From a mezzo-soprano to a mountain climber: Inspirational Czechs awarded at Prague Castle

A who's who of Czech heroes, sport stars, culture figures, and innovators convened at Prague Castle to be decorated by Czech president Petr Pavel.


Written by ČTK Published on 29.10.2023 10:23:00 (updated on 30.10.2023) Reading time: 3 minutes

Czech President Petr Pavel decorated 62 personalities during his first award-giving ceremony on Saturday's national holiday marking the establishment of the independent Czechoslovak Republic on Oct. 28, 1918.

Weighing in on social media, many leaders said that overall, the event signaled a dignified celebration, focusing on those who have advanced the nation's well-being. In a speech prior to the presentation in the Castle's Vladislav Hall, Pavel said the Czech Republic has the strongest security anchoring in history.

The Medal of Heroism was bestowed on eight individuals, pilots, police officers, and firefighters, and the Medal of Merit to renowned personalities in the spheres of culture, science, and sports.

Real-life heroes take home honors

The Medal of Heroism in combat was awarded to four military pilots, including Jiří Pavel Kafka, the last surviving Czech pilot who served in the 311th Czechoslovak Bomber Squadron of the British Royal Air Force (RAF) during World War II; in memoriam to other pilots of the 311th RAF Squadron, Josef Bernát and Oldřich Doležal; and the pilot of the 310th Fighter Squadron, Stanislav Zimprich.

In four cases, the Medal of Heroism was awarded for saving a life or lives. The recipients were firefighter Pavel Farka, who saved the life of a badly injured motorcyclist, police officers Martin Salay and Jiří Štěpánek, who helped several people during the evacuation of a burning hostel in Tábor, south Bohemia, and Petr Jirout, who saved the life of a two-year-old girl who fell out of a window into a river.

Cultural, sports, and science figures take home honors

Pavel presented the Medal of Merit to 39 personalities, including actors Jiří Bartoška, Viktor Preiss, and Petr Kostka, documentary film-maker Olga Sommerová, and musician Vladimír Mišík, who in the past refused to accept this award from his predecessor, Miloš Zeman.

In the cultural and artistic sphere, poet, novelist, and actor Miloň Čepelka, illustrator and comic strip author Jaroslav Němeček, as well as architect Miroslav Masák, who was also an advisor to President Václav Havel.

A who's who of inspirational Czechs

  • Jiří Pavel Kafka was part of the remarkable Winton transport to England in 1939, which saved him from the Holocaust. He became a radio operator-gunner in the Royal Air Force and is the last surviving Czech RAF pilot.
  • Petr Sís is a Czech-born American illustrator and writer of children's books previously received the Hans Christian Andersen Medal in 2012 for his significant contributions to children's literature.
  • Eva Graham Also known as Eva Romanová, she is a renowned Czechoslovak figure skater who, along with her brother Pavel Roman, achieved four world ice dancing championships and two European championships.
  • Magdalena Kožená A Czech mezzo-soprano whose performances encompass a wide repertoire, including opera, recitals, and concerts. She has received numerous awards and accolades throughout her career.
  • Ida Kelarová Born Ida Bittová, she is a Romani singer, musician, and choirmaster. She founded the International School for the Human Voice and established choirs performing Roma songs worldwide.
  • Olga Sommerová is a Czech documentary filmmaker, with an extensive career spanning 122 films and numerous awards, who made a significant impact on the nation's memory with her interviews of political prisoners.
  • Vladimír Mišík Co-founder of influential bands like The Matadors and Blue Effect, his music career spans several decades. He refused a state award from President Miloš Zeman in 2013 as an expression of dissent.

Among athletes, mountaineer Radek Jaroš is the first Czech to climb all 14 of the world's eight-thousanders without the use of oxygen and to ascend the highest peaks of all continents.

The president also awarded the recently deceased diplomat Martin Povejšil, a long-time deputy director of the Security Information Service (BIS) civilian counterintelligence and a signatory of Charter 77. Awards were also given to several medical doctors and scientists, astronomers, and astrophysicists.

The full list of recipients can be seen here.

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