Czechs Celebrate Independence Day by Protesting (PHOTOS)

October 28th is the Czechoslovak Independence Day. In 1918 it was the day that Czechoslovakia was created and it continues to be celebrated in the Czech Republic and Slovakia today. All students and most adults have the day off, some have the entire week. While most Czechs celebrate the day outside of the city, with their families or relaxing at home, today a handful of Czechs attended a protest in support of Ukraine.

Every weekend such events are held at the famous Old Town Square by the group Prague Maidan. There are concerts, speeches and people gathering signatures for pro-Ukraine petitions. This holiday had a special agenda. A lot of Czechs, especially those living in Prague, don’t support the president and his policies. President Milos Zeman is often called a communist by those who oppose him.

The fliers advertising the march from Old Town Square to the Prague Castle had slogans such as;
– Demanding a pro-democratic president, and
– We don’t want Putin’s puppet living in the castle.

There between 30 and 40 people in total – a mixture of Czechs, Ukrainians and even one or two Americans. Right away we were told that there will be people protesting against us and that we are not to interfere verbally or physically. Before we even left the square, a Russian-speaking woman dressed in yellow pants and a blue jacket started arguing with one of the protesters wearing Ukrainian ‘nationalist’ colors, black and red. She was arguing that we shouldn’t be protesting against anything but rather for something. The protester said a few words back but the march proceeded as planned.

The group had Czech flags, Ukrainian flags and several anti-Zeman and anti-Putin signs in Czech. People on the street called out at us: some yelling insults and others voicing their support. At least ten police officers walked with us and interfered when people approached the group in an aggressive manner. There were also two police cars and one police van that helped us cross roads safely and escorted us the entire way. There was one particular park on the path up to the castle where a group of pro-Russians were gathered with signs and a Russian flag. The signs were illegible from where we walked. The group was slightly smaller than ours and yelled out unintelligible words.

The greatest surprise came when we got to the castle. When we got to our destination there was a man wearing a large papier-mâché mask reassembling Russian president’s Vladimir Putin’s face. He was holding a puppet with Zeman’s face on it. The group stopped by the puppet while the group leader, wearing a Putler shirt, explained through a microphone that the group was pro-democratic and against Putin’s influence in the Czech Republic. The speaker was Czech like most of the organizers and attendees.

After the organizers’ speech, a Czech man yelled from the castle saying “shame!” Everyone responded by laughing saying, “yes, shame on Zeman!” Before marching back to Old Town Square, a Russian man stepped forward. He pulled out his passport to prove that he was truly a Russian citizen, before delivering an anti-Zeman speech. He referred to him as a ‘man who gets drunk with Russian buddies’ and expressed his discontent with both Zeman and Putin.

Everyone in the group was very friendly and despite the several anti-Ukrainians around us, the atmosphere remained friendly and peaceful. I didn’t follow the group back to the square for the concert that was to follow, but I was grateful to have experienced the march. I look forward to reporting on any other events that Prague Maidan organizes.

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Prague vs. Amsterdam (PHOTOS)

Prague and Amsterdam are two very different cities that are often compared by tourists. Prague is the heart of Europe known for having beautiful architecture, pretty women and cheap beer. Amsterdam is known as a place with a crazy night life, legal prostitution and legal drugs. But of course there is so much more to each city. After living in Prague my whole life and visiting Amsterdam for over a week I made a few interesting comparisons when it comes to cleanliness, transportation and alcohol.

Big cities are never perfectly clean. The major differences between Prague and Amsterdam are where you find the trash and how it got there. A lot of streets in Prague are covered in chewing gum that has been permanently stomped into the ground. The gum stays no matter how much Czechs clean — men and women in orange suits sweeping and picking up trash are seen regularly. With the large flow of tourists and the abundance of events held throughout the city, trash cans are often found overflowing with trash piled on all around the can. Otherwise Prague is pretty clean and trash cans are on every corner, Amsterdam is a little different. It seems to have fewer trash cans than Prague, but the area around them is almost always spotless. The trashcans in residential areas have large areas underneath them so there is always more space and trash doesn’t get left on the side. However walking through the city and it’s outskirts, there is a lot of noticeable trash in areas in and around bushes and trees; wrappers, empty bottles and cups. Whether it’s the lack of trashcans or lack of fines for littering, like in Prague, there is more stray trash on the streets of Amsterdam. However Prague has more visible trash in concentrated areas.

Both cities have reliable, safe and clean public transportation. But the price and method of paying are quite different. In Prague you can buy a single use pass around one euro, just under for an hour and just over for 90 minutes. There is also a one day ticket for 4 euros. In Amsterdam the tickets are much more expensive with a one time pass costing 2.8 euros and a daily pass costing 7.5 euros. After purchasing the tickets there is a different process of validating the tickets. In Prague, one day tickets are validated in machines right before entering the metro, or right in the tram or bus. There is also a possibility of buying a mobile ticket. Since some people have monthly passes they don’t need to validate them when they get on it creates the possibility of people sneaking on without paying. This is why Prague and especially the busiest stops have people who stop you and check your ticket with a fine of almost 30 euros for not having one. In Amsterdam it’s different because you have to validate your ticket every time you get on public transportation and every time you leave. There is either a system that stops you from entering without placing your card on a sensor or there is a person watching everyone who enters.

So Prague has much cheaper public transportation with gaps in enforcing everyone to pay. There have even been big groups of people who form in order to ride illegally and chip in when a member gets fined — according to them it is cheaper than everyone having to buy a pass. In Amsterdam there is no possibility of doing this and the system tracks how long you are traveling for and which routes you take. This information can be very useful to innovating public transportation to make it more convenient and altered to travelers needs.

Finally there’s alcohol. It is one of things that draws many tourists to both Prague and Amsterdam. Prague is known for it’s cheap and very tasty beer that is sold for around a euro in large pints. Prague has pubs on almost every street, and almost every shop or street vendor sells beer along with other alcoholic beverages. In shops beer is sometimes less than half a euro. Amsterdam is quite different. Beer is more expensive, three euros on average if you’re drinking out. It is also served in smaller quantities, usually in 0.33 glasses. Beer is also not as accessible as in Prague. Gas stations and small street vendors rarely sell beer so you have to go to a super market or restaurant to buy it. However the stores who do sell beer for around a euro and there are beers with a much higher alcohol percentage than in Prague. Neither city has strict enforcement against public drinking and beer consumption is high in both places. The final difference is that Czech pubs offer less beers, usually one or two alcoholic and one non-alcoholic. While many Dutch pubs have a much richer variety.

These are just a few comparisons that stood out during my visit to Amsterdam. Prague and Amsterdam are two very different and amazing cities and both are definitely worth a visit.

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