History of International Students' Day | ELLCI

Why do we celebrate International Students’ Day?

giornata internazionale dello studente

Why do we celebrate International Students’ Day?

November 17th is an important date for international education. International Students Day is celebrated all over the world every year to claim the right to study and the students’ right to express themselves.

This year, international students from all over the world have finally started travelling again. We, therefore, celebrate overcoming unprecedented challenges.

Being an international student always requires a bit of courage and creativity. Leaving what is familiar requires curiosity and a spirit of adaptation. It means taking into account the unexpected and preparing for the unexpected.

As Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.” But this is peacebuilding rather than a war weapon. It is a reason for celebration and hope, to be celebrated at any time.


History of International Students’ Day!


The celebration of International Student Day unfortunately has its origins in a tragic event. The date commemorates the anniversary of the 1939 Nazi assault on the University of Prague. At that time, Czechoslovakia was under nazi occupation and it had been divided into the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia and the Slovak Republic.

At the end of 1939, the students of the universities of Prague had organized demonstrations in commemoration of the anniversary of the independence of the Czechoslovak Republic (1918).

During this demonstration, a student was shot and killed: Jan Opletal.

On November 15, thousands of students joined his funeral procession from Prague to Moravia, turning the event into a demonstration against the Nazi occupation.

The Nazi authorities reacted harshly, eight students and one professor were executed without trial on November 17 1939.  Then Czech higher education institutions were closed and more than 1,200 students were arrested, and then sent to concentration camps. 

Historians speculate that the Nazis granted permission for the funeral procession because they expected a violent outcome, that they could use as a pretext to close universities and eliminate anti-fascist dissidents.

As early as 1940, the idea of ​​commemorating the atrocities inflicted on students in German-occupied Czechoslovakia began to be discussed.

In 1941 this date was voted “International Students’ Day” by the International Student Council in London. This date continued to be the protagonist of students’ protests repressed with violence even in the following years.

In November 1973 in Athens, the mobilization of university students against the colonels’ regime intensified. The Athens Polytechnic was occupied, the students organized assemblies and activated a radio station that called the entire population together.

The regime’s reaction was not long in coming. During the night of November 17, 1973, tanks were sent against the entrance to the Polytechnic to disperse the occupants, generating brutal repression. A traumatic event that irremediably marked the decline of the regime and that Greece today remembers with three days of celebrations.

In 1989, the commemoration events for International Student Day on November 17, 1989, helped spark the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia.