Commemorating the 30th Anniversary of the Velvet Revolution and the Fall of Communism
On November 17, 2019, Czechs will commemorate the 30th anniversary of their “Velvet Revolution” which brought down their communist regime, and saw Vaclav Havel sworn in as President of a democratic nation shortly thereafter. The Berlin Wall had come down only the week before, on the night of November 10, and a fever for reforms and an end to communism was sweeping Central and Eastern Europe.
Agitation against the communist regime had been increasing during the previous year, and a number of unauthorized demonstrations had been put down harshly by the Czechoslovak authorities. However, the authorities had authorized a student assembly to take place in the Albertov district of Prague, on November 17, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the death of student, Jan Opletal, who had been executed by the Nazis in 1939, ushering in a period of brutal fascist repression during World War II. Indeed, the authorities had but little choice in authorizing a remembrance of a major anti-fascist hero.
The assembly soon swelled to 15,000, who began peacefully marching towards the center of Prague. They were stopped, and surrounded by police barricades at Narodny Trida, near the National Theatre. Ultimately the police ended the standoff violently, beating and injuring over 167 people that night. The police reaction only inflamed the Czech people, and a series of daily demonstrations and strikes followed, along with a national strike on November 22. The regime quickly crumbled. Indeed, it was as if, after 20 years of stagnation, it lacked the will or energy to even defend itself. By December 29, the Czechoslovak parliament had elected Vaclav Havel as President.
Thirty years on, the Czech Republic continues to represent perhaps the most successful transition from once communist state to thriving democracy.