Zeman honours 35 “for bravery and work” at Prague Castle ceremony

Photo: ČTK

Czech President Miloš Zeman bestowed no fewer than 35 high state honours on Wednesday at a Prague Castle ceremony celebrating the anniversary of the foundation of Czechoslovakia. Among those decorated were a WWII hero, a teenager who sacrificed his life for a classmate and an ex-football star. However, the list of honourees has not been without controversy.

Photo: ČTK
In front of the country’s great and good, President Miloš Zeman marked the 97th anniversary of the foundation of Czechoslovakia by presenting 35 people with high state honours at the Vladislav Hall at Prague Castle on Wednesday night.

Of that number, 32 received the Medal of Merit, twice as many as on October 28 last year. Mr. Zeman also bestowed one Order of the White Lion, one Order of Tomas Garrigue Masaryk and one Medal for Bravery.

The head of state explained his criteria for the selection of honourees to the assembled and people following the ceremony around the country.

Josef František | Photo: B & E Kudlacek collection,  www.fcafa.com
“I support the concept of living history. History that is not interpreted merely as a kind of anonymous idea, but also as lived and living history. From that perspective, allow me to divide those honoured into two basic groups. The first will be a story of bravery and the second will be a story of work.”

Among those in the former category was pilot Josef František. He received the top Czech state honour, the Order of the White Lion, for his actions in WWII, when he died while serving with the Royal Air Force in the Battle of Britain.

Karel Vejvoda,  father of Petr Vejvoda,  photo: ČTK
The Medal of Heroism went to another who died young. Sixteen-year-old Petr Vejvoda was stabbed to death by a deranged woman at his school in Moravia while saving the life of a classmate. The president thanked his parents for bringing him up so well.

“We often come across the view that the young generation is criticised by the older generation as a generation that has gone bad. But the older generation are unaware that it is just their generation who should implant in the young generation values such as courage, bravery, industriousness and patriotism.”

František Kriegel received the Order of T.G. Masaryk in memoriam for his unique refusal to sign a memorandum agreeing to the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia.

Miloš Zeman and Bohdan Pomahač. photo: ČTK
The broad selection of those recognised for their work included entrepreneur Dalibor Dědek, plastic surgeon Bohdan Pomahač, one-time European footballer of the year Pavel Nedvěd and pop singer and actor Václav Neckář.

However the list has not been without controversy. Right-wing politicians have been up in arms over the honouring of Miroslav Toman, who was minister of agriculture in a 1980s Communist government.

Another recipient of the Medal of Merit was Jitka Frantová Pelikánová, an actress who denies accusations that she collaborated with the StB secret police in the 1960s.