Czech Republic marks 30 years since Velvet Revolution

Czech Republic marks 30 years since Velvet Revolution

Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution from Soviet rule began on November 17, 1989, when the police attacked students who branched off from the route of an authorised march and headed towards central Prague. 

False rumours that a student had been killed alongside the police violence prompted the establishment of the Civic Forum and a student strike.

Police and troops used batons to break up the march through central Prague of around 50,000 anti-communist protesters.

Around 100 people were detained and the security forces used unmuzzled dogs to stop protesters from reaching Wenceslas Square, the traditional site of demonstrations. 

The march was initially organised with the Socialist Youth Union to mark the 50th anniversary of Nazi subjugation and was given official approval by the authorities as long as it avoided central Prague. 

The protests marked the 50th anniversary of the closure of Czech universities by the Nazis.

Vit Pohanka, a student at Palacky University in Olomouc, was chosen to coordinate an occupation on the campus.

“Some of the other organisers were really sure that we would be expelled and probably that some of us would even end up in prison,” said Pohanka. “There were moments during the first week when I was quite afraid.”

But the movement grew. 

A general strike began, the Communist Party’s Central Committee resigned and by December 29, 1989, Vaclav Havel, the dissident writer who had until recently been jailed, was elected president. 

Pohanka said it was the most exciting time of his life. “I was 23 years old and everything was possible,” he said. “For us, it was something very euphoric.”

Current grievances 

More than 200,000 people took to the streets of Prague yesterday (Saturday) as part of anti-government protests.

The police estimated that 200,000 people took part, while organisers put the number at around 300,000.

Saturday’s protest was organized by activist group Million Moments for Democracy, which has staged numerous protests against the government of Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis, calling for his resignation.

Protester Petr Hnidek said the anniversary was significant because it symbolised “the fight for democracy and against totalitarianism”.

“We are protesting against the abuse of power by those who won the election,” said Benjamin Roll, a protest organiser.

“Should they be allowed to do anything? The struggle for freedom and democracy never ends,” he said, in reference to the Velvet Revolution.

 

Vaclav Havel and protesters commemorate the struggle for freedom and democracy at a Prague memorial during the 1989 Velvet Revolution. Picture credit: Wikimedia

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