With a total lock-down, every day feels the same. Yet, there is one that can still be called very special both for native Czechs and those living in the Czech Republic. It’s the 17th of November.
The 17th of November or the International Students’ day is the only international commemoration day of Czech origin. The events which took place on that date played an important role in Czech history twice – in 1939 and 1989. You can guess that students were the main participants.
By March 1939, Nazi Germany occupied the majority of Czech lands, creating the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. The Nazi plans included the extermination of Czech intellectuals, the destruction of national values and ideas, and the gradual Germanification of the nation. The resistance movement was strong among different representatives of Czech society, but especially among students. As a result, on the 28th of October – the day of the Czechoslovak Independence – a group of students led by the medical student Jan Opletal, and other Czech patriots, marched in Prague. Protesters were attacked by the German police on Charles Square. As a result, a 22-year-old worker, Vaclav Sedlacek, was shot to death, and Jan Opletal was severely wounded, dying of his injuries on the 11th of November. Students attending the funeral turned the process into an anti-Nazi demonstration. Nazis responded by trying to suppress the resistance by closing the Czech Universities on 17th November, arresting thousands, sending 1200 students to concentration camps, and executing 8 students and 1 professor.
Two years after, on the 17th November 1941, the day was declared to be the International Day of Students by the National Union of Students of England and Wales, and recognized by 14 countries.
In 1939, the 17th November marked the beginning of a horrible era of bloody suppression and later in 1989. it changed history for the better. A peaceful student demonstration against the communist regime started the process of liberation. Brutally beaten by the police during the march on Narodni Trida, students eventually inspired dozens of thousands of people to rise against the totalitarian regime. The revolution aimed at protecting their freedom and starting a revolution, which was so peaceful and smooth that it received the name Velvet. But that is a different story.