...highlighting the importance and bravery of students during the events of 1939 and 1989...
By Ivo Strejček, IVK
On the festive day of 17 November 2021, there was only one prepared, thoughtful and serious political speech. It was delivered by President Václav Klaus at the memorial site in front of Hlávka College. This seems to be the only possible place to reflect on the meaning and legacy of 17 November 1939 and 1989 and to use this opportunity to reflect on the connections between these important milestones in modern Czech history and today. Performances with similar political speeches are no longer allowed on the National Avenue that was turned hysterical by the "truth and love warriors" [Czech SJWs named after Václav Havel's appealing but cheesy quote, "the truth and love must defeat the lies and hatred"].
Václav Klaus delivered a statesmanlike and inspiring speech to the high representatives of Czech academia and their students. It is not his fault that the reporter present (or a news editor?) narrowed the content of the speech to a shortened excerpt from his extensive speech to the sentence that "communism was not defeated by students or dissidents", only to have this shortcut subsequently taken up by the rest of the media. This is such a gross and purposeful misrepresentation of the content of the speech (which was subsequently used by all those who take every possible opportunity to smear Václav Klaus) that such journalistic sloppiness cannot go unnoticed.
Václav Klaus recalled with dignity the students and their sacrifices in 1939 and stressed that their defiance was an example for all those who decided to resist the Nazis then on the rise. He appreciated their actions in the context of a time when the very existence of the Czech nation was threatened by the German Nazi ideology.
Recalling the bravery and determination of the students in November 1989, he said: "The parade of students and the public to honour the memory of Jan Opletal [a key student shot dead at an anti-Nazi rally] and his colleagues on 17 November 1989 became the detonator for the end of communism in our country. The brutality with which the repressive forces of the communist regime cracked down on young people opened the eyes of those who perhaps until then had not seen and felt the unacceptability and unsustainability of an already completely discredited regime." The word "detonator" has a serious place in Václav Klaus's views because it consistently respects the sequence of causes and consequences. That is why in the following sentences he explains, "We know that the fall of communism was epochal, global in character, that neither our students nor our dissidents defeated communism, that it collapsed like every similar arrogant attempt to suppress human freedom by force...".
We who remember at least a little the last years of communism in Czechoslovakia must agree with these words. Communism was then discredited in the eyes of the public – ideologically, economically and socially. It had no one who wanted to defend it. It had no supporters at home; it was collapsing throughout the communist community. Let us recall that the Prague student protest of 17 November 1989 was preceded by the collapse of this ideology in Poland and Germany. No, neither the students nor the dissidents defeated communism; communism defeated itself.
And yet these sentences of Václav Klaus in his speech in front of Hlávka College were not the most important thing he wanted to say. Against the backdrop of the two 17th Novembers as tragic mementos of the loss of freedom and the difficulty of returning to it, he expressed his main message – a warning about the ominous signs of the emerging unfreedoms of the new, modern, undiscredited and topical "demanding sacrifices that will supposedly engulf the epidemic and that will supposedly help the temperature of our planet evolve in a few centuries."
Indeed, Václav Klaus was talking about something other than the contribution of students and dissidents to the fall of communism in 1989. He used that solemn day in November to urge that "we should not let the right to critical thinking and to education without indoctrination be taken away from us" and to remind the Czech public on that solemn day that "the lessons of our two 17th Novembers are an inspiration and a guide for our actions in the present". His appeal that we should "not accept things we disagree with, just as the students living in this dormitory 82 years ago did not accept them" was fundamental and decisive.
The content of Václav Klaus' message was so different from the superficial slogans and empty political shortcuts that the media and today's politicians inundated us with from the National Avenue throughout the festive day that only the media-political primitive discrediting of his words could "silence Klaus". This may have succeeded for a few hours or days, but it did not harm the timelessness of Václav Klaus' speech dedicated to the legacy of 17 November for today and what it implies for us.
Ivo Strejček, Václav Klaus Institute, 19 November 2021
Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)
Our two 17th Novembers and today
The aforementioned speech by Klaus on 17th November 2021
Thank you for inviting me to this annual meeting at this historic site on this cold morning hour, which helps to evoke the atmosphere of what happened here 82 years ago. I have never refused an invitation to speak here. Many of us meet here repeatedly, fully aware that the anniversary of 17 November is actually two anniversaries – similar in some ways, different in others. Both anniversaries deserve our presence here.
Today's national holiday reminds the present generation of two watershed events in our modern history – the Nazi terror and persecution of the Czech nation eight decades ago and the fall of communism half a century later. The older of these anniversaries, 17 November 1939, is a symbol of the first act of the darkest period of our modern history, the era of German occupation. In its six-year duration, it was not only the lives of students executed and persecuted in connection with the demonstrations on the anniversary of 28 October that were at stake, but the fate of our nation as a whole. Those living at the time knew that the final "solution" to the Czech question was to come after the Germans had won the world war.
The students of 1939 did not intend to silently submit to the German occupying power. The tragic fate of those executed, the suffering of twelve hundred of their colleagues in concentration camps, the closure of Czech universities, and the de facto attempt to liquidate the Czech intelligentsia did not break the resistance of the nation to the occupiers. What happened at that time made an impression not only on the generations of that time, but also on future generations, all over the world. It is no coincidence that this day has become International Students' Day.
Not even the efforts of the second totalitarian regime of the 20th century – communism – to seize its interpretation and exploit it for its own purposes of power could erase the message of the first of our two 17th Novembers. The parade of students and the public to commemorate Jan Opletal and his colleagues on 17 November 1989 became the trigger [detonator] for the end of communism in our country. The brutality with which the repressive forces of the communist regime cracked down on young people opened the eyes of those who perhaps until then had not seen and felt the unacceptability and unsustainability of the already completely discredited regime.
Although 32 years have already passed since these events, many of us are their contemporary witnesses. We know that the fall of communism was epochal, global in character, that neither our students nor our dissidents defeated communism, that it collapsed like every similar arrogant attempt to violently suppress human freedom and build an unlivable utopia at the cost of countless human and material sacrifices. The trampling on the memory of the brave students of the German occupation became the last droplet [straw] that overflowed the cup.
We, to whom 17 November 1939 has not ceased to speak urgently to this day, we who actively lived through the events of November 1989, are beginning to fear that times are returning which we thought could never return. Once again, with ever greater pressure and force, a utopia is being imposed on us, a utopia that claims to be based on science, once again, in the name of supposedly higher goals, individual freedom is to be sacrificed. Once again, freedom of speech, freedom of opinion, freedom of conscience are being obstructed. We are familiar with cases of violations of fundamental civil rights guaranteed by the Constitution, ignoring the pronouncements of the courts and tightening the noose of all sorts of prohibitions and restrictions.
As in the sad times of the past, sacrifices are being demanded of the present generation, which will supposedly put an end to the epidemic and which, in a few centuries, will supposedly help the temperature of our planet to correctly evolve. Fear of the future is imposed on us, we are told to resign and submit. We are being told that man is the enemy of the future, we are being told that we must sacrifice the prosperity and future of our country and the fate of our children and grandchildren to the chimera of climate warfare. We are to make the sacrifices now, we will never see the results, or only after many centuries.
If we do not want to repeat the tragic fate of our parents and grandparents in the 20th century, if we want to avoid senseless and unnecessary sacrifices and hardships, we must keep our eyes and ears open. The lessons of our two 17th November events are an inspiration and a guide for our actions in the present. We must not accept things we disagree with, just as the students living in this college 82 years ago did not accept them. We must not let our right to critical thinking and to education without indoctrination be taken away. So it is good that the chancellors of two of our most prominent universities are here.
The legacy of 17 November optimistically suggests to us that the heralds and promoters of the new single truth will eventually lose, and that they will lose just as their predecessors lost in 1939 and in 1989. It is good that we are still reminded of this legacy.
Václav Klaus, commemorative ceremony for the International Student Day and National Day on 17 November in front of the Hlávka College, Prague, 17 November 2021
Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)