International dimension to Czech freedom and democracy awards

The Czech Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes has handed out its annual awards for contribution to freedom and democracy. Among this year’s recipients is the Belarussian opposition politician Vincuk Viačorka, or the Slovak photographer Tibor Kováč, who captured images of the Soviet invasion of the Slovak city of Košice.

Vincuk Viačorka, photo: CTKVincuk Viačorka, photo: CTK At a ceremony at the Czech Senate on Tuesday night, the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian regimes awarded three foreign nationals for their contribution to the renewal of democracy and freedom in Czechoslovakia.

One of the Václav Benda Awards was given to the Belarussian opposition politician Vincuk Viačorka, a linguist and former head of the Belarusian National Front party associating the national and liberal opposition.

In his homeland, he was persecuted and imprisoned for promoting democratic reforms, says the head of the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes Zdeněk Hazdra:

“He has been trying to promote values that would steer Belarus towards the Western countries, towards democracy and freedom.”

Another foreign recipient of the award is Tibor Kováč, who photographed the invasion of the east Slovak town of Košice by Soviet-led Warsaw Pact troops in August 1968.

Thirty-one at the time, Mr Kováč paid a high price for his bravery. He suffered a serious head injury caused by a stray bullet and was confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

Zora Dvořáková, photo: CTKZora Dvořáková, photo: CTK His compatriot, the late pilot Tugomír Seferovič, was awarded in memoriam for having co-organised the hijacking of a Czechoslovak ČSA air carrier on a domestic route to the West.

Since last year, the Freedom and Democracy Prize has been extended to include two more categories, outstanding contribution to the perception of modern history and admirable acts in defence of the principles of democracy, freedom and human rights.

Two Czech female writers, historian Zora Dvořáková and art historian Kateřina Tučková, won the prize for their outstanding contribution to the perception of modern history.

Dvořáková is the author of a book on Milada Horáková, a democratic MP executed by the Communists in the hard-line 1950s, and a book on the anti-communist resistance movement. She herself has first-hand experience with Communist persecution:

“I myself come from a persecuted family. My father was persecuted, my husband was a political prisoner and I was kicked out of my job at the National Heritage Institute during the Normalisation period. So my life took many unexpected turns.”

Kateřina Tučková, photo: CTKKateřina Tučková, photo: CTK Young writer Kateřina Tučková was acknowledged for the courage to depict sensitive chapters of recent Czech history, such as the post-war expulsion of ethnic Germans and the fates of people during the communist regime.

“I am really happy to have got the award. It is not a typical award for a writer. But the fact that my contribution was acknowledged by readers as well as experts makes me even more grateful.”

The Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes has been awarding the Václav Benda Prize for contribution to the renewal of democracy and freedom in Czechoslovakia since 2008.