Archive for November, 2008

3:18 pm

Struggle for Freedom and Democracy Day

As International Students Day, November 17 commemorates the anniversary of the 1939 Nazi storming of the University of Prague after demonstrations against the killing of Jan Opletal and the occupation of Czechoslovakia, and the execution of nine student leaders, over 1200 students sent to concentration camps, and the closing of all Czech universities and colleges.

In the Czech Republic, as Struggle for Freedom and Democracy Day, it also marks the beginning of the Velvet Revolution. In 1989, a memorial march in honor of the fiftieth anniversary of the first International Students Day was organized. Some 15,000 people came out to take part in the solemn march that led from Slavín cemetery at Vyšehrad and was making its way to Václavské náměstí. They were stopped however on Národní třída by members of the State Security Service, who brutally attacked the marchers. This in turn sparked a series of popular demonstrations from November 19 to late December that resulted in the collapse of the Communist government.

There’s a memorial plaque in an arcade on Národní třída. Today it was completely mobbed by people who had come to leave flowers and candles:

I suppose it’s also in keeping with the theme of the day that there is a demonstration, opposing the planned US radar base today. Bring your own candles.

12:40 pm

The Czechoslovak Legion in Russia, 1914–20

When I was in Olomouc, I saw a Russian Orthodox Church, which I was told had been built shortly after the First World War for the sake of Czechs who had converted to Orthodoxy during the War. I didn’t think much of it at the time, assuming that these Czechs had been prisoners of war. But maybe not.

At the time of World War I, Czechoslovakia was still part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and most of the citizens who went to war did so (at least initially) as part of the Austro-Hungarian army. However, Czechs and Slovaks living in the Russian Empire at the time war broke out formed their own company within the Russian army to fight Austria-Hungary. As the war continued, their ranks were increased, with the encouragement of émigré politicians promoting Czechoslovak independence, by defectors and prisoners of war.

This exhibition, The Czechoslovak Legion in Russia, 1914–20 at Prague Castle gives the history of these Czechoslovak units.

In the early years of the war, they were initially simply part of the Russian Army, although by 1917, the numbers had grown enough that they constituted an independent Czechoslovak Army. Following the Russian Revolution and Russia’s subsequent withdrawal from the war, the story becomes much more interesting. Czechoslovak soldiers were supposed to be evacuated to France to continue fighting with the Allies. However, Russia’s European ports weren’t safe, so the the Czechoslovaks were sent across Russia to Vladivistock. However, Austrian and German prisoners of war being repatriated were being sent in the opposite direction at the same time, creating transportation problems. Eventually, the Czechoslovak soldiers found themselves doing battle with the Bolsheviks and it took until 1920 before they were all home.

These efforts on behalf of Allied forces helped Czechoslovakia to be recognized as an independent nation and one moreover that was one of the victorious powers.

12:40 pm

St. Martin’s Day

Burčák and the late summer vinobraní notwithstanding, November 11, the feast of St. Martin, is when the new vintage makes its debut. In honor of the occasion, there was a "wine festival" in Staroměstské náměstí to introduce the new wine to Prague. There were only a couple of dozen booths, though, and it was rather sparsely attended:

There were maybe a dozen wineries with booths and a smattering of booths selling cheese and other preserved food. And, of course, there were several booths selling food: sausages and bramboráky (potato pancakes) and roasted pork:

And, of course, there was the usual trdelník stand.

I had expected that the vintners would be offering wine tasting, but instead, the wine was being sold by the (.2 liter) glass (as well as by the bottle), so sampling one’s way through the festival was not feasible. Though it does explain why there was so much food available!

The posters for the festival had advertised that St. Martin would make an appearance on his white horse, but alas, I saw neither saint nor horse.

Restaurants have been marking St. Martin’s Day this week with special menus featuring goose and Svatomartinské víno (St. Martin’s wine).

St. Martin and the Geese

According to one legend, St. Martin of Tours was reluctant to become bishop so he hid in a stable filled with geese. The noise made by the geese betrayed his location to the people who were looking for him. Another story has it that a flock of geese interrupted one of his sermons with their honking. In either case, goose as supper is St. Martin’s belated revenge.

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