Several months ahead of the Velvet Revolution Michal Horáček, a well-known lyricist, and rock performer Michael Kocáb founded the initiative Most (Bridge), aimed at creating a platform to allow the then-Communist regime to communicate with the dissidents it so often jailed. At first, the effort was viewed as naïve, but within several months the situation changed dramatically. After police violently cracked down on students on November 17, the initiative grew in importance, and eventually did succeed in bringing Communist leaders and dissidents to the same table.
I spoke to Michal Horáček, who described the situation then.
“Those days were a rollercoaster ride and obviously very emotionally taxing. Our idea was that the totalitarian regime would be strong only if it stayed totalitarian, in other words it could not share power and it could not even talk to the opposition. They could jail members of the opposition, but not talk to them. Once they agreed to sit at the same table as the opposing party they ceased to be totalitarian. And that is what was so very important: to bring the two to the same table – the Communist prime minister and eventually Václav Havel, as the head of the dissident opposition.”
I understand one of the first initial meetings took place at Communist Prime Minister Adamec’s personal apartment. Could you describe that meeting?
“It was the morning of November 19, a Sunday. Mr Adamec did invite us to his home, obviously because he didn’t want the meeting to be official – he could always deny it if need be. What surprised me personally was that the flat was very normal and ordinary. There were no bodyguards or anything and he even had the same toys for his grandchildren as we did. All of a sudden he was not that distant Communist standing on a tribune somewhere, but just a person. And that was a good beginning.”
Did he suggest at that point that he knew what was coming?
“No, he couldn’t have known that, none of us knew what would happen. But he was very, very nervous about the situation and it was clear that something would change.”
Czech TV this morning broadcast fascinating footage of you speaking to the crowds on Letná Plain 20 years ago. You introduced two officers who had cracked down on the students on November 17 and they were there to apologise. How do you see that moment 20 years later?
“It was very powerful. Myself and my friend Michael Kocáb we introduced the two policemen in full riot gear – the truncheons and helmets and shields and uniforms. And they came forward. There was a momentary silence and those were the longest two or three seconds in my life before the crowd of almost a million people responded saying ‘Come with us!’. It was something fantastic that the crowd accepted that apology. We should have continued with that – especially with respect to the Communist Party. To apologise first and then we might forgive. But we gave up on that, and I think that’s the greatest mistake of the last 20 years.”