Commemorative events are taking place around the Czech Republic to mark the events of November 17, 1989, when communist police cracked down on students on Prague’s Národní třída, sparking the Velvet Revolution which brought down the regime which had held power for more than 40 years.
On Friday, the first politician to visit the memorial at Národní třída was Andrej Babiš, a former businessman turned politician who heads the ANO Party and has been tasked with forming a minority government after winning the election in October.
He was flanked by other members of his party including Defence Minister Martin Stropnický, Justice Minister Robert Pelikán, and Prague Mayor Adriana Krnačová.
Mr Babiš was met by several vocal demonstrators who brought up allegations he had collaborated with the communist-era secret police and allegations of subsidy fraud in the Stork’s Nest scandal. Mr Babiš said that they had every right to express their opinion, one of the gains of the Velvet Revolution. He expressed the view that 28 years since the events of 1989, Czech society was too divided and polarised. Long-time political opponent Miroslav Kalousek, who lit a candle at the memorial later, reacted to Mr Babiš’ words by saying that society’s strength was built on variety, not union.
Other politicians from the major parties, such as Civic Democrat leader Petr Fiala but also presidential candidates as well as regular citizens continued to visit the site of the memorial throughout the day, lighting candles. Absent this year was the head of state, Miloš Zeman. His spokesman, Jiří Ovčáček, said the president as someone who had been an "active participant" in 1989 would mark the day in private.
November 17th also marks the 78th anniversary of brutal Nazi repression and murder in 1939, after students had organised a march to commemorate the death of Jan Opletal, a young man killed by the Nazi occupiers. One witness to those events, Vojmír Srdečný (who is 98 now and was a 20-year-old student at the time), said that the Gestapo and German soldiers had swept into student dorms in Prague, Brno, and Příbram, and dragged students off to Ruzyně prison. Nine student leaders were murdered by the Nazis and more than 1,000 sent to Sachsenhausen, he said at a commemorative event on Friday.
Events on the day are scheduled at a memorial on Narodní třída, as well as Albertov and on Prague’s Wenceslas Square which saw the number of demonstrators in the days of the Velvet Revolution swell to almost one million.
A concert called Concert for the Future will take place on the square beginning at half-past four in the afternoon. Performers include Zrni, Ema Smetana, Švihadlo, and Laco Deczi.
Security on November 17th has been increased accordingly and police are monitoring events closely: some 24 events were officially registered – nine of which are marches through the city. Police will be aiming to prevent right-wing and leftist extremists from crossing paths and clashing or any other potential violence.
The freethinking part of Czech society suffered several defeats in recent years, rector of Masaryk University in Brno, Mikuláš Bek maintained in his address to attendees at Albertov in Prague on Friday marking the courage and dedication of students and others who fought oppression in Czechoslovakia on November 17, 1939 and 1989.
Freedom and democracy, he said, needed to be cared for and he said one shouldn't be afraid to fight for it. In his speech, he ranked the first direct presidential election as one defeat freethinking society had suffered recently. The rector added there was "no reason to panic" and that education could change Czech society for the better.
The rector of Charles University, Tomáš Zima, remembered the courage of students in both 1939 and 1989 and said he had no doubt if freedom and democracy were threatened today, people would again stand up in its defense.
Liechtenstein Palace at Prague's Kampa, used by the government on the occasion of special conferences and for international delegations, will be open to the public over the course of Friday, a national holiday marking the events of November 17,1989 and November 17,1939, the former the start of the Velvet Revolution which brought down communism in Czechoslovakia.
Tours of the palace interiors will be possible from 10 am to 4 pm, government spokesman Martin Ayrer confirmed.
Liechtenstein Palace, dating back to the 17th century, has stately apartments which were used by world leaders on official visits, including Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, the king of Spain Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia, and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Czech President Miloš Zeman has criticized the European Union, saying it lacked strong leaders and that it used a double-standard when it came to Crimea. He made the statement in an interview with the Russian news agency TASS - days before he is to begin an official visit to Russia with a major Czech business delegation.
During the visit, Mr Zeman will meet with President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, and also former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
In the interview, President Zeman compared Crimea to Kosovo, whose autonomy, he said, was guaranteed by the United Nations. Crimea's referendum on independence is not internationally recognized and move is seen as an illegal annexation for which Russia still suffers sanctions. Mr Zeman told TASS he was the only European politician who spoke about the issue in such a manner; the president has opposed the sanctions in the past, maintaining they did not work and should be lifted.
Lobbyist Roman Janoušek’s health has failed to improve and, according to the Regional Court in Brno, there is a chance the remainder of his sentence could be waived, public broadcaster Czech TV reports. Mr Janoušek was sentenced to 4.5 years in prison for a hit-and-run while driving under the influence. He was behind bars from November 2014 to March 2016. His sentence was put on hold first by the prison and then by the court due to his poor health. Janoušek has long complained of health complications following surgery.
Operators at ski hill Černá hora at Jánské Lázně in the Krkonoše Mountains have officially launched the new ski season on a 300 meter trail named "Anděl", on the upper part of the hill. There are around 30 centimeters of natural as well as man-made snow on the run. Cross country skiers, as well, can hit a groomed two to three kilometre trail.
The runs will remain open over the three-day weekend.
Černá hora traditionally opens the ski season. Last year, the hill opened on November 12 but uninterrupted service began on November 26.
Mostly cloudy weather is expected on Sunday. Daytime temperatures will reach highs of around 4 degrees Celsius.