Independence Day 2017 and 2018
Independence Day in Czech Republic falls on October 28th and is more formally known as “Independent Czechoslovak State Day”.
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Even though Czech Republic became independent in 1992, ending the existence of “Czechoslovakia,” the day is still kept as the Czech national day. In Slovakia, however, this is not the case, and another Czech holiday, “Restoration of the Independent Czech State Day,” commemorates the “act of disunion” that occurred on January 1st, 1992.
Settled by Slavs (Czechs) in the 10th Century A.D., Bohemia and Moravia long had a distinct identity but were, nevertheless, normally ruled by foreign powers. The Hapsburg Austrio-Hungarian Empire controlled the region up until the end of World War I, but there were movements for greater Czech autonomy many years prior to the collapse of Austria-Hungary at the close of the war. Czech Republic was specifically part of Austria, while Slovakia was part of Hungary. The former was largely industrialized, while the latter was mostly agricultural. Yet, a movement for their union with each other as Czechoslovakia and their independence from Austria-Hungary was on the rise.
Czech exile Tomas Masaryk led an independence movement operating outside Austria-Hungary during World War I, and in 1916, began the Czechoslovak National Council. In January of 1918, the movement spread to the Czech homeland itself, and resistance forces began withholding food shipments to the war front that went to Austrian soldiers. Because much of Austria’s grain was produced in the region, it was a significant threat. Finally, on October 28th, 1918, still two weeks before the war ended, independence was declared in Wenceslas Square in Prague, and a new nation emerged from the crumbling Austrio-Hungarian Empire.
October 28th later became the date of other important national events, like the student-led protests against the Nazi occupation in 1939, and it became associated with the Velvet Revolution of 1989 that led to the collapse of Communist rule. Thus, it has developed into a day of general Czech patriotism rather than a celebration only of independence from Austria-Hungary after World War I.
Should you be in Czech Republic on Czech Independence Day, some ideas on what to do include:
- Watch the main celebration on TV, which includes a speech by the Czech president and the giving out of award medals during events at the 1,100-year-old Prague Castle. There is also a laying of flowers on the grave of Tomas Masaryk, independence leader and first Czechoslovak president. The castle lights up at night and is quite a sight to see, but only a few thousand “elite” guests are actually invited and can enter the castle.
- Tour the National Museum of Prague, a multi-building museum with millions of artifacts that cover every aspect of Czech history and culture. Parts of it are located at historic Wenceslas Square. You may also wish to see other Prague museums, like the Jewish Museum, the Museum of Decorative Arts, and the Prague Public Transport Museum.
- Visit a castle that you can enter and that has many exhibits, the Vysehrad fort in Prague. It is a 10th-Century castle on a hill overlooking the city and claimed to be the site of the original Prague settlement. Inside the complex, are the basilicas of Saint Peter, of Saint Paul, and of Saint Martin, the 9th-Century Church of the Virgin Mary, and a graveyard where many famous Czechs are buried.
Aside from the official celebrations, Czech Independence Day is an ideal time to see Czech history firsthand and to learn as much as you can about Czech culture.
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