The 17th of November has been marked worldwide as the International Students' Day since 1941. Nowadays, many universities celebrate it as a day of multiculturalism of their international students, sometimes even on different dates.
Originally though, the International Students' Day had a different meaning. It is the only international day of Czech origin! Let's look at the history together to discover why it is such an important day, especially for the Czech students.
On the 28th of October 1939 the Nazis supressed a demonstration against the regime organized by medical students of the Charles University. The date wasn't chosen by coincidence, it commemorated the anniversary of the independence of the Czechoslovak Republic (that no longer existed by the time and instead of which the Nazis established the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia and Slovak Republic) in 1918. One worker, Václav Sedláček and one student, Jan Opletal, were shot during the demonstration. Sedláček died instantly, Opletal died in a hospital a few days later. Opletal's funeral which was held on the 15th of November was attended by thousands of students and turned into another massive demonstration. The Nazis reacted fast by closing all Czech universities in the Protectorate, arrested and sent to concentration camps more than 1,200 students and executed nine students and professors without trial, all on the 17th of November.
Therefore, in 1941, November 17th was declared International Students Day by the International Students Council in London which consised of many refugees. The International Students Council later became the founding stone of the International Union of Students , IUS, that was founded on August 27, 1946, in Prague.
50 years later, on November 17th 1989, the Czechoslovakian students rose up agains another opressing and non-democratic government and organized a mass demonstration during originally peaceful celebrations of the International Students' Day. Their actions triggered the beginning of the velvet revolution which ended by the fall of the communist regime.
During the both incidents, the students showed a tremendous deal of courage that should never be forgotten. The 17th of November is a day when we commemorate their legacy and remind ourselves not to be passive. The students are our future.
(Picture by marygober, sxc.hu)