From the point of view of Czech history, the 17th of November represents two important milestones at once in the building of our democracy. In the first key year, 1939, a strong repression of the student community, which, refusing to give up its voice in public affairs, protested strongly against the occupation by force of a sovereign state by the Nazi party leadership, respectively by the gestapo, began. These events came to a climax with the death of one of the student leaders, Jan Opletal, who was an active participant in the protests against the Nazi occupation. The next thing to happen was the closing of the Czech institutions of higher learning, the execution of student leaders and the imprisonment of 1200 college students in concentration camps.
These tragic happenings and especially the will to fight for higher values on the part of the Czech students, brought a response from society as early as in the year 1941, when the date of the 17th of November was proclaimed to be International Student Day.
The Velvet Revolution as a path to freedom
The 17th of November was written into the history books once again in the year 1989 on the day of the 50th anniversary of the closing of the Czech colleges. In Prague on Albertov street, students gathered to honour the memory of Jan Opletal and then walked down the street called Národní třída. This entire event, however, was basically,just like its counterpart, which preceded it 50 years earlier, a protest against a totalitarian regime. From today´s point of view, this represents a key moment in the so-called Velvet Revolution, a starting point for the period of political change in Czechoslovakia, which opened the doors for today´s democratic society.
As we can see by looking into the past, students have been a moving force in Czech history, not afraid to confront the “enemy“. They made a significant contribution to the development of democracy in the Czech Republic. Today we are living in an era which is not accompanied by such dramatic events as in the year 1939, respectively 1989, however, even in our modern times, students are contributing their innovative ideas and new thoughts while fearlessly protesting against clichés in the current state of affairs, whether we are talking about active politicians, members of citizens´ movements, various initiatives or founders of start-ups.
Dear Students, remember, on the 17th of November, when we celebrate the International Day of Students, your predecessors, students at colleges in the years 1939 and 1989, with their values and ideals. Attempt to give some thought to the question of how you yourselves can support democracy and worthwhile values in our society.