Explained: Why last weekend's anti-government protest is shaking up a Czech university

The demonstration, which ended in the attempted removal of the Ukrainian flag from Prague's National Museum, was attended by a university dean.

Expats.cz Staff

Written by Expats.cz Staff Published on 16.03.2023 07:30:00 (updated on 16.03.2023) Reading time: 4 minutes

An anti-government protest last Saturday, which saw dozens of attendees struggle with police in an attempt to remove a Ukrainian flag displayed at the front of the National Museum, has been at the forefront of headlines in Czechia this week.

Saturday's events even triggered another demonstration this week, but this time by students who are calling for a senior university dean in Czechia, spotted at the protest, to be dismissed. And now the extra-parliamentary populist group who organized the protest is demanding an investigation into the police who arrested some protestors.

What is the PRO movement?

Formed in 2022, the relatively new political movement describes its focus as making energy cheaper, restoring confidence in the law, and defending human freedoms, which, it says were suppressed during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The movement's leadership is comprised of people associated with the Charter 2022 statement, which is a response to anti-coronavirus measures, and the campaign against compulsory vaccination. 

"The program of our party is quite simple. It is about returning common sense, expertise, respect and law to the administration of public affairs in the Czech Republic," the movement's chairman Jindřich Rajchl told ČTK in 2022. It is also Eurosceptic in nature and has issues with immigration.

Rajchl and other PRO members denied that any violence took place during the demonstration and told reporters that the incident in front of the National Museum building occurred after the protest ended. He said the demonstration was not pro-Russian and that those with the letter Z on their clothes in photos released afterward were provocateurs who the movement said it's filing a criminal complaint against.

A Prague police spokesperson said Wednesday that an internal inspection will be conducted as a routine procedure whenever law-enforcement applies security measures.

Provocateur or passerby? Dean who attended is asked to resign

Among those spotted at the protest was Dean of the Faculty of Economics at Prague’s prestigious University of Economics and Business (VŠE) Miroslav Ševčík who was photographed among the protestors who scuffled with police in attempts to remove the Ukrainian flag.

In response, the university’s rector Petr Dvořák recommended this week that Ševčík step down. The university also distanced itself from Ševčík’s actions, citing that his public behavior had long been "crossing the line." The dean has previously attended anti-government protests.

Minister of Education Vladimír Balaš gave his view on the affair Wednesday, saying that the university dean poses “a reputation problem” for VŠE and that his position is untenable. However, there is technically no legal basis to dismiss Ševčík, therefore complicating an immediate firing.

Staunch defense

Ševčík, however, defends himself by saying that “he sees no reason” for his dismissal. He claims that he had only been present near the museum because he had been helping a wounded man. According to Ševčík, calls for his resignation are merely an excuse to get rid of somebody who voices “uncomfortable views.”

Senior politicians Jaroslav Bašta and Jiří Kobza of the – also populist – Freedom and Direct Democracy party have voiced their support of Ševčík, emphasizing that a society with a plurality of opinions is important. In an open letter, supporters of Ševčík warned of a return to a “totalitarian” Czechia, given the furor surrounding the dean.

Those backing Ševčík also blamed "false and manipulative media outlets" for wrongly tarnishing his image. He has also received the support of the anti-government Tricolor movement, of which Ševčík used to be a part.

A new protest – against Ševčík

Angered by Ševčík’s actions, hundreds of VŠE students congregated in front of the university’s main building in Žižkov Wednesday afternoon to demand the dean's dismissal.

“Shame to the university,” read one banner at the event, another labeled the dean a "disgrace." The students also organized a petition and an open letter to the university, explaining why he should be removed. 

Member of the VŠE academic senate Lukáš Hulínský was also in attendance, calling for Ševčík to resign immediately.

Around 20 or so counter-demonstrators were also in attendance, displaying signs criticizing an encroachment upon free speech – debate ensued between both sets of demonstrators, but the police reported no violence at the event.

Reasons for dismissal

Is Ševčík in the clear, or should he be dismissed? There are a variety of things to consider.

University rectors hold a position of authority and responsibility within an institution, and their political views could be perceived as influencing their decisions in a way that is not impartial or objective. This could undermine the integrity of the institution and its academic mission, as well as create an uncomfortable environment for students and faculty who hold different political views.

Universities are also funded by public funds or private donors, and as such, they are expected to remain neutral in political matters and prioritize the public interest. If the rector openly expresses political views, it could be seen as a breach of this expectation and undermine the credibility and legitimacy of the university in the eyes of the public.

Ševčík Tuesday asked for “more time” to consider his potential resignation, and an announcement is due soon. The university's academic senate is due to meet this week to discuss Ševčík's future.

The dean’s actions have sparked fierce arguments and emotion, and – more broadly – raised questions about the extent to which people’s actions can be associated with their workplace. What do you think?

Should Ševčík resign for his attendance at Saturday's protest?

Yes 53 %
No 47 %
144 readers voted on this poll. Voting is closed
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