This Week Twenty-Five Years Ago: The Velvet Revolution Succeeds, December 1989

Much too often people do forget what they can do when they all want to share the same goal.
Having had approximately 500,000 troops attacking Czechoslovakia, it may be called a miracle that only approximately 500 Czechs and Slovaks were wounded and only 108 killed in the invasion
It was a shame the Brezhnev Doctrine got her way and that time the people did not manage to come to more freedom, but somehow the citizens reaction to the reform attempt by Dubček to grant additional rights to the citizens of Czechoslovakia in an act of partial decentralization of the economy and democratization got her seed planted in the soil.
Today we still bear treasures from that period when the Prague Spring inspired music and literature such as the work of Václav Havel, Karel Husa, Karel Kryl, and Milan Kundera‘s novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being

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To remember:

  • sometimes liberty advances with extraordinary speed
  • Prague 17 November, 1989, student rally in Wenceslas Square > anti-government protest
  • protesters > demand free elections >umbrella opposition organisation formed: Civic Forum
  • citizens cheering their  leader Alexander Dubcek, who had led the Prague Spring reform movement of 1968
  • emergency Communist Party central committee meeting, the General Secretary and the entire Politburo resigned, realising = no hope of Soviet assistance =>new party hierarchy elected.
  • dissident Charter 77 playwright Vaclav Havel, released from house arrest, denounced party re-shuffle as a trick, an attempt to cling to power
  • demand democratic elections
  • a two-hour general strike as proof of solidarity, bringing entire country to a standstill
  • overwhelming people power => government gave way => abandoning leading role of  Communist Party + opening border with Austria.
  • new coalition government formed with majority of non-Communists
  • Round Table principle, following the Polish example. The session discussed the make-up of the new Federal government. Jan Urban was sitting with several Forum people in the basement of the Magic Lantern Theatre when the government rang to ask it to name its candidate for the presidency within twenty-four hours. Soon after, the government’s position worsened, and another call came asking for the name within an hour. No-one had had time to consider this in advance, so Urban said:
  • = Velvet Revolution
  • Dubcek elected Speaker of the Federal Assembly + opposition leader Havel made President

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  • [Opinion] Remembering Havel’s dream (euobserver.com)
    Twenty five years ago on this day (17 November), violent repression of a student protest spurred a series of events in the then Czechoslovakia that we call the Velvet Revolution.

    The sclerotic authoritarian regime, tired of perpetuating the lie of life in “real socialism”, crumbled under the pressure of people ringing their keys to make clear the “period” was over.
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    The crisis of politics that is taking place in the Czech Republic – of elites that do not inspire, of institutions that are not seen as true societal articulations, of the basic social compact determining shared political norms – is not exceptional.

    The Czechs are back in Europe. But since that now means living through Europe’s political crisis, it is not exactly the kind of return they had been expecting.
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    Havel’s vision was cosmopolitan. His was a utopia of people united by what Czech philosopher Jan Patocka called, with reference to the global wars of the twentieth century, the “solidarity of the shaken”.

    It was a vision of assumed global responsibility that did not consist merely of a human rights agenda, but also, for example, environmental issues that concern of all humankind.

    In a small prison cell in the communist Czechoslovakia, a cosmopolitan dream was born that nonetheless could come true with the recognition of the simple fact that we all are responsible for the world, and that through this responsibility we relate to the “absolute horizon of being”.

    On days like this, when we celebrate the historic change that took place 25 years ago but also ponder the current political situation, it is worth remembering Havel’s dream. And then perhaps choosing, with the freedom we have as human beings, to make it true.

  • Czechs Mark 25th Anniversary of Communism’s Fall (voanews.com)
    Monday’s celebrations included protests against the country’s current political leadership under President Milos Zeman, whom some believe to be overly pro-Russian.
  • Hard News: Prague (publicaddress.net)
    There are always candles at the memorial to Jan Palach and Jan Zajic, who immolated themselves in protest at the forcible ending of the Prague Spring in 1968, but there were more there than usual last Thursday when I walked to see it.
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    Prague has been at the centre of a Czech state for more than a thousand years. It has been home to a university for more than 650 years. We stopped for a beer at a 170 year-old bar whose beer garden is bordered by the Church of Our Lady of the Snows, which was originally a carmelite monastery begun in 1347 but never finished (again, the story in is in what’s not there).
  • The Havel Bust, In The Sculptor’s Own Words (speaker.gov)
    On Wednesday, House leaders dedicated a bust of Václav Havel, the Czech playwright who led the Velvet Revolution and became president of his country after three stays in prison.  At the ceremony, Speaker Boehner paid tribute to Havel’s humility and “the great things ordinary people can achieve.”
  • Velvet Revolution at 25 (bbc.co.uk)
    It is fair to say that the Velvet Revolution would not have been possible were it not for the dramatic developments unfolding in the other communist bloc countries. In particular, the fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November in neighbouring East Germany gave many Czechoslovaks hope of possible change in their own country.But despite the wave of reform that was already sweeping through Europe, many feared a repeat of the dramatic events of 1968 when, on the night of 20-21 August, Warsaw Pact troops led by the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia to halt political liberalisation, also known as the “Prague Spring”.
  • Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution: 25 Years Later (financialsurvivalnetwork.com)
    The Velvet Revolution, a victory of the people, a victory of the individual, took place on November 17, 1989 when a relatively small group of people in Czechoslovakia put events in motion that could not be stopped. They brought an end to communist rule of their lands, and by the end of the year, a dissident — Vaclav Havel — imprisoned many times by the regime would sit in Prague Castle. At the same time, a beloved reformer — Alexander Dubcek — long ago chased from power by the Soviets, and relegated literally to the backwoods of Bratislava, would be chairman of the federal legislature. Many small victories for the people continue to take place every day in the lives of millions of Slovaks and Czechs as they exert their wills freely over their own individual lives.
  • FSN: Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution: 25 Years Later (silveristhenew.com) + > Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution: 25 Years Later
    The disruptive and burdensome attitude that anyone who did not steal from the state was stealing from their own family eventually became commonplace. The economy was largely forced into the incapable hands of the state as many reasonable and entrepreneurial people took to one of the only methods of social advancement — pilfering — in order to provide for the family. This system became an even greater drain on the economy.
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    each day statists and individuals do battle in this place where East meets West, and overwhelmingly, it is the spirit of 1989 and not the spirit of 1948 that wins the battle. From the West (sadly) and from the East (as can be expected) these people face regular encouragement to backslide into their statist past. Many, however, maintain a firm resolve. The most simple village farmer in this part of the world understands how a central bank works better than many economics students in the West, and the least of the economics students of this land understand the breadth of free market economics seemingly better than the handpicked central bankers of the West. The spirit of ’89 was alive and well here long before 1989 and remains to this day.
  • Raising important questions (telegraphindia.com)

    Bengali theatre continues to raise probing political questions — its hallmark since Nildarpan. It finds an ally in the dramatic canon of eastern Europe, whose long exposure to authoritarian regimes triggered many excellent dissident works. Chandan Sen’s rediscovery of Vaclav Havel, Czech author and post-Communist president, could not have come at a more opportune moment. His Spardhabarna, for Samstab, expands one of Havel’s “Vanek” trilogy of half-hour plays, Protest (1978), to suit our own circumstances.

    In the original, Vanek, released after imprisonment for subversive activities, asks his friend, now a respected writer, to sign an anti-government petition because his stature would lend weight to it. But the friend, already disillusioned by the failure of an earlier revolution, fears that he may lose his job or go to jail if he does so. Havel thus points out that regulating free speech undermines integrity and encourages compromise, for which all of society suffers. May I recommend that Bengali adapters also take up Havel’s masterpieces from the 1980s: Largo Desolato, Temptation and Urban Renewal?

  • Is Washington losing central Europe – or throwing it away? (ozarkssentinel.com)
    As a new generation of central European leaders strives to balance the demands of Brussels and Washington with their vulnerability to Moscow, commentators and officials in the United States are expressing their concerns about losing the central region to Russian influence.
  • No More Bricks in the Wall by Doug Bandow (drrichswier.com)
    For decades, the Berlin Wall imprisoned a people — then something amazing happened.

    It’s easy to be pessimistic about the future of freedom. At home, government grows ever larger. The expansion may occasionally slow, but it never stops. Abroad, the state is even more oppressive in such countries as China, Russia, Venezuela, and North Korea.

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    In 1989, Hungary led the way. The man who betrayed the revolution three decades before, Janos Kadar, had been deposed. The Communist Party split over the reburial of revolutionary leader Imre Nagy. Soon, plans were made for multiparty elections. The Communist Party dissolved.

    Most important, the new leadership tore down Hungary’s wall with the West. The Iron Curtain had a huge hole.

    Poland’s communist-military regime made a deal with a revived Solidarity Union. Warsaw even organized elections, in which the communist candidates were overwhelmed. But officials accepted the result.

    The liberal tide rose in Czechoslovakia, sweeping away the hard-line leadership installed to squelch the Prague Spring of 1968. Playwright and dissident Vaclav Havel became president in the “Velvet Revolution.”

    The East German regime sought to remain tough. But a visiting Gorbachev made clear that the Soviet soldiers would remain in their barracks this time. Frustrated East Germans began flooding into Prague, where they filled the grounds of the West German embassy, demanding passage to the West. Others went out through Hungary, with its open border.

hungarywolf

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In Prague on 17 November, 1989, a student rally in Wenceslas Square turned into an anti-government protest and was fired on by nervous policemen. Inspired by events in Germany and infuriated by the attempted crackdown, protesters came out onto the streets in greater numbers to demand free elections. An umbrella opposition organisation was formed, called Civic Forum. On 20 November, two hundred thousand marched; two days later it was two hundred and fifty thousand. Tens of thousands cheered Alexander Dubcek, who had led the Prague Spring reform movement of 1968. He made his first public appearance in more than two decades in Bratislava. On 24 November, 350,000 marched through Prague. That night, at an emergency Communist Party central committee meeting, the General Secretary and the entire Politburo resigned, realising that, this time, there was no hope of Soviet assistance. A new party hierarchy was elected.

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The dissident Charter 77 playwright…

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About Marcus Ampe

Retired dancer, choreographer, choreologist Founder of the Dance impresario office and archive: Danscontact-Dansarchief plus the Association for Bible scholars, the Lifestyle magazines "Stepping Toes" and "From Guestwriters" and creator of the site "Messiah for all". - Gepensioneerd danser, choreograaf, choreoloog. Stichter van Danscontact-Dansarchief plus van de Vereniging voor Bijbelvorsers, de Lifestyle magazines "Stepping Toes" en "From Guestwriters" en maker van de site "Messiah for all".
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