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 28 October. He later died on 11 November, and at his 15 November funeral a whole new protest broke out. These protests became widespread, but on 17 November 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 17 November 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 16 November and grew larger the following day. 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 28 November.
After a new, democratic government took the helm of Czechoslovakia, 17 November 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 17 November observance.
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