As is customary on the Day of Czechoslovak Independence, the Czech president awarded the highest honours of the land last week to doctors and scientists, soldiers and artists, political prisoners and everyday heroes. Many received the orders of the Czech Republic after tremendous travails, one after giving his own life.
President Václav Klaus stepped through the grand Vladislav Hall for the ninth and next-to-last time to award the highest honours of the Czech state. On the 93rd anniversary of the birth of Czechoslovakia, the president distinguished 21 individuals from many walks of life, beginning with soldiers who have shown outstanding service to their country.
General Mikuláš Končický joined the Czechoslovak troops in the Soviet Army when he was 19 years old and became one of the top experts in the country in tank warfare after the war. In 1970 however he fell from grace in the army when he stood up against the Soviet occupation and was dismissed. He was not the only person esteemed on Friday for that act. After the invasion, Colonel Jan Velík went to the Soviet Embassy and returned the medals he had received as a soldier on the eastern front in WWII. This year he turned 90, and was awarded the Czech Republic’s highest military honour, the Order of the White Lion.
Six other notable victims of the Communist regime were offered the Order of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, awarded for outstanding contributions to the development of democracy, humanity and human rights. Altogether Vladimír Lopaťuk, Karel Páral, Sister Anna Magdalena Schwarzová, Ladislav Suchomel, František Suchý and Marie Škarecká were sentenced to 81 years’ prison and hard labour, and all of them continued to combat communism even after their release.
Unique though among those who courageously lost so much this year was the posthumous recipient of the Medal for Bravery, 16-year-old David Sukač. In the summer of last year, the teenager saved a drowning friend from a whirlpool, before being pulled under himself. His father accepted the award from President Klaus amid the longest applause of the evening.
Among the recipients of the Medal of Merit there is often a great figure from the world of sport and this year was not different in that regard. 70-year old Jiří Raška was honoured as a legend of ski jumping, having won Czechoslovakia’s very first Winter Olympics gold in Grenoble in 1968 and long served as a successful trainer, including for the national team.
The outstanding merits of artists and entrepreneurs were of course also rewarded, with illustrator Vladimír Renčín and translator Martin Hilský singled out in particular in the press. Martin Hilský was just honoured last week by the Ministry of Culture for his 28 years of Shakespeare translations. The artwork of Vladimír Renčín, meanwhile, is amongst the most recognisable in the Czech Republic, as his cartoons have been a staple of Czech journalistic publications decade after decade. Composer Emil Viklický and theatre director Jiří Srnec were also hailed for their contributions to Czech culture, and a Medal of Merit went to Zbyněk Frolík the founder of the company Linet, which he made into a global manufacturer of medical technologies.
Among the scientists awarded it will not escape attention that one of those chosen by climate-change sceptic Václav Klaus was the Czech-American climatologist Jiří Kukla, who has long backed the view that climate change is a natural, rather than man-made phenomenon. The eminent influence of his work however has been of great benefit to parties on all sides of that debate, however. In the 1970s, ‘George’ Kukla was one of the first to bring the impending dangers of climate change to the public and to the US government, which in turn began to study the matter.
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