The Czech Republic on Saturday marked the 23rd anniversary of the Velvet Revolution which toppled the communist rule in the country. Top Czech officials commemorated the student march of November 1989 which led to the fall of the communist regime, as well as the Nazi persecution of Czech students from 50 years before. But this year, the anniversary was partly overshadowed by anti-government rallies held in Prague and other places in protest against the government’s austerity programme.
Saturday to protest against the policies of the Czech government. Organized by the country’s trade unions and other groups, the rally called for the centre-right cabinet of Prime Minister Petr Nečas to step down.
The protesters slammed the government’s austerity measures, including budget cuts, and criticised the reform of the pension system, which they said would benefit banks, not pensioners. They also denounced a CZK 120 billion agreement to return and compensate for church property confiscated by the communist regime. And many of the people who came out to the streets on Saturday criticized perceived high levels of corruption in the government sector.
An elderly protester complained about so much public money having been stolen, with no one knowing what to do about it. A young man, brandishing a sign that read “I’m seventeen and have had enough”, said he had had enough of this government’s working for the benefit of various lobby groups.
One of the speakers addressing the rally was the head of the Czech trade unions’ association, Jaroslav Zavadil.
“We can’t be happy with what’s going on. We have to keep protesting against the current government. They should have stepped down a long time ago. In fact, they should not just step down; they should run away from the anger of the people. They have no idea about the problems of ordinary people; they don’t know what it’s like to be unemployed. That’s why they are doing what they’re doing.”
Although Prague and other cities have seen larger anti-government protests, Prime Minster Petr Nečas addressed the criticism, admitting some people such as pensioners and single mothers were in a difficult situation. But Mr Nečas said his government was not deaf to the critical voices and had softened some of its austerity measures to protect those with the lowest incomes.
President Václav Klaus, Prime Minister Petr Nečas and other officials came to Prague’s Národní třída on Saturday to commemorate the student march of November 1989. They also marked the 83rd anniversary of the Nazi reprisal of Czech university students. On November 17, 1939, the Nazis executed several student leaders and closed down Czech universities in retaliation for protests against the German occupation. Speaking outside a student hall of residence raided by Nazi police on that day, Mr Klaus said those events should not be forgotten.
“We should also make sure that today or tomorrow, we do not act as if these events from 73 years ago had not taken place at all. That’s what has become a concern for me.”