International Students’ Day in Prague
November 17 marks an important event for Czech people, it all started on October 28, 1939, which was the 21st anniversary of independence of the Czechoslovak Republic. On this day, there were big anti-Nazi demonstrations in Prague, which were suppressed by Nazi forces. One student, whose name was Jan Opletal, a nineteen-year-old medical student from the Charles University in Prague, was seriously wounded there and died a few days later.
Jan’s funeral was later attended by thousands of students and turned into another anti-Nazi demonstration, which provoked the Nazis so much that on November 17 they ordered to close all Czech universities, and they arrested hundreds of students, and as a result of the act, the day became known as the International Students’ Day in 1941.
The memory of the day remained influential even fifty years later when Czech students organized a demonstration to commemorate the student martyr Jan Opletal, and the International Students’ Day. It started off as an officially-sanctioned march, but turned quickly into a demonstration demanding the resignation of the country’s communist government. Students were brutally beaten by riot police. This annoyed the public so much that they went on a strike as well, demanding the same thing.
The historical events surrounding the day are big and powerful, Czech people celebrate the event and try to make the best out of this public holiday.
Walking around the city center and the Old Town of Prague on November 17 was not an experience to be missed. The city was full of people holding the national flag and walking proudly, the music was loud and influential, so even if you are not Czech, and you don’t relate to the historic events of the day, you would somehow catch the patriotic spirit flowing in the streets and became a part of the event. Unfortunately, some political parties consider the event as a chance to spread political messages. The police expected some unrest and stayed ready just in case of any problem.
Street music, theatre, wall messages, street florist, flags, slam poetry, Balkan brass band, seating areas and public readings.
The theatre performances were for both children and adults, and there were large puppets roaming around the city.
You would also be able to visit galleries open to interpretation on the Velvet Revolution.
The ever popular “lubricating tram” had musical acts starting at 12:30 pm.
There were also street troubadours with drumming groups.
Václav Havel’s work
Excerpts from playwright and former President Vaclav Havel’s plays were being read from noon to 8:00 pm at the plaza behind the National Theatre, now called Náměstí Václava Havla.
Commemorative ceremonies at 9:00 am and 10:00 am, followed by presentations and speeches until 3:00 pm. Student bands played from 3:00 pm to almost 10:00 pm.
There was an event organized by Proti projevům nenávisti called Nezapomínáme (We Will Not Forget) with a musical introduction started at 1:45 pm, followed by speeches until 4:00 pm, and a march in the direction from Mánes Bridge to Wenceslas Square to join up with the event “Koncert pro budoucnost”. Protests from the “Hate Free Culture” were speaking and protesting the political views coming from the Czech president’s office.
The fifth annual satirical masked parade started at Kampa at 2:30 pm and worked its way across Charles Bridge and over to Národní třída before ending at the horse statue at Wenceslas Square at 6:00 pm.
The event is called Sametové posvícení (Velvet Carnival). It is meant to offer an opportunity for people to make a statement about societal issues in a creative manner.
Although street programs ended at 10:00 pm, the programs moved along to the club Rock Café, where people enjoyed additional concerts and DJs.
Written by Zeina Kanawati.