Witness Martin Smid - the student who survived his own death on the 17th November 1989

12-11-2003 | David Vaughan

This month is the 14th anniversary of the dramatic events that in a matter of days brought down Czechoslovakia's communist regime. We remember the period as a bloodless or "velvet" revolution, but on the 17th November 1989, at the height of the student demonstration that sparked the revolution, a rumour spread like wildfire that a mathematics student from Prague's Charles University, a certain Martin Smid, had been beaten to death by the police. It was true that Martin had been at the demonstration, but as we hear from him now, rumours of his death were greatly exaggerated.

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Martin SmidMartin Smid "Whenever the anniversary of the 17th November comes round, one memory always comes back to me. It's like this. I was declared dead - at the height of the demonstrations a rumour spread that a person with my name and studying in the same year at the same university had been killed during the anti-regime demonstration on the 17th November. I can't understand how the rumour came about in the first place, and why my name was chosen. And the whole thing has another strange aspect for me as well. I became the centre of attention for the whole nation, without knowing why, without knowing what I could do for my country. You know, a popular actor acts for the people, a singer sings for the people, but if, like me, you become the victim of a rumour, you just don't know what to do. One ironic thing is that telling the truth by putting down the rumour helped the communist regime, but on the other hand, the truth has to be told. When I was interviewed just after the incident, I tried to make it clear: no, I hadn't been killed but people had been injured, and the police did use violence to put down the demonstration. I was very conscious of the fact that it could easily have happened. For me it really was an encounter with death. I saw with my own eyes how it would have been for my family if I had died. Dozens of relatives heard the rumour, most didn't even phone us, because they were afraid, and we had to reassure them that everything was alright. Another rather weird thing is that a lot of people actually thought I was a communist secret police plant and had deliberately faked my own death. I don't know why. The only encounter I had ever had with the police was when they once told me off for playing the guitar in a train. To this day I ask myself again and again: why did it happen and why me?"

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