Prague, May 8 (CTK) – War veterans, survivors and political and military representatives including PM Bohuslav Sobotka and Defence Minister Martin Stropnicky marked 72 years from WWII end at a ceremonial meeting at Prague’s Vitkov Memorial today, in which President Milos Zeman did not take part.
Senate chairman Milan Stech (Social Democrats, CSSD), who replaced Zeman at the commemorative event, said Zeman excused himself from it in mid-March.
“For me, it is an honour, I will gladly do it,” Stech said.
Starting with the national anthem, the event continued with a parade of soldiers carrying historical military flags and politicians and officers laying wreaths and flowers at the memorial. A minute of silence was observed, followed by a gun salute.
Afterwards, Stropnicky bestowed top military awards on 32 war veterans and other personalities.
Stech said the commemoration is “the least thing we can do in relation to those who sacrificed their lives or health for us, and those who are defending democracy and promoting the fame of the Czech Republic in various conflicts at various battlefields.”
Zeman’s spokesman Jiri Ovcacek explained that was absent because he was concentrating on the promotion of new generals due later today.
“We are fully concentrating on the appointment of generals, because it will be extraordinary in several respects this year. The president will mark our homeland’s liberation anniversary this way,” Ovcacek said.
He said Zeman has sent a wreath to the Vitkov Memorial and representatives of his office attended the ceremony.
“This [Zeman’s absence] is no expression of disrespect. An expression of disrespect is when someone sponges on the president’s absence,” Ovcacek said.
Michael Zantovsky, former diplomat and spokesman for former president Vaclav Havel, said the reason given by Ovcacek sounds improbable.
“I guess the president was absent for health reasons. If so, I understand this. Judging by his TV appearances, he did not look well in the past few days,” Zantovsky told CTK.
Former chief-of-staff Jiri Sedivy, on his part, said the annual ceremony at the Vitkov Memorial is the country’s main Victory celebration which the leading state representatives should attend.
Whenever a president was absent in the past, it was always for some clear reason, such as a health reason or a serious organisational reason.
“I don’t know why the president did not come today. He definitely has a reason, but he should explain it to the public,” Sedivy said.
Opposition TOP 09 MEP Jiri Pospisil called Zeman’s absence shameful.
Ovcacek said the criticism is “a part of a whole campaign targeting the president.”