November 17th is the anniversary of the start of the Velvet Revolution and is a public holiday here in the Czech Republic. Hundreds are expected to take to the streets of Prague on Saturday, to mark the 18th anniversary of the beginning of one of the most important chapters in the country’s history. But others will be turning out in numbers for rather different reasons. Here is a round up of the activities we can expect around the capital on Saturday:
During the Velvet Revolution 18 years ago, the Melantrich building served as a sort of dissidents’ HQ. At the height of the revolution a certain Vaclav Havel stood on its balcony and addressed thousands of Czechs who were gathered on Wenceslas Square below. Today it is a Marks and Spencers, and on this particular Friday, it looks pretty much like business as usual. But tomorrow, on the 18th anniversary of the start of the Velvet Revolution, Wenceslas Square is set once again to play host to a number of public gatherings and protests.
At the bottom of the square, a series of events are being organized to highlight what the organizers call ‘the insufficiencies of the Velvet Revolution’, that’s expected to last from 10am to 10pm. And then in mid-afternoon, those protesters are going to be joined by demonstrators of quite a different kind. Supporters of the former deputy prime minister Jiri Cunek, who resigned recently, are meeting at the lower end of Wenceslas Square at 4pm.
The square really is going to see a lot of activity tomorrow, because a march against the proposed radar base which the White House would like to see built on Czech soil is going to start up at the top, by the National Museum, as well.
But the activity is by no means confined to Wenceslas Square. Over on Narodni Trida, there is going to be a gathering to commemorate students who were killed by the Nazis in 1939 – because the 17th of November is International Students Day as well – and it was at precisely such a gathering of students 18 years ago that the riot police intervened, and that the Velvet Revolution began.
And then over on Palacky Square far-right extremists are staging a rally. They say they want to protest about freedom of expression - after last week’s clampdown on Neo-Nazi groups which were planning to march through the city’s Jewish Quarter on the anniversary of Kristallnacht. The Neo-Nazis don’t need a permit to stage a gathering on Palacky Square, because it’s Prague’s speaker’s corner. But nonetheless the Police have said there will be over 500 officers monitoring the event, and if there is any trouble, it will be broken up immediately.
So, all in all, it looks like another eventful November 17th here in Prague, but with people demonstrating for all sorts of various reasons – something which could only have been dreamt about as recently as 19 years ago.
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