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Exhibition on Czechoslovak Legions opens in Prague

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Prague, July 11 (CTK) – An exhibition on the Czechoslovak Legions under the Great War, mapping the history of the voluntary units that contributed to the establishment of the independent Czechoslovakia in 1918, was opened in the French Institute’s seat in Prague on Wednesday.

It is one of the series of events held this year on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Czechoslovakia’s birth.

Before the gala opening of the exhibition, which will run through September 4, a lecture was given in the institute’s cinema. It was attended by Frederic Guelton from the Mission du Centenaire association, Antoine Mares from Sorbonne in Paris, Karel Straka from the Czech Military History Institute and Michal Ksinan from the Slovak Academy of Sciences.

Experts point to the important role of the Czechoslovak Legions for the recognition of the future Czechoslovakia.

“From the viewpoint of the WWI history, the establishment of the (Czechoslovak) legion is rather marginal. However, it was significant since France was the first to recognise Czechoslovakia before the end of the war by a decree, which constituted the Czechoslovak army in France,” Antoine Mares, French historian focusing on modern and contemporary history of Central Europe, mainly of the Czech Republic and Slovakia, told CTK.

The display in the Gallery 35 in the French Institute presents the stories of Czechoslovak legionaries that took part in big battles side by side with the Entente Powers, as well as large-scale period photographs and elements of the legionaries’ uniforms.

Besides, a film on General Maurice Pelle, the first Czechoslovak chief of staff, will be screened there. Visitors can also see interesting artifacts, such as a portable folding lantern to be used in trenches.

Another artifact is a replica of a painting by Czech-born artist Frantisek Kupka (1871-1957), depicting a WWI scene of two dying soldiers.

Kupka himself was serving in a Czechoslovak company during WWI, but he was soon relieved for his poor health. However, during the war, he was creating recruitment posters for the legions and designed banners and later also orders and other decorations as well as postage stamps for the newborn Czechoslovakia.

Czech and Slovak volunteers in the Czechoslovak company Nazdar were fighting within the Foreign Legion in France from 1915. The 22nd infantry regiment and later the 23rd regiment were set up in Cognac, France, in the spring of 1918. Both units became the core of the Czechoslovak brigade established in Darney in Eastern France, which was later fighting in this region and lost some 1200 men.

About 6000 Czechoslovak legionaries met on a plain near Darney on June 30, 2018 to swear loyalty to the nascent Czechoslovak state. The ceremony was attended by a number of official guests, including the future foreign minister and second Czechoslovak president, Edvard Benes, representatives of the Czechoslovak National Council and French President Raymond Poincare.

He recognised the Czechs and Slovaks’ right to an independent state and handed to the unit a gift from the City of Paris, a red-and-white flag designed by Kupka.

Armed Forces Day has been celebrated in the Czech Republic on June 30 since 2002 when it was declared by president Vaclav Havel to remember the event of the first independent Czechoslovak unit being formed in France.

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