Freedom and Democracy Day 2017 and 2018
Freedom and Democracy Day is a Slovakian holiday occurring every 17 November to commemorate two events: a 1939 uprising against the Nazi occupation and the 1989 demonstrations that led to the end of Communist rule.
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Both events occurred when Slovakia and the Czech Republic were still united as Czechoslovakia, and both were led by student protesters. These events symbolise to Slovaks their long fight against tyranny and oppression and in favour of freedom and democratic rule.
After Nazi forces invaded and occupied Czechoslovakia in 1939, anti-Nazi protests erupted and a student was shot down by the Nazis on October 28th. He later died on November 11th, and at his November 15th funeral, a whole new protest broke out. These protests became widespread, but on November 17th, Nazi forces put an end to them. They occupied the University of Prague, executed nine student leaders, and sent around 1,200 more to concentration camps. While not a victory militarily, the protests showed the will of the Czechoslovakian people to resist Nazi oppression.
On November 17th, 1989, students once again organised a protest, exactly 50 years after the 1939 demonstrations. These protests also became widespread, though fully non-violent, and mark the beginning of what is commonly called “the Velvet Revolution.” The protests centred in Prague and in Bratislava, the modern capital of Slovakia. In Bratislava, the protests actually began on November 16th and grew larger on the 17th. The attempt of Communist police to put down the protests only fanned them into outright riots. Finally, after nearly two weeks of conflict, the sitting Communist government of Czechoslovakia gave up power on November 28th.
After a new, democratic government took the helm of Czechoslovakia, November 17th was declared a national holiday. Later, Czechoslovakia split into the two independent nations of Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993, but both countries retained the November 17th observance.
Both businesses and government services shut down in Slovakia for Freedom and Democracy Day, and it is an off-work and off-school day. Yet, the main celebration actually takes place in neighbouring Czech Republic, during a wreath-laying ceremony on National Street in Prague. Nonetheless, there are things to do in Slovakia on Freedom and Democracy Day, including:
- Visit the Bratislava City Museum in the heart of the “Old Town.” It was set up in 1868 and covers the full breadth of the city’s history from the remote past through the 20th Century. You will certainly find exhibits relating to the 1939 and 1989 student protests.
- While in Bratislava, do not fail to get out and explore the town. You will see the beautiful “blue Danube,” mountains, vineyards, and forests surrounding the city, the foot-traffic-only Old Town dating from the 1700’s, and the restored Bratislava Castle overlooking the city.
- Get out and see the Slovakian countryside. One of the best places to do this is at Slovak Paradise National Park. It offers pathways and climbing ladders to aid trekkers in its Slovak Paradise Mountains. There are many caves and waterfalls, and camping is allowed.
Freedom and Democracy Day in Slovakia marks two of the most revolutionary events in the nation’s history. It is a day of patriotism to all Slovaks and an appropriate time for tourists to learn to appreciate Slovakian history and culture.