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.