Who is to take credit for Velvet Revolution?


Monday was a holiday here in the Czech Republic, marking the fourteenth anniversary of the Velvet Revolution that put an unexpected end to forty years of Communist rule. Although the country's historians and politicians are still arguing over who should be credited for the Communists' downfall, the major role of the dissident movement has never really been questioned. But in an article for last Saturday's daily Mlada Fronta Dnes, Czech President Vaclav Klaus played down the role of the dissident elite, saying it was ordinary people, leading their everyday lives who should really be thanked for bringing down communism.

President Vaclav Klaus laying flowers on Narodni Street in Prague, photo: CTKPresident Vaclav Klaus laying flowers on Narodni Street in Prague, photo: CTK "This was simply a populist gesture trying to flatter the average Czech that it was he who brought down the Communists and not the dissidents."

Historian Bohumil Dolezal is one of many commentators and politicians who have strongly criticised the article, where President Klaus suggests that the role of dissidents was minimal, and what really brought down the regime were ordinary Czechs. In the 70s and 80s, Klaus writes, people retreated into their own private world and helped the regime to collapse by putting all their imagination and energy into their private and family lives rather than the regime. Klaus interprets this as an effective act of passive resistance, rather than a sign of weakness. In playing down the role of dissidents, some observers say Mr Klaus is having a jibe at his predecessor, the former dissident playwright Vaclav Havel, seen internationally as the strongest symbol of the Velvet Revolution. This view is shared by the political commentator Rudolf Kucera.

"In my opinion, what Mr Klaus said about the role and significance of dissidents is politically aimed and I think there is a trend here today to marginalise and play down everything that is related to dissident activities. The amount that the dissidents managed to publish illegally here is huge, and they created an effective network to support people unjustly persecuted. In this way they continually monitored the situation and reminded the world outside what was happening here. There were all kinds of documents the dissidents published on human rights, and I know that people read them and actively sought them out. So the dissident movement did have a kind of intellectual influence on the minds and conscience of the people."