#LifeInCzechia November 17 holds special significance in the history of the Czech Republic. It commemorates two events of great importance – the International Students’ Day and the Freedom and Democracy Day. These milestones happened 50 years apart. What are they about? Why has this day become a national holiday? Let’s find out in the article!
International Students’ Day
The origins of International Students’ Day in the Czech Republic trace back to the year 1939. The students formed an anti-Nazi demonstration at the funeral of Jan Opletal who was killed during a demonstration in Prague. On the night of 16-17 November, Nazi German soldiers occupied the universities in Prague, Příbram, and Brno. They were then closed for three years.
On November 17, Nazi forces brutally suppressed a peaceful demonstration organized by Czech students in Prague. The protest was a manifestation of the students’ opposition to the occupation of their country. Nazi’s violent response resulted in the death of several students and the arrest and persecution of many more. This day became a poignant reminder of the sacrifices made to pursue academic freedom and resistance against oppression.
Struggle for Freedom and Democracy Day
The historical importance of November 17 gained renewed significance during the Velvet Revolution of 1989. On this day, in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the event mentioned above, students once again took to the streets of Prague. What was originally planned as a commemorative gathering turned into an anti-regime demonstration that ultimately led to the overthrow of the communist regime.
Students of Prague universities gathered at Albertov and headed to Charles Square in the evening. However, the security forces resisted the students. The crowd was stopped in front of the Máj department store on Národní třída. Several thousand students found themselves surrounded. After disobeying the call to leave the area, the security forces started with violent beating of students.
This event roused the entire public to resist the totalitarian regime. This was the beginning of the Velvet Revolution, which subsequently led to the regime’s downfall.
November 17 today
Nowadays, these two events are commemorated as a national holiday. Universities organize discussions, seminars, and cultural events to celebrate the diversity of their student body and to promote a sense of international solidarity.
The day serves as an opportunity to reflect on the importance of academic freedom, the role of students in shaping societal change, and the value of education as a tool for empowerment.
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