Current Affairs Prague hosts 15th Sokol festival
Prague is hosting the 15th festival of the Sokol athletics movement, a gathering of around 20,000 members and supporters from at home and abroad. In the past, Sokol played an important role in the Czech nation’s emancipation, and its festivals, held every six years, were huge demonstrations of national unity. But today, the Sokols come to manifest their love for sports and exercise. Jan Richter reports.
Thousands of Sokol members exercised synchronically to music on the field of Prague’s Eden football stadium on Tuesday, rehearsing for the highlight of the festival – a mass gymnastics performance by all age groups from small children to the elderly. The performances will take place on Thursday and Friday, and the rehearsal was a success, says Renata Zbořilová-Greene, the president of Sokol Detroit in the United States.
“I think it went quite well. I think that everybody will be very happy with the performance when they come to see it and I hope we have a big audience so that everyone can appreciate what we worked for so hard this year.”
Sokol, which means falcon in Czech, is a movement which originated in the 1860s, fashioned after German gymnastic groups. Its festivals, known as slety, or flockings, were in the past major manifestations of Czech national pride, and sometimes of political opposition, like the one held in 1948 just months after the communist coup.
The Sokol movement was revived after the fall of communism, and the festivals are now again held in the Czech capital, albeit in more modest settings than 60 years ago. Ms Zbořilová-Greene says it feels very special to be able to come to Prague for the occasion.
“It is a tradition. Our heritage goes back many generations, and it is very special to us to be able to perform here in Prague.”
This year, some 20,000 people are taking part in the event including 2,000 Czech expats, says Vladimír Dostál from the organization’s management.
“We naturally invited Sokols from all over the world, mainly from the US, Australia, from Serbia and Slovenia, and of course from western Europe – from Paris, Munich, from Switzerland, Austria… Maybe I forgot something but all together, there are about 2,000 participants who came from abroad.”
Andrea from Switzerland is a member of Sokol in Luzern.
“I’m third or fourth generation Czech from Switzerland, and it’s been in my family. It’s a tradition, it’s a big event. Yes, I like it, and everything that’s around it, too. It’s very well organized.”
The week-long festival included a march through the centre of the city, a lantern procession up Petřín hill, and performances at various sites around Prague. But to experience the true spirit of the Sokol movement, people will have to come and see the mass exercises at the Eden stadium.