International Students' Day
is an international observance
International observance denotes a period of time to observe some issue of international interest or concern. This is used to commemorate, promote and mobilize for action. Many of these periods have been established by the United Nations General Assembly, Economic and Social Council or by UNESCO...
A student is a learner, or someone who attends an educational institution. In some nations, the English term is reserved for those who attend university, while a schoolchild under the age of eighteen is called a pupil in English...
community, held annually on November 17.
Taking the day differently than its original meaning, a number of universities mark it, sometimes on a day other than November 17, for a nonpolitical celebration of the multiculturalism
Multiculturalism is the appreciation, acceptance or promotion of multiple cultures, applied to the demographic make-up of a specific place, usually at the organizational level, e.g...
of their international student
According to Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development , international students are those who travel to a country different from their own for the purpose of tertiary study. Despite that, the definition of international students varies in each country in accordance to their own national...
The date commemorates the anniversary of the 1939 Nazi storming of the University of Prague
Charles University in Prague is the oldest and largest university in the Czech Republic. Founded in 1348, it was the first university in Central Europe and is also considered the earliest German university...
after demonstrations against the killing of Jan Opletal
Jan Opletal was a student of the Medical Faculty of the Charles University in Prague, who was killed in an anti-Nazi demonstration during the German occupation of Czechoslovakia....
and worker Václav Sedláček as well as against the occupation of Czechoslovakia, and the execution of nine student leaders, over 1,200 students sent to concentration camps, and the closure of all Czech universities and colleges.
During late 1939 the Nazi authorities in Czechoslovakia (at that time it called the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia
The Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia was the majority ethnic-Czech protectorate which Nazi Germany established in the central parts of Bohemia, Moravia and Czech Silesia in what is today the Czech Republic...
) suppressed a demonstration in Prague held by students of the Medical Faculty of Charles University. The demonstration was held on the 28th of October to commemorate the anniversary of the independence of the Czechoslovak Republic.
During this demonstration the student Jan Opletal was shot and died from wounds on the 11th of November. On the 15th of November his body was meant to be transported from Prague back to his home in Moravia. His funeral procession consisted of thousands of students, who turned this event into an anti-Nazi demonstration. However, this resulted in drastic measures being taken by the Nazis. All Czech higher education institutions were closed down, more than 1,200 students were arrested and sent to concentration camps, and nine students and professors were executed without trial on the 17th of November. Due to this, 17 November was chosen as International Students’ Day.
The nine students and professors executed on the 17th of November in Prague were:
- Josef Matoušek
- Jaroslav Klíma
- Jan Weinert
- Josef Adamec
- Jan Černý
- Marek Frauwirt
- Bedřich Koukala
- Václav Šafránek
- František Skorkovský
The 17th of November was first marked as International Students' Day in 1941 in London by the International Students' Council (which had many refugee members) in agreement with the Allies, and the tradition has been kept up by the successor International Union of Students
The International Union of Students is a worldwide nonpartisan association of university student organizations.The IUS is the umbrella organization for 155 such student organizations across 112 countries and territories representing approximately 25 million students.-Aim and work areas:The aims of...
, which together with the National Unions of Students in Europe
European Students' Union formerly known as ESIB - The National Unions of Students in Europe - is the umbrella organisation of 45 national unions of students from 37 countries and through these members represents over 11 million students...
and other groups has been lobbying to make the day an official United Nations observance.
The Athens Polytechnic uprising
The Athens Polytechnic uprising in 1973 was a massive demonstration of popular rejection of the Greek military junta of 1967-1974. The uprising began on November 14, 1973, escalated to an open anti-junta, anti-US and anti-imperialist revolt and ended in bloodshed in the early morning of November...
against the Greek military junta
The Greek military junta of 1967–1974, alternatively "The Regime of the Colonels" , or in Greece "The Junta", and "The Seven Years" are terms used to refer to a series of right-wing military governments that ruled Greece from 1967 to 1974...
of 1973 came to a climax on November 17, with a violent crackdown and a tank crushing the gates of the university. Students of the Athens Polytechnic went on strike on the 14th of November. After barricading themselves and constructing a radio station from equipment that they found in the laboratories, they started broadcasting to the entire city of Athens. Their broadcasts were pro–democratic, against the junta that was in power. They were soon joined by thousands of their compatriots. However they did not achieve their objectives. In the early hours of 17 November an AMX 30 tank crashed through the barricaded gate of the polytechnic. What followed after was captured on a film by a hidden Dutch journalist: a tank passing through the main entrance of the polytechnic as well as the transmission of a student, coming from the radio, pleading with the attackers not to fight the protesters. According to the contested official investigation, no students were killed at the polytechnic, however several were severely injured and their injuries left permanent marks on them. The records of the trials held after the fall of the junta document civilian deaths. It is possible that the official numbers are inaccurate. However, this issue has not yet been brought to a conclusion. Today, Students' Day is among the official student holidays in Greece for the reasons stated above, as opposed to the global celebration of the day.
In 1989 independent student leaders together with the Socialist Union of Youth (SSM/SZM) organized a mass demonstration to commemorate International Students’ Day. This fiftieth-anniversary event gave students an opportunity to voice their displeasure with the communist party of Czechoslovakia. What began as a peaceful commemorative event turned into a violent one, by nightfall, with many participants being brutally beaten by riot police, red barrettes, and other members of the law enforcement agencies. About 15,000 people took part in this demonstration. The only person to left lying where the beatings took place was an alleged body of a student who in fact was an undercover agent. The rumor of a fellow student that died due to the police brutality triggered events that the secret police probably had not envisaged. That same night, students and theater actors agreed to go on strike. The events linked to International Students' Day of 17th of November 1989 helped spark the Velvet Revolution
The Velvet Revolution or Gentle Revolution was a non-violent revolution in Czechoslovakia that took place from November 17 – December 29, 1989...
in Czechoslovakia. Struggle for Freedom and Democracy Day
is today marked among both the official holidays in the Czech Republic
Public holidays in the Czech RepublicDateEnglish NameCzech NameRemarks1 January Restoration Day of the Independent Czech State; New Year's DayDen obnovy samostatného českého státu; Nový rokThe independent Czech Republic was created in 1993, after dissolution of Czechoslovakia.March, AprilEaster...
(since 2000, thanks to the efforts of the Czech Student Chamber of the Council of Higher Education Institutions
In the Czech Republic the Student Chamber and the Council of Higher Education Institutes, Studentská komora Rady vysokých škol together with the Czech Rectors Conference forms the official representation of Czech Higher Education Institutes on the basis of the Higher Education Act of the Czech...
) and the holidays in Slovakia.
After the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the progressive crisis within the International Union of Students, celebrations for the 17th of November were held only in few countries without any coordination worldwide. During the World Social Forum held in Mumbai, India, in 2004, some international union of students such as OCLAE and some national unions such as the Italian Unione degli Studenti
The Students' union it is an Italian independent association, antifascist secular, pacifist and of syndical inspiration. It makes part to European level of the OBESSU, net that the principals gather present student labor unions in Europe. The actual national coordinator is Mariano Di Palma...
decided to re-launch the date and to call for global demonstration on the 17th of November 2004. Student movements in many countries mobilized again that year and kept on observing international students' day the following years with the active support of the European platform representing student and school student organizations OBESSU
The Organising Bureau of European School Student Unions is a European platform for cooperation between the national school student unions active in general secondary and secondary vocational education in Europe...
and the ESU.
In 2009, on the seventieth anniversary of the 17th of November 1939, OBESSU and ESU promoted a number of initiatives throughout Europe to commemorate the date. An event in Brussels was held from the 16th to the 18th of November at the University of Brussels. The event focused on the history of the students' movement and its role in promoting active citizenship towards authoritarian regimes and it was followed by an assembly discussing the role of student unions today and the need for the recognition of a European Student Rights Charter. The conference gathered around 100 students representing national students and student unions from over 30 European countries as well as some international delegations.