A president, resistance fighters, and a Trump take home Czechia's presidential honors

In a ceremony that wasn't without its controversies Czech president Miloš Zeman honored a diverse group of recipients for heroism and merit.


Written by ČTK Published on 29.10.2022 10:55:00 (updated on 29.10.2022) Reading time: 3 minutes

Czech President Miloš Zeman presented the supreme Czech state decoration, the Order of White Lion, to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, and to Czech wartime resistance fighters and pilots, in memoriam, at a ceremony at Prague Castle Friday evening.

The president also bestowed state honors on a number of other notable personalities including the late Ivana Trump, whose children Ivanka and Don, Jr. were in Prague to receive the award on behalf of their deceased mother.

The Order of White Lion went to members of the legendary Three Kings anti-Nazi resistance organization, Josef Balabán, Josef Vladimír Mašín, and Václav Morávek. Balabán and Mašín were executed in 1941 and 1942, while Morávek committed suicide before being arrested by the Gestapo in 1942.

The White Lion was also presented to fighter pilot and aerobatics champion Josef Hubáček, who was a member of an aerobatics trio and world champion before WWII, and another WWII pilot Josef Stehlík, fighting in France, Britain, and on the Eastern front, as well as to legionaries and anti-Nazi resistance fighters Karel Lukas and Vojtěch Luža.

Zeman awarded three Orders of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, the second highest state decoration, to the late head of the charity Good Will Committee – Olga Havel Foundation, Milena Černá, posthumously, the director of the Food Bank for Prague and Central Bohemia, Věra Doušová, and the late Slovak writer Ladislav Mňačko.

The president presented 21 medals for heroism on Friday. Recipients include nine students executed by the Nazis on Nov. 17, 1939, voluntary firefighters and police officers for assisting during a tornado and fighting the Bohemian Switzerland National Park, as well as Roma anti-Nazi fighter Josef Serinek, who was imprisoned in the concentration camp at Lety, south Bohemia, during WWII and another resistance fighter Tomáš Houška.

Zeman also decorated special force officer Petr Matouš who successfully disarmed a terrorist in Afghanistan.

Several dozens of medals of merit were also awarded. Among them late singer Hana Zagorová, and Slovak-born musician Miroslav Žbirka, posthumously.

Another medal of merit in memoriam was bestowed on Czech-American businesswoman Ivana Trump, a former wife of later US president Donald Trump. Their daughter Ivanka Trump and son Donald Trump, Jr. received the medal on behalf of their late mother.

From the sports world Czech tennis player Ivan Lendl, living in the United States, and hockey player Jiři Holík were awarded for merit.

The ceremony wasn't without controversy. A number of key ministers were absent from the president's award-giving ceremony to mark Czechoslovak Independence Day, either because they were not invited or chose not to go.

Foreign Minister Jan Lipavský, with whom Zeman has had long-standing issues (and vice versa), did not receive an invitation. Other senior state officials, such as Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies Markéta Adamová Pekarová and Senate President Miloš Vystrčil, were also omitted from the guest list.

Although Health Minister Vlastimil Válek received an invite, he snubbed the invitation in protest: "We are again witnessing how the president is selecting in an undignified manner whom of the elected officials he will invite and whom not to the Castle where he is a temporary tenant. I do not intend to participate in this," Válek said.

Prime Minister Fiala attended the event despite having previously expressed unhappiness with Zeman’s exclusion of some guests.

Josef Mašín's daughter Zdena Mašínova refused to receive the order from Zeman and was presented the award by Defense Minister Jana Černochová at the ceremony. Zeman also came under fire for awarding his doctors and supporters.

During his ten years in office, Zeman, whose term ends in March, presented numerous state orders and medals, decorating 78 men and women. He bestowed the second-highest number of awards, 42, in 2019. In the final year of his presidency, Zeman surpassed the number of orders and medals given by his predecessors, Václav Havel and Václav Klaus.

Still, he did not beat Havel's record from 1998 when he decorated almost 90 personalities on the occasion of the 80th anniversary of the birth of Czechoslovakia.

Read the full list of recipients of presidential awards here.

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