Politicians, cultural figures and church dignitaries gathered in the Vladislav Hall at Prague Castle on Sunday to celebrate the 94th anniversary of the birth of independent Czechoslovakia. On the occasion, President Václav Klaus presented high state distinctions to war veterans, scientists, cultural figures and sportspeople.
The highest Czech state honour – the Order of the White Lion – was awarded this year to Alexander Beer and Vasil Krolov, both of whom fought in the Czechoslovak units on the Eastern front during World War Two.
Six former political prisoners received the order of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk. Among them was Josef Plocek, who was thrown out of high school during World War Two and was prohibited from further studies by the Nazi regime. In 1951, he was sentenced to 13 years in prison for sending a letter to the Vatican outlining the state of religious and church life in Communist Czechoslovakia.
The Medal for Merit, which is given annually to people in various fields for the service to the republic, was awarded to thirteen people, most of whom came from the world of natural sciences. One such medal was given posthumously to hematologist Vladimír Koza, who was the founder of the Czech registry of bone marrow donors.
Besides scientists and doctors, a medal for merit was also awarded to writer and publicist Oto Filip, who was forced into emigration in mid-1970’s, after spending four years in Communist prisons. Two sportspeople also received the prestigious medal. The long-time goalie of the Czech national team and European Football Champion in 1976 Ivo Viktor stood side-by-side with fellow athlete Barbora Špotáková, who was also the youngest person to receive a state honor this year.
A Medal for Heroism was given to Rudolf Zvolánek, a doctor who saved the life of a man whose arm was caught in a factory machine.
In a speech ahead of the ceremony, the President gave a fairly bleak outlook of the current political and social climate in the Czech Republic, although he did point out that materially, most Czechs are living through the best period in history. The president, giving the traditional speech for the last time on this occasion, reminded the audience of the losses of the ruling coalition in the elections in mid-October:
“The recent regional and senate elections were a convincing indicator of the feelings of our fellow citizens. They gave a clear indication to the current government that it has not been able to convince the public of why their politics are good. The problem, though, is deeper than that.”
Prime Minister Petr Nečas was not present at the Sunday ceremonies, having excused himself for health reasons.
But the day after the celebration of the no-longer existing two-nation state, the Czech and Slovak governments sat down to two-way, two-town talks. The meeting began on Monday morning in the east Moravian city of Uherské Hradiště and continued with a discussion over lunch in the West Slovak town of Trenčín, just over 60 kilometers away.
The main items on the agenda were of a rather practical nature, such as transportation, security, and a number of bi-lateral agreements, but the meeting began with friendly remarks from the Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico:
“I would like to offer thanks to all Czech citizens for the understanding and the positive attitude with which they accepted the Slovak aspirations for independence and political maturity. I hope that the last twenty years have also brought you new wisdom, and gave you the possibility to test your own abilities and learn to be responsible for the quality of your own life. Independent Slovakia stands with open arms, ready to embrace you.”
The Slovak prime minister also thanked the Czech tourists for not forgetting the Tatra Mountains and the Slovak thermal baths as destinations for their holidays. In two months time, the Czechs and Slovaks will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the separation of Czechoslovakia and the founding of independent Czech Republic and Slovakia. For his part, the Czech Prime Minister Petr Nečas welcomed everyone with some Czech Slivovice (plum brandy), as a way to warm up the delegations and also prove that the Czech liquor industry has fully recovered.
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