle to try and convince President Edvard Beneš not to give into Communist demands for complete power. The march was brutally suppressed and under immense pressure Beneš made his fateful decision which launched the more than 40-year-long dictatorship. One of the main participants in today’s commemoration, the head of the Prague club of expelled 1948 students, Zdeněk Boháč, explained the march’s aims and its significance.

“The march of university students took place on February 25, 1948. Soon after, Klement Gottwald announced the Communist seizure of power. The march to the Castle was aimed at stopping a Communist putch and was a declaration in support of freedom and democracy. Here in Nerudova Street, at the junction with Jánský Vršek, the march was blocked.”

One of the then student leaders, Jiří Navrátil, describes how the Communist-controlled police fired machine guns to break up the march. Once in power the Communists quickly settled scores with the students.

“Here for the first time the police actually fired their guns, used their samopals [machine guns]. This was only the beginning. Afterwards, twenty-five percent of all students of all universities were expelled. This means approximately 10,000 students. At the time there were 40,000 students in Czech universities. These students were principally forced to go into the mines.”

Navrátil, now 85, spent 11 years in prison camps after being sentenced for anti-state activities. He and the small handful of surviving student protesters from that era feel it is important to remember what they tried to do.