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.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/olena-kagui/czechs-celebrate-independence-day_b_6064436.html

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Czechs Celebrate Independence Day by Protesting Rusia’s War on Ukraine

The greatest surprise came when we got to the castle. When we got to our destination there was a man wearing a large paper-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.

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 was 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 paper-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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Officially published here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/olena-kagui/czechs-celebrate-independence-day_b_6064436.html

This post was updated on June 14th, 2018: the text, as well as title and headline, may have been edited, proofread and optimized for search engines. The featured image may have been changed due to copyright or quality issues.

Beagles for Peace – War in Ukraine

Today was a long and emotional day for me at Maidan, so my first post about it will be a happy one. One of the first things I saw when I arrived in the square was a group of beagles with yellow-and-blue ribbons on their collars. Their owners were holding signs that read “Beagles for Peace” standing on the steps by the “Christmas tree.” Other beagle owners were coming from every direction and the cuteness was attracting a lot of attention from those passing by.

Our blogger in Ukraine finds a propaganda battle waged with puppies http://www.praguepost.com/viewpoint/37836-beagles-for-peace

Olga Azzuz – War in Ukraine

At the field hospital I spoke a lot to a woman called Olga Azzuz, who works there as a dentist. After her shift she took me around Maidan and told me how the protests started and how the situation escalated. She gave me insight on what the situation was like before the protests and how the nation came together to make a difference.

When fights broke out, Azzuz describes what happened in Kiev as “the scream of the soul of the nation.” In her opinion it is important for Ukrainians to deal with this issue by themselves, however, “if the West can help out, then they should.” She spoke coldly about Yanukovych and his people, calling them bandits. She said that they “traded their bandit clothing for suits when Yanukovych was elected and stole money from the nation.” They then put this stolen money into Western banks. “They confused their own pockets with the nation’s pocket,” she said.

At the beginning people just wanted to go talk to those in power, “but when people went to the government, their way was blocked,” which angered them. According to her there isno proof that it was the protesters who started the violence but violence did begin after almost 3 months of peaceful protesting. A lot of outrage came when the government enforced strict laws against protesting. Azzuz was particularly angry about this, saying “If we continued to live that way (following those laws) we would live as slaves in a dog house on a leash, seeing the sky only through bars.”

Before the protests even began, inflation was getting really bad; people could no longer afford food. After rent and food was taken care of, they had no extra money to spend on clothes or anything else. The gap between the poor and the rich expanded.

This revolution was a revolution of educated and intelligent people who had diplomas, who ran their own businesses, explains Azzuz, “it was the people who had something in their lives and wanted to defend it.” These protesters had no rights in the eyes of the government, and that was the problem.

The amazing thing about Maidan was that the self-organized volunteers came where they were needed. They would do whatever they were capable of to show support – cook, fight, draw, speak or pray. All the necessary ‘positions’ were filled by people who had those particular skills. The volunteers would meet and they greeted each other like family. There was a real sense of unity.

It was volunteers who did the most at the protest, but politicians were necessary too, especially to help get people out of jail. The politicians also offered the protesters organization, and helped them raise their demands. But although some politicians tried, “politicians couldn’t lead the revolution.”

Azzuz then told me that everyone at Maidan worked together to keep it clean. When it snowed, they would clear snow from the paths and use the snow to build and enforce barricades. At one point the garbage collectors refused to come to Maidan. So the protesters gathered all the trash, filled up several cars and brought the trash bags straight to the dump. They demanded that next time the trash collectors came, and they began coming regularly again.

Just that day, March 15th, something new was being built in the square. It looked like a pyramid and Azzuz and I went to investigate and spoke to the main builder. “This is the Pyramid of Peace and Unity,” he told us, it was built by ordinary people who came here and brought the materials to build it. It was 11.5 meters tall and on the ground it was 5 meters squared. Such pyramids have been built in Jordan and in other places, and they are spiritual places that convert water into energy. People come inside to heal; physically, mentally and spiritually. Not everyone believes in magical pyramids, but the point is that these people did, and they showed what the spirit of Maidan is all about – doing what you know and can to help others.

Maidan had many medical points, Azzuz told me, but they had to keep moving locations to stay safe from Berkut. Many illegal and very dangerous weapons were used in the fighting, and people would come in a lot with serious injuries. One time they were just finishing up tending to a group of injured protesters when someone ran in and told them that Berkut was on their way. They put people on stretchers and they used the Red Cross logo to protect themselves and to go out and find shelter. Some people could barely walk and a lot of roads were blocked off. A Polish church offered to take them in but the road to the church was blocked. They ended up walking in a random direction that had no blockades and they ran into a group of strangers who had cars. They saved them, and drove off the injured into real hospitals nearby.

There was a big problem with taking protesters to hospitals because the Berkut would stop ambulances and harass the injured – Azzuzes word of choice to describe Berkut’s behavior was “sadistic”. So volunteers decided to organize their own field hospitals and used regular passenger cars to transport the injured to protect them.

A lot of the patients who were stopped by Berkut were never seen again. There was one particular patient who Azzuz treated; he had very serious injuries, broken teeth, ripped lip and broken bones in his face around his nose and eyes. He told her that a Berkut officer was beating him in the face yelling “I will rip your head off.” He was one of the patients who a random stranger took to a hospital in his car. Azzuz called hospital after hospital asking about him. He had lost his passport and they hadn’t had time to give him fresh clothes before they had to run, and she was very worried about him. After very many phone calls, she reached a nurse who told her he was recovering from surgery to reconstruct his face. She reassured her that they are taking care of getting him a new passport and had been given clothes that were donated to the hospital. Azzuz thanked her and was relieved to hear that at least his story had ended well, considering the circumstances. During those times, any good news added a little hope and pointed towards a better future.

From what Azzuz told me, it is clear that she takes personal interest in her patients. She continues volunteering at the field hospitals to this day – she is a great example of what being a doctor really means, saving lives by any means possible. She isn’t getting paid for any of her work at Maidan, but helping people is enough of a reward for her.

https://olenakaguiukraine2014.wordpress.com/2014/03/18/olga-azzuz/

How to Make Freedom Idiot-Proof

Every foreigner knows the U.S. for being the “land of the free and home of the brave”. Although the U.S. government avoids ratifying many specific human rights treaties they are still one of the top countries when it comes to upholding their citizen’s human rights. Freedom is a huge theme in America and everyone always talks about what their rights are, and they are quick to speak up when their human rights are being abused.

Maybe I should learn to speak up, too. Let me try.

Spending ten days in Ohio, I’m here to report that I’ve seen many public signs that violate basic human rights found in the U.S. Constitution. Some of them are hilarious, if you ask me. The very first Amendment, for example, is breached in most libraries across the country. How can one exercise their right to free speech when they read signs that demand ‘Library Silence’. I was shushed at in a university library the other day when trying to express a scholarly thought – not only was my right of free speech violated but in the shock of the experience robbed me of myintellectual property – that’s a double right violation right there. See what I mean? And that’s not all.

Another set of signs that violates our basic human rights begins with signs prohibiting people from littering. Every time we are not allowed to throw our burger wrapper or coffee cup on the ground because there’s a sign saying ‘Do not litter. Use the bins provided.’ we are forced to go out of our way to dispose of our trash which takes away from our precious free time and wastes our energy that could be used for more productive activities like watching TV – this sounds very much like involuntary servitude, to which the only exception is as punishment for a crime. So if you’re not a criminal, you are being cheated out of yet another human right. I protest!

Finally, it is frustrating to see signs demanding that people wash my hands with a description of how to do it – these signs that are seen most commonly in restaurants, schools and hospital bathrooms. Free people living or traveling in the land of the free should be free to choose to be dirty and bacteria-ridden if they chose so to be. Granted, I haven’t been able to find an Amendment to fit this particular crime against human rights, but I feel violated anyway. As if a bathroom door or mirror has any right to dictate any man, woman or child’s level of cleanliness. I protest again!

Then again, maybe I shouldn’t protest too much. After all, the second Amendment allows citizens to keep and bear arms…

Are We Actually Free?

Kent State University students thought they knew the answer to this question when they gathered on campus grounds to protest America expanding the Vietnam War to Cambodia on May 4, 1970. It was the promise and illusion of freedom that led them to fearlessly stand up to the National Guard and make demands to talk to the governor and to the president. But just like on the Internet, not everything that you read on paper is 100 percent true, even when it’s written in the Constitution.

The students used their right to free speech and peaceful assembly as stated in the First Amendment as a shield against the government forces but this was not enough to protect them from tear gas and violence. The government wasn’t happy that these students, who were privileged enough to go to school on this beautiful government-funded campus, had the nerve to question and go against their political decisions.

Even though the protestors were facing violence and were treated unfairly and had their basic rights breached, they still believed that certain rights would hold up. On Monday May 4th in 1970 some students went out to gather by the bell despite the threat of tanks on their campus and being surrounded by the National Guard. They were asked to leave for their own safety, but they didn’t move until they were attacked with tear gas.

Although the tear gas made them retreat they were not done protesting and they made this very clear. They threw tear gas canisters as well as rocks back at the armed men that were advancing towards them. The National Guard split up to chase all the students away from the grounds they had previously occupied and towards the parking lot. Once there, several of them got down and aimed their guns at those protesters who were the bravest and most vocal.

The students were taken back by such a display, but they continued protesting, believing that this was just a scare tactic and that the guns were not even loaded. The National Guard ended up gathering and leaving and the students believed that they had won. They didn’t get a chance to celebrate for long, because out of no where a group of the guard looked back at the students, turned themselves around without provocation, and began to fire.

The students had no idea that he guns were loaded, and those who were too far to see and only heard had believed the sound to be of fireworks. But the sound was of death. Out of over seventy shots fired, thirteen hit victims – killing four, paralyzing one and injuring eight. None of them could have predicted that this would happen. They had false security from the words they read in their constitution and that they recited in their national anthem.

Forty years of so-called development later we see this sort of phenomenon repeat itself regularly worldwide. We hear the word democracy and we instantly feel safe without looking deeper into our situation. But we need to think and question to be able to decipher the truth. We need to be assertive individuals instead of a herd of sheep and only then will we have the ability to transform the system and create the ideal government. Freedom is more than just a state. It is ever changing and having freedom is an ongoing process that we must constantly work on in order to keep. The four students died in attempt to regain their freedom for which we must commemorate them, and use them as inspiration to keep fighting so that we never lose ours.

Remembering the Kent State Massacre – What is Freedom?

On Monday, May 4th in 1970 some students went out to gather by the bell despite the threat of tanks on their campus and being surrounded by the National Guard. They were asked to leave for their own safety, but they didn’t move until they were attacked with tear gas. They threw tear gas canisters as well as rocks back at the armed men that were advancing towards them. Once there, several of them got down and aimed their guns at those protesters who were the bravest and most vocal. The National Guard ended up the gathering and leaving and the students believed that they had won. They didn’t get a chance to celebrate for long, because out of nowhere a group of the guard looked back at the students, turned themselves around without provocation, and began to fire.

Are We Actually Free? was originally published on an expired domain created for the Kent State and Anglo American University‘s Journalism Program sponsored by Prague Freedom Foundation that I participated in during the Winter Semester of 2014-2015.

Kent State University students thought they knew the answer to this question when they gathered on campus grounds to protest America expanding the Vietnam War to Cambodia on May 4, 1970. It was the promise and illusion of freedom that led them to fearlessly stand up to the National Guard and make demands to talk to the governor and to the president. But just like on the internet, not everything that you read on paper is 100 percent true, even when it’s written in the Constitution.

The students used their right to free speech and peaceful assembly as stated in the First Amendment as a shield against the government forces but this was not enough to protect them from tear gas and violence. The government wasn’t happy that these students, who were privileged enough to go to school on this beautiful government-funded campus, had the nerve to question and go against their political decisions.

Even though the protestors were facing violence and were treated unfairly and had their basic rights breached, they still believed that certain rights would hold up. On Monday, May 4th in 1970 some students went out to gather by the bell despite the threat of tanks on their campus and being surrounded by the National Guard. They were asked to leave for their own safety, but they didn’t move until they were attacked with tear gas.

Although the tear gas made them retreat they were not done protesting and they made this very clear. They threw tear gas canisters as well as rocks back at the armed men that were advancing towards them. The National Guard split up to chase all the students away from the grounds they had previously occupied and towards the parking lot. Once there, several of them got down and aimed their guns at those protesters who were the bravest and most vocal.

The students were taken back by such a display, but they continued protesting, believing that this was just a scare tactic and that the guns were not even loaded. The National Guard ended up the gathering and leaving and the students believed that they had won. They didn’t get a chance to celebrate for long, because out of nowhere a group of the guard looked back at the students, turned themselves around without provocation, and began to fire.

The students had no idea that the guns were loaded, and those who were too far to see and only heard had believed the sound to be of fireworks. But the sound was of death. Out of over seventy shots fired, thirteen hit victims – killing four, paralyzing one and injuring eight. None of them could have predicted that this would happen. They had false security from the words they read in their constitution and that they recited in their national anthem.

Forty years of so-called development later we see this sort of phenomenon repeat itself regularly worldwide. We hear the word democracy and we instantly feel safe without looking deeper into our situation. But we need to think and question to be able to decipher the truth. We need to be assertive individuals instead of a herd of sheep and only then will we have the ability to transform the system and create the ideal government. Freedom is more than just a state. It is ever changing and having freedom is an ongoing process that we must constantly work on in order to keep. The four students died in an attempt to regain their freedom for which we must commemorate them, and use them as inspiration to keep fighting so that we never lose ours.

This post was updated on June 14th, 2018: the text, as well as title and headline, may have been edited, proofread and optimized for search engines. The featured image may have been changed due to copyright or quality issues.