It’s probably widely accepted these days that all countries spy on each other, even states on their so-called allies. And a book presented in Prague this week about the former East German secret police, the STASI, shows how it was true of the fraternal Communist countries of the former Eastern bloc, including former Czechoslovakia, as well.
Civic associations perceive the anniversary as an opportunity to take stock of the country’s post-1989 development and there has been criticism of how far Czechs have strayed from the ideals of the Velvet Revolution and the country’s first post-communist president Václav Havel. Concerts, gatherings and marches took place around the country within so-called Festival of Freedom celebrations; among others, an allegorical procession poking fun at populist leaders. At 7.30 pm thousands of alarm clocks will go off around the country as a wake-up call to the nation that values linked to the Velvet Revolution are being questioned and sacrificed.
Commemorative events have been taking place around the country to mark the anniversary of the Velvet Revolution that triggered the fall of communism in 1989. Politicians, cultural figures and members of the public turned out to lay flowers and light candles at key sites linked to the events of 1989, such as Národní St. where the communist police brutally cracked down on a student demonstration and the equestrian statue of St Wenceslas, the nation’s patron saint, at the top end of Wenceslas Square. The city centre was the site of a street party entitled Thank You That We Can and the celebrations culminated with a Concert for Freedom on Wenceslas Square. Altogether, around 20 marches, demonstrations and happenings took place around the capital. Police were out in force to maintain law and order, but no major incidents were reported.
Speaking at the memorial to the Velvet Revolution on Národní St. Prime
Minister Bohuslav Svoboda said democracy needed to be nurtured and
protected, which was not always easy. He said some people were disappointed
by the present day reality because they faced existential problems and
blamed the democratic changes for their present circumstances. In order to
win broad support for democracy the state must have a strong social
dimension, Mr. Sobotka said. Finance Minister Andrej Babiš said he did not
believe freedom and democracy were under threat in the Czech Republic as
some people would have the public believe. He highlighted how much had been
achieved and said Czechs should think positive and unite in taking these
A commemorative gathering highlighting the role of students in defense of freedom and democracy took place at Albertov, a historic site which is linked not only to the Velvet Revolution of 1989 but also to a brutal Nazi crack-down on Czech university students on October 28, 1939. Students and academics were openly critical of the policies of President Zeman. In a joint proclamation they expressed support for the values of liberal democracy and removing barriers among nations.
The majority of Czechs welcome the changes brought about by the fall of communism in 1989, according to a poll conducted by the STEM agency on the anniversary of the Velvet Revolution. Two thirds of respondents said the changes were worthwhile, although only 38 percent of respondents said the present social environment was significantly better than before 1989. Seventeen percent of respondents said life under communism had been better while 34 percent found it hard to make a comparison. The older generation, people over 45, were more critical of the post-1989 changes, citing job insecurity and security concerns in general. Those who welcomed the changes highlighted the freedom to travel, study abroad, freedom of speech and the chance to engage in public life.
Czech Political Prisoners: Recovering Face is the title of a book of photographs and texts by Jana Kopelentová-Rehak, a Czech anthropologist based in the US city of Baltimore. When the Šumava-born academic was in Prague recently we discussed the political prisoners, or “mukls”, she met and how they were marked by their experience of brutal communist labour camps. But first we spoke a little about her own life, starting with a key encounter in the 1980s, when she was taken in by Charter 77 signatory Miloslava Holubová.
Thousands of Czechs came out to celebrate the return of democracy to the country 27 years ago and voice their stand on pressing public issues. Despite the strained atmosphere in the weeks leading up to the anniversary, fears of street violence failed to materialize and only minor skirmishes marked the biggest celebrations of the anniversary in years.
A memorial to the 1989 Velvet Revolution on Prague’s Národní St. has been moved, the news site SeznamZpravy.cz reported. The memorial, which takes the form of outstretched hands above the date 17.11.1989, is no longer in a passageway through the Kaňka Palace but on the building’s façade. Building owners the Chamber of Advocates said there was a fear that the many candles lit at the original location could cause a fire.
Czech US-based director David Mrnka has started filming a feature film about Milada Horáková, a Czechoslovak democratic MP executed by the communists in 1950, who has become a symbol of resistance to Czechoslovakia's Communist regime. The main role will be played by Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer, who starred in Steven Spielberg's Munich. Czech actress Anna Geislerová will appear in the role of the infamous communist prosecutor Ludmila Brožová. The shooting of “Milada” will take place mainly in Prague and Terezín. The film will be shot in English and subsequently dubbed in Czech.