Two protests, one message: thousands rally against Czech COVID-19 restrictions through the weekend

Protesters flocked to Old Town Square on Sunday, while a smaller group marched on Friday; Jewish groups condemn anti-vaxxer's use of yellow stars

Raymond Johnston

Written by Raymond Johnston
Published on 11.01.2021 12:34 (updated on 11.01.2021)

Several thousand people demonstrated on Prague’s Old Town Square on Jan. 10 against the government’s restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

This followed on a similar protest march on Jan. 8 from Wenceslas Square to the U.S. and Slovak embassies. That protest, in addition to being against Czech government restrictions, was in support of U.S. President Donald Trump’s efforts to stay in office.

Jewish leaders condemned that protest for its use of Holocaust-inspired yellow stars with the text “not tested” and “not vaccinated” on some of the demonstrators.

The Jan. 10 demonstration was called Let’s Open the Czech Republic (Otevřeme Česko) and featured speeches by entrepreneurs, artists, doctors, and students. Former president Václav Klaus was among those who addressed the crowd

The event lasted about two hours, and the police estimated the number of its participants at up to 3,000. Only up to 100 people are allowed to take part in such public events.

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Prime Minister Andrej Babiš (ANO) condemned the demonstration and criticized Prague Mayor Zdeněk Hřib (Pirates) for not dissolving the event.

Many protesters did not wear face masks and did not respect the set minimum distance of two meters. The police said the gathering was calm, and they would report the violations of the restrictions to the administrative body.

Speakers called for the government to resign. They also demanded the immediate lifting of all government restrictions and opening of the economy. Participants carried Czech flags and banners against what they called COVID tyranny. Some protesters arrived with small children.

“Let’s open the whole of the Czech Republic completely by Jan. 23. Let’s live our own lives and protect those who really need it and who want it,” pub owner and event co-organizer Jiří Janeček told the crowd. The current state of emergency lasts until Jan 22.

Janeček organized a previous protest that made a line of beer mugs and candles between the Government Office and Old Town Square.

Former president Klaus said the government must stop issuing restrictions. “We have had enough of it. There have been too many orders and bans that principally harm our lives,” he said.

“There is no miraculous vaccine. Vaccination must not be obligatory,” Klaus said, adding that he would not get vaccinated.

Singer Daniel Landa asked the participants to protest in a nonviolent manner through civil disobedience.

The demonstration was co-organized by Libor Vondráček, chairman of the non-parliamentary Freedomites (Svobodní), formerly the Party of Free Citizens (SSO). Vondráček told the Czech News Agency (ČTK) that the demonstration had the long-term goal of opening the Czech Republic and the short-term goal of making the government have a real dialogue with people who are affected by the current restrictions.

Prime Minister Babiš said the participants do not realize what it happening in hospitals. “They should all become members of COVID units and volunteer in hospitals,” he said.

Co-organizer Janeček told ČTK that his group would have as many people ready and capable to help in hospitals as possible. He said they just need to know what people are needed and where. He asked for a coordinator for hospital volunteers by Jan. 12.

Smaller protest held on Friday

A protest on Jan. 8 was much smaller, with 100 to 200 people. They were opposing the Czech government’s pandemic restrictions, voicing support of a second term for U.S. President Donald Trump, and questioning the circumstances of the recent death of former Slovak police chief Milan Lučanský.

After speeches at Wenceslas Square that mainly focused on the coronavirus restrictions, the group crossed the Charles Bridge and went to the U.S. Embassy and then to the Slovak Embassy.

The protesters carried pro-Trump flags in addition to Czech flags. Some participants wore Confederate flags as capes. The Confederate flag is currently considered a racist symbol in the U.S.

At the U.S. Embassy, people chanted in favor of Trump.

The U.S. Congress last week confirmed Trump’s rival Joe Biden as the next president, but not until after a riot in the U.S. Capitol Building that left five people dead including a police officer. The riot was condemned by Czech politicians. Trump’s behavior has been condemned by Czech President Miloš Zeman.

At the Slovak Embassy, demonstrators challenged the news that the cause of the death of prosecuted former Slovak police president Lučanský was his suicide attempt. Demonstrators had a moment of silence and lit candles.

Use of Star of David condemned

A few demonstrators wore a yellow Star of David with the slogans “not tested” and “not vaccinated.” The Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic and the Foundation for Holocaust Victims have condemned the use of the Star of David, which the Nazis used to mark Jewish inhabitants.

The Federation and Foundation said on Facebook this seems to them an exemplary abuse and relativisation of a Holocaust symbol connected with the suffering of millions of people.

They said society apparently needed to be permanently educated and they recommend that anyone who resorts to such practices should visit places connected with the Nazi genocide in the Czech Republic and abroad.

The Jewish Community of Prague also condemned the use of the yellow stars.

“Perhaps due to today's coronavirus pandemic, many have a better understanding of what it means to restrict movement, shopping, ban visitors, and other restrictions. But certainly no one is hungry,” the Jewish Community of Prague said on Facebook

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“Please do not use yellow star patches. You are insulting the victims of Nazism,” they concluded.

“They aren’t humiliated. Bikes, cars, radios, televisions have not been confiscated. People can go to nature, to the park. They are not robbed of his property and no one is moving anyone to Terezín and in cattle cars farther east,” they added.

Israeli ambassador to Prague Daniel Meron also condemned it. “I was shocked to see this disrespect towards the memory of the victims of the Holocaust,” he said on Facebook.

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