Prague, Oct 28 (CTK) – President Milos Zeman presented the highest Czech state decoration, the Order of White Lion, on Friday to German politician Gunter Verheugen, Prague Archbishop Dominik Duka and four WW2 veterans, RAF pilots Karel Kuttelwascher, Karel Janousek and Alois Dubec, and paratrooper Jaroslav Klemes.

Verheugen was the European commissioner for EU enlargement who led the EU accession talks with the Czech Republic and other post-communist countries. The Czechs joined the EU in 2004.

The Order of Tomas Garrigue Masaryk was bestowed on late forecaster Valtr Komarek, who was active in the 1989 Velvet Revolution, the recently deceased Hanus Holzer, who was Czech honorary consul in Switzerland for many years, and actor and theatre director Jan Kacer.

A medal for bravery was given to Jiri Nesazal, a young man who took action against a mad shooter who killed eight people in a restaurant in 2015, and Josef Sousedik, a resistance fighter who was executed by the Nazi secret police.

Nineteen people received medals of merit.

In his opening speech, Zeman did not mention the conflict over the fact that Holocaust survivor Jiri Brady would not be awarded tonight.

Zeman’s critics say he deleted Brady from the list of personalities to be awarded on October 28 for political reasons, namely because Brady’s relative, Culture Minister Daniel Herman (Christian Democrats, KDU-CSL), had an official meeting with the Tibetan Dalai Lama in Prague last week, although Zeman called on him to cancel it.

A part of the politicians did not take part in the official ceremony at the presidential seat and organised an alternative celebration of the national holiday marking the establishment of independent Czechoslovakia in 1918 in central squares of the capital city.

Zeman said at the ceremony that the roots of Czech society were the traditions of the Czechoslovak legionaries, who fought in World War One, and of the Sokol gymnastics organisation promoting patriotism, as well as the anti-Nazi resistance and Christian values. He remembered the 1968 Prague Spring reform movement and the 1989 Velvet Revolution that removed the Communist Party from power.

When speaking of the awarded entrepreneurs, Zeman linked them to the example of late shoe maker Tomas Bata who built a factory in Zlin and whose business gradually spread all over the world.