Thousands attend anti-government protest, with some camping out overnight

Attendees called on the government to resign due to Czechia's current elevated cost of living and the state's role in the Russia-Ukraine war.

Thomas Smith ČTK

Written by Thomas SmithČTK Published on 17.04.2023 10:56:00 (updated on 17.04.2023) Reading time: 2 minutes

Thousands of anti-government protesters gathered in Prague’s Wenceslas Square Sunday afternoon, with dozens spending the night outside the Government Office.

Organized by the new party Right Respect Professionalism (PRO) party, the protest voiced dissatisfaction at current cost-of-living levels that the government – according to the demonstrators – is managing poorly. Attendees called on for the government to resign.

Several notable people spoke at the protest, including Senator Jana Zwyrtek Hamplová, who via video message said that “people who disagreed with the government are treated worse than dissidents under communism.”

Less poverty and Ukraine involvement, say protesters

The official name of the protest was “Czechia Against Poverty,” which was organized by Jindřich Rajchl, head of the PRO party. Demonstrators carried Czech flags and banners with slogans reading “Out of NATO,” and “No to War, or Government and Media Lies.” Protesters also urged the government to stop supplying arms and military aid to Ukraine, in fear that Czechia would be dragged into the Russia-Ukraine war.

Demonstrators also criticized high energy and food prices, the government’s plans to establish mandatory data boxes for self-employed people, and the decision to close 300 post offices nationwide. Some protestors also claimed that the government was eroding freedom of speech and that current society is “like before 1989.”

Organizer urges calm

Despite anti-Ukrainian-refugee sentiment espoused by some members of the protest, Rajchl said that the rally did not call for the removal of the Ukrainian flag in front of the National Museum. This was said in reference to a PRO demonstration in March, which saw some demonstrators clash with police in an attempt to remove the Ukrainian flag. 

Rajchl, prior to the protest, also called on demonstrators to refrain from bringing any Russian flags or similar clothing. 

Outside the National Museum on Sunday, a smaller group of people holding Ukrainian and EU flags congregated and clashed verbally with PRO demonstrators. According to police, no violence was reported.

PRO has said it will continue to organize demonstrations in the spring and summer.

Sleeping out

After Sunday’s large protest, tens of people made their way to Czechia’s Government Office in Malá Strana to continue voicing their anger – some of whom camped outside the building overnight and remain there as of Monday morning. Protesters have also set up petition stands at the office, to help garner support for PRO’s cause.

A rising tide of anger

Sunday’s demonstration is one of several that have occurred in the past year. September saw tens of thousands of people flood Wenceslas Square in a protest organized by the right-wing “Czech Republic First” movement, which was followed by a similar protest in October and two demonstrations in November. Czech Republic First organized another large protest in late January, which again called for the resignation of Prime Minister Petr Fiala.

A new opinion poll underlines the current disaffection with the incumbent government. A survey by the Kantar polling agency found that the opposition ANO movement would claim 29.5 percent of the popular vote and win the election – gaining 2 percentage points more than the ruling Spolu coalition. 

With frequent large-scale protests and more negative public opinion polls, similar demonstrations are likely to hit Prague in the months ahead.

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