The day was marked by demonstrations in many places, with the largest ones in Prague and in the Northern Moravian city of Ostrava. Both right and left wing radicals - skinheads and anarchists - used the holiday to present their own views.
These two - otherwise irreconcilable groups - found a common language on Sunday - both expressed their strong opposition against the bombardment of Afghanistan and against Czech support for the United States.
The official celebrations culminated at Prague Castle on Sunday evening, where president Vaclav Havel awarded 44 outstanding figures of Czech political, cultural and sports life with high state distinctions. The awardees included signatories of the anti-Communist movement Charter 77 - whose spokesman was Vaclav Havel for some time - and others involved in the so-called 'third resistance movement', meaning those who fought against the Communist authorities - against all the odds and repression they were exposed to. In a speech to mark the occasion, delivered before the packed Vladislav Hall at Prague Castle, President Havel criticized the fact, that until now, the Communist party leaders have not yet been properly punished:
"Their cases, if they are brought to court at all, have been for some dubious reasons discussed for many years, each time some shortcomings emerge, be they real or fictitious, and all this results in obstacles that bar the court from reaching a verdict."
The president, who was released from hospital just to be able to take part in the festive ceremony and then had to return immediately to his hospital bed, also spoke about the communist thinking that still prevailed in the minds of many Czechs, and said it had only obtained a capitalist veneer. "All those who think and act independently and critically, are once again being attacked," the president said when describing contemporary Czech society.
Radio Prague spoke with one of the awardees, Barbara Coudenhove-Kalergi, who received the Tomas Garrigue Masaryk Order for outstanding merits in the fight for democracy and for the observation of human rights. She was born in Prague, but was expelled from Czechoslovakia after WWII. Mrs. Coudenhove worked as an Austrian newspaper correspondent in Prague and she always reported openly on all the crimes committed by the communist regimes in Central Europe.
"It was a joy and honour to receive this order from president Havel, he is somebody I admire very much. And apart from that I take it also as a sort of gesture towards those, who like me had been expelled from Czechoslovakia in 1945 - the German speaking minority, and the fact that I now received this decoration makes me feel that the president has also tried to extend his hand to this group."
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