Albertov and the Student Movements (1939 – present)

In 1950s, a large number of students joined the anti-Communist resistance, many ended up in prisons and labor camps and three Charles University students were executed.

Albertov 2038/6, 128 00 Prague 2
Public transport:
  • 14 18 24

Walk along Albertov street and the commemorative plaque is on the right.

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Albertov street was named after the surgeon and professor, Eduard Albert (1841-1900), and the street gave its name to the entire adjacent neighborhood, home to the natural sciences and medical branches of Charles University, and a center of student life. Václav Magid explores in detail student demonstrations back to 1412. With the use of his writings, let us focus on those of 1939, 1948, 1968, 1989 and 2009.

The demonstration in Prague on 28 October 1939 against the German occupation resulted in the deaths of two young men: Jan Opletal was a student of medicine and Václav Sedláček a baker’s apprentice. Opletal’s funeral on November 15, 1939 developed into yet another show of resistance against the Nazis. In response, Berlin decided to act against college students and on November 17, 1939, all Czech universities were closed. 1200 students from Prague, Brno and Příbram were taken to Sachsenhausen concentration camp and nine student officials were shot dead in Ruzyně without a trial.

During the February 1948 coup, the largest student protest event was the march to Prague Castle on February 25. (Of the professors, only Růžena Vacková participated.) The march was brutally suppressed by the police and many students wounded. In 1948 and 1949, committees of academics were formed consisting of pro-communist representatives of employees and students who took over the roles and powers of traditional academic bodies and led purges among the students. Formally, these were supposed to be mere “study reviews”, but the criteria for assessing students included their property status and relationship to the new regime. Students who refused to attend were automatically excluded. The number of expelled students was high, e.g. 43 percent of Charles University’s law students. In the 1950s, a large number of students joined the anti-Communist resistance, many ended up in prisons and labor camps and three Charles University students were executed.

November 17, 1989. Albertov, Prague (source: internet)

In 1965, the poet Allen Ginsberg came to Prague after visiting Cuba and was elected their May King (Král Majáles) by the students of the Czech Technical University. The secret police (StB) deported him to the USA and in “mid-heaven” Ginsberg wrote a beautiful poem, King of May (Král Majales), about the event. The huge student involvement in the May Celebration was, however, symptomatic of a more liberal political atmosphere. This ended in August 1968 with the occupation of Czechoslovakia by the Warsaw Pact troops. Students actively participated in the protests and in a strike, demanding respect for human rights, freedom of assembly and association, and a firm deadline for the departure of Soviet troops. All universities in the Czech Republic and most of the Slovak institutions participated in the strikes and discussions, cultural performances and alternative lectures took place in schools. After the re-establishment of the Socialist Youth Union, students again suffered suppression. Sixteen members of the radical Left Movement of Revolutionary Youth were sentenced to unconditional sentences from one to four years.

A memorial plaque from 2006 commemorates the starting point of the peaceful demonstration organized by students on November 17, 1989. It was officially approved as a remembrance ceremony on the 50th anniversary of the death of Jan Opletal. However, a crowd of several tens of thousands of people, not only students, headed from Vyšehrad to the center of Prague soon to be stopped by a police cordon and battered and bruised on Národní třída. Except for this conflict with the police, however, the 1989 “revolution” was not accompanied by violence, and no one died – the change of power was shaped by the Charter 77 principles of ethical universalism and nonviolence. Václav Havel became the natural leader of the “Velvet Revolution” (a term probably coined by a foreign journalist) and, with his election as President of the Republic on 29 December 1989, it ended.

Two student initiatives of 2009 and 2011, Vzdělání není zboží! (Education is not a commodity!) and Za svobodné vysoké školy (Keep Universities Free) advocated equal access to education and maintained that public universities should be as independent as possible from both state and economic power. They protested against tuition fees, against the commercialization of universities and interference in their autonomy.

Where next?

From the Albertov memorial plaque, it’s about fifteen minutes to the Havel family apartment. From the plaque, at the end of the street turn left with the mighty building of Hlavův ústav on your right, walk up the stairs to the amphitheater and continue along Viničná. At the end turn left to U Nemocnice and then take Na Moráni to the river. On the waterfront turn right, and the house next to the Tančící dům (Dancing House) is Rašínovo nábřeží 2000/78 where Václav and Olga Havel lived in an apartment on the fourth floor.