March 20 is a date that has witnessed many important events in the history of the Czech Republic. From political changes to cultural achievements, this day has shaped the country’s past and present. Here are five historical events on March 20 in the Czech Republic, ranked by significance and impact.
1999 – The Czech Republic joins NATO
On March 20, 1999, the Czech Republic became a full member of NATO, along with Poland and Hungary. This was a milestone for the country’s security and integration into the Euro-Atlantic community after decades of communist rule and Soviet domination. The accession ceremony occurred in Independence, Missouri, where former US president Harry Truman announced his support for NATO in 1949. The Czech Republic’s membership in NATO has strengthened its ties with its allies and enhanced its role in regional and global affairs.
1939 – Nazi Germany occupies Bohemia and Moravia
On March 20, 1939, Nazi Germany completed its occupation of Bohemia and Moravia, which were part of Czechoslovakia at the time. This followed the Munich Agreement of September 1938, which ceded the Sudetenland to Germany and left Czechoslovakia defenseless. Hitler proclaimed Bohemia and Moravia a German protectorate under his direct control. The occupation lasted until May 1945, when Allied forces liberated the country. The Nazi regime committed many atrocities against the Czech population, especially Jews and Roma, who were deported to concentration camps or killed.
1968 – Jan Palach sets himself on fire
On March 20, 1968, Jan Palach set himself on fire in Prague’s Wenceslas Square to protest against the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia that crushed the Prague Spring reforms. Palach was a student of philosophy and history at Charles University who wanted to draw attention to the loss of freedom and democracy under communism. He died three days later from his injuries. His self-immolation sparked a wave of sympathy demonstrations across the country and inspired other protesters to follow his example. Palach became a symbol of resistance and martyrdom for generations of Czechs.
1921 – Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk elected president for a second term
On March 20, 1921, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk was elected president of Czechoslovakia for his second term by the National Assembly. Masaryk was one of the founders of independent Czechoslovakia after World War I and its first president from 1918 to 1935. He was a respected statesman, philosopher, and humanist who advocated for democracy, human rights, and national self-determination. He also promoted close cooperation with France and Britain and friendly relations with neighboring countries. Masaryk is widely regarded as one of the greatest Czechs in history.
2006 – Václav Havel’s play Leaving premieres
On March 20, 2006, Václav Havel’s play Leaving premiered at Prague’s Archa Theatre. It was Havel’s first play after leaving office as president of the Czech Republic in February. The space is a political satire depicting an ex-leader who struggles to cope with losing power and identity after being ousted by his successor. The play also reflects Havel’s experiences as a dissident playwright under communism which became a prominent politician after leading the Velvet Revolution in 1989.
At CzechDaily, we delve into the rich history of the Czech Republic daily, uncovering five noteworthy historical events on each date.