Civil Unrest Left Hanging in the Air

Czech President Miloš Zeman (portrayed in the picture above, from Tumblr user) has been undoubtedly dividing the country in two. Openly despising him has become a popular view; a view to be proud of, especially in the capital city of the country. Understandably so, as the government has recently taken several actions provoking crowds to take to the streets in the wake of a civil unrest. As a matter of fact, the following is a timeline of important events that alarmed the nation and were later echoed on social media:

  • October 17 – Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader Dalai Lama visited Prague, and instead of speaking in Hradčany Square, the venue was changed to Salm palace courtyard because the Prague Castle administration forbade the speech to take place in the original location. China states the 14th Dalai Lama is Beijing’s enemy, even though he is not requesting for Tibet to be separated from China, he aims at respecting human rights of the Tibetan people and preserving their cultural identity. With this in mind, after the Minister of Culture Daniel Herman’s meeting with the Dalai Lama, Zeman stated, “Mr Herman’s standpoint in no way reflects the standpoint of the government.” Herman tweeted about the meeting, “I am a minister in a free and sovereign country. It is an honour that I can meet with the Dalai Lama, who represents one of the not many moral authorities of today’s world.”
  • October 18 – Four supreme constitutional officials (President Miloš Zeman, Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, Senate Chairman Milan Štěch, and Lower House Speaker Jan Hamáček) released a statement declaring loyalty to Beijing, saying relations between China and Czechia have been very beneficial in recent years. Several significant universities (e.g. Charles University) displayed Tibetan flags in protest to the pro-Chinese declaration.
  • October 28 – A Youtube video called “Weeks of Civil Unrest” (Czech: “Týdny občanského neklidu”) was released, in which two well-known and generally respected Czech artists, performer Vojtěch Dyk and filmmaker Jiří Bartoška, highlight the importance of democracy and freedom, and the ideals of humanity set by first Czechoslovak President, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk. Their online petition campaign has, to this date, over 23,000 signatures, a quarter of which come from Prague, accurately representing the division of political views in the country.
  • November 15 – A proposal of a President Defamation law surfaced, saying that if you insulted the president, you would face up to one year in prison. “These times are vicious, it is necessary to protect the president,” said Marie Benešová, one of the 60 members of Parliament who signed the document.

As I find myself standing on Wenceslas Square amidst thousands of people, I look at the faces of people illuminated by the light from their candles on a particularly warm Autumn evening. It is November 17th, the country is celebrating the International Students’ Day, and suddenly, I feel the national spirit growing inside. This day is called by many of my peers a false incentive to demonstrate; I personally find the holiday as beautiful a tradition as it is an important reminder for us. After all, the Czech Republic, as a nation, has been suppressed before in many cases, and the people take pride in celebrating the historical victories of dissatisfied masses that managed to incite a political change.

Then again, although this may be true, another realisation strikes me as I listen to Czech singer Emma Smetana, our lives are not that bad, despite numerous reasons for the general frustration. It may be because our generation has grown up in the post-November 1989 period, only appreciating the greatness of the Velvet Revolution from our parents’ powerful stories. The hateful opinion on Zeman is popular but, at the same time, somewhat easy. In reality, the likeliness of the Czech people electing Zeman as President in 2017 is immense. We are encouraged by hopeful monologues suggesting a social revolution, yet nothing is actually happening. In these times of restlessness, the age of Facebook and constant distractions, what will most likely, in reality, take place, are a few scattered annual protests on November 17th, and then, seeing that Christmas is around the corner, everyone will go back to complaining about their own personal struggles and stress factors.
Do not get me wrong, the political events will keep sparking discussions… in pubs, where the civil unrest and discontent with the government seems to be ever-present.

The article was written by Huyen Vi Tranová.