Sunday is the 30th anniversary of one of the most significant moments of
the Velvet Revolution, when the general secretary of Czechoslovakia’s
Communist Party, Miloš Jakeš, stood down, along with the rest of its
The move, on November 24, 1989, came a week after the demonstration that sparked the fall of communism in the country and ultimately paved the way for dissident writer Václav Havel to become president by the end of December 1989.
On Sunday, Czechs commemorated 30 years since the start of the Velvet Revolution. Emotions were high at times as politicians paid tribute to the demonstration on November 17, 1989 that resulted in the eventual fall of the communist regime. For the most part, however, it was a day of celebration, marked by a wide range of events.
Sociologist Jan Hartl set up Czechoslovakia’s first modern-day polling agency, STEM, in 1990 and has been closely monitoring domestic politics and society ever since. When we spoke, the conversation took in Czech politicians’ shifting attitude to opinion surveys, Václav Havel’s private discussion circle and the “cautious nature” of the country’s voters. But I first asked Mr. Hartl for his standout memories of the Velvet Revolution.
On Sunday, at exactly 17.11 (5.11pm Central European Time), chruch bells
across the country rang out to honour the victims of communist era
persecution and those who stood up to it. At the same time, many of the
country's public and private radio stations played the song Modlitba
pro Martu (A Prayer for Marta), which many Czechs see as one of the anthems
of the revolution.
The song was sung by Marta Kubišová, a singer known for her resistance to the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, who was banned from performing by the regime from 1970 until 1989, when she sang to the public during the revolution. She sang the same song at Saturday's special anniversary concert titled Samet 30 (Velvet 30), finishing her performance with the national anthem.
Around 10,000 people recreated the route taken by demonstrators on November 17, 1989 in Prague this Sunday afternoon. The march, which is organised by students from Charles University, set out from Albertov and headed towards Národní třída, the site of the brutal crackdown on demonstrators by members of the police, which sparked the Velvet Revolution.
Thirty years after November 17, 1989, the Czech Republic sees perhaps the largest commemoration of the Velvet Revolution this Sunday. Politicians, artists, academics and the wider public are all paying tribute to the revolution which ended communist rule. The role of Václav Havel, as well as various liberties gained through the revolution are among those repeatedly highlighted by speakers from much of the political and social spectrum. But some have also been loud in voicing their disapproval with the current government.
The leaders of the Civic Democrats, Christian Democrats, TOP 09 and the
Mayors and Independents, gathered at the grave of the leading figure of the
Velvet Revolution and later president Václav Havel in Prague's
Vinohrady cemetery on Sunday.
TOP 09 leader Jiří Pospíšil said that the former dissident is a symbol of the return of freedom and democracy to Czechoslovakia, and stressed that Havel was also willing to suffer imprisonment for voicing his ideas.
Aside from honouring the former president, party leaders also commented on Saturday's demonstration against Prime Minister Andrej Babiš. Civic Democrat’s leader Petr Fiala said that he does not expect Mr. Babiš to follow the demands set out by the protesters and that the only way to change the situation was through elections.
At the opening ceremony of a new exhibition on Czech and Slovak history,
including the Velvet Revolution, at the National Museum on Sunday, Czech
Prime Minister Andrej Babiš gave a speech in which he called the Velvet
Revolution the “most important event in modern Czech history”. He also
paid tribute to the former dissident and first president of Czechoslovakia
after the revolution Václav Havel, admiring his bravery during the pivotal
days of 1989. He also reflected on his Communist Party membership before
the Velvet Revolution, saying he was “not proud of it” and that he
regretted not being as “brave and engaged” as the former president.
Mr. Babiš also expressed his “thanks and humility” towards those who were “brave enough” to go into the streets in November 1989, but also highlighted that he is the democratically elected prime minister. Yesterday, an estimated 300,000 people came onto the streets asking for him to either resign or fire his justice minister and relinquish control over his former company Agrofert, which some believe he still has based on the results of a preliminary EU audit. However, Mr. Babiš denies this and his ANO party is currently far ahead of other parties in the polls.
The prime minister went on to say that Czechs “should be proud of what they have accomplished” and that they are currently living through “the best and most free” period in their 100 year history.
Mr. Babiš also paid tribute to the Poles, saying that it should not be forgotten that they were the first to achieve free elections.
His speech was followed up by the heads of government of Slovakia, Poland and Hungary, who are also attended the event. The President of the German Bundestag Wolfgang Schäuble was also present.
On Sunday, across the country, Czech politicians and the wider public
marked the 30 year anniversary since the brutal crackdown by police on
protesters passing through Národní třída in Prague sparked the
beginning of the end of communism through the Velvet Revolution.
Leading politicians, including the prime minister, laid down wreaths at the revolution memorial on Národní on Sunday morning. In Prague, the largest celebrations took place in the centre around Národní street and Wenceslas Square, but special programs also took place in other cities and in many of the country's leading arts institutions such as the National Museum and the National Gallery.