Thousands of people demonstrated in Old Town Square against the Covid-19 measures

Foto: René Volfík

Police estimate that approximately 10.000 people filled Old Town Square in Prague on Wednesday afternoon, after 3 p.m., to protest against the Covid-19 measures. The event was organized by the “Open the Czech Republic-Chcípl PES” movement and about 30 other groups. The speakers accused the government of violating the constitution and called for people not to be afraid to defend the freedom that has been taken away from them.

After demonstrating in the Old Town Square, the protestors marched through events commemorating the Velvet Revolution in Národní třída. Similar protests took place in Slovakia, where the situation got out of control.

The Chcipl PES initiative was launched as a protest against measures restricting restaurant operations and transformed into a political movement named “Open up the Czech Republic-Chcípl PES.” The campaign ran in the parliamentary elections and won 0.4% of the votes. Wednesday’s protest was also joined by other groups such as Trikolora, Swiss Democracy, Free Bloc, Workers’ Party, Action D.O.S.T., and Let’s Return Children to School Without Conditions.

“It is wonderful to see the Old Town Square full of people who are not afraid,” Jakub Olbert, owner of the Šeberák restaurant and chair of the Chcípl PES movement, welcomed the participants at the beginning of the demonstration. According to him, half of the people in the whole country think the same way. “We will show them that our struggle has a purpose. We can achieve what we want, “he said. The goal, he added, is to win back freedom and civil rights.

Representatives of other groups expressed similar views, saying the state’s actions lead to the destruction of democracy and totalitarianism. For example, Libor Vondráček, chairman of Svobodné, shouted into the crowd whether people agreed on a pandemic of power and hatred in the Czech Republic. He was met with applause. On the other hand, protesters booed in disapproval when he asked if anyone thought there was a pandemic of unvaccinated people in the country.

Zuzana Zahradníková Majerová, the chairwoman of Trikolora, said that Wednesday’s demonstration reminded her of 1989. “Only communist totalitarianism has been replaced by covid totalitarianism,” she said. “Let’s not be afraid!” she urged, recalling one of the slogans of the Velvet Revolution: Who if not us, when if not now?

According to Jiří Janeček, vice-chairman of the Chcípl PES movement, people can no longer lose anything if they have already lost their freedom. A representative of the Back to School initiative then urged those present not to leave children at home in quarantine and insist on their school attendance, even though they may be infected. Other speakers also called for civil disobedience.

Prague police spokesman Jan Daněk said an estimated 10,000 people took part in the demonstration. Police officers repeatedly urged participants to follow the current anti-epidemic measures. The organizers had announced in advance that the protest would be completely non-violent and that 80 volunteers would be providing security and the police. Due to the worsening epidemiological situation, the Health Ministry proposed to the government on Thursday that negative tests should no longer be accepted for entering restaurants, services, and participating in mass events from Monday.

A similar situation unfolded in the Slovak capital, Bratislava, where two police officers were injured after the crowd detonated firecrackers. In Bratislava, a protest was held by the Republic party, founded by former members of the far right-wing party, LSNS. A demonstration by the Smer-Social Democracy party and later a march by Marian Kotleba’s People’s Party of Our Slovakia (LSNS) outside the parliament building on Wednesday. The most aggressive part of the protesters subsequently moved in front of the government office where the incident in question took place.

The perpetrators of the injuries are facing three to eight years in prison for assaulting a public official.

“An unknown person from the crowd threw an object with an incendiary wick, which exploded. The burning fragments of the thing caused injuries in the form of burns to two police officers, which required treatment in a medical facility, ” Slovak police said.

A 36-year-old man was detained near the scene and taken to the police department. Eleven people were arrested during the protests for disobeying public officials’ calls, assaulting them, verbally abusing police officers, and damaging a vehicle.