Those of you who still believe that freedom is an American (and human) value will appreciate the significance of this day. Twenty years ago today communism fell in Czechoslovakia with considerably little blood spilt.Radio Prague:
I realize our esteemed president is in Asia apologizing for all the bad things we've done, but surely he'll find time to apologize for this too.
The six-week period between November 17 and December 29, 1989, also known as the “Velvet Revolution” brought about the bloodless overthrow of the Czechoslovak communist regime. Almost immediately, rumors (which have never been proved) began to circulate that the impetus for the Velvet Revolution had come from a KGB provocateur sent by Gorbačev, who wanted reform rather than hardline communists in power. The theory goes that the popular demonstrations went farther than Gorbačev and the KGB had intended. In part because of this, the Czechs do not like the term “Velvet Revolution,” preferring to call what happened “the November Events” (Listopadové událostí) or—sometimes - just “November” (Listopad). But we digress.
It all started on November 17, 1989—fifty years to the day that Czech students had held a demonstration to protest the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia. On this anniversary, students in the capital city of Prague were again protesting an oppressive regime.
The protest began as a legal rally to commemorate the death of Jan Opletal, but turned instead into a demonstration demanding democratic reforms. Riot police stopped the students (who were making their way from the Czech National Cemetery at Vyšehrad to Wenceslas Square) halfway in their march, in Národní třída. After a stand-off in which the students offered flowers to the riot police and showed no resistance, the police bagan beating the young demonstrators with night sticks. In all, at least 167 people were injured. One student was reportedly beaten to death, and—although this was later proved false—this rumor served to crystallize support for the students and their demands among the general public. In a severe blow to the communists’ morale, a number of workers’ unions immediately joined the students’ cause.
From Saturday, November 18, until the general strike of November 27, mass demonstrations took place in Prague, Bratislava, and elsewhere - and public discussions instead of performances were held in Czechoslovakia’ theaters. During one of these discussions, at the Cinoherní Klub theater on Sunday, November 19, the Civic Forum (OF) was established as the official “spokesgroup” for “the segment of the Czechoslovak public which is ever more critical of the policy of the present Czechoslovak leadership.”
The Civic Forum, led by the then-dissident Václav Havel, demanded the resignation of the Communist government, the release of prisoners of conscience, and investigations into the November 17 police action. A similar initiative—the Public Against Violence (VPN)—was born in Slovakia on November 20, 1989. Both of them were joined en masse by Czechoslovak citizens - from university students and staff to workers in factories and employees of other institutions. It took about 2 weeks for the nation’s media to begin broadcasting reports of what was really going on in Prague, and in the interim students travelled to cities and villages in the countryside to rally support outside the capital.
The leaders of the Communist regime were totally unprepared to deal with the popular unrest, even though communist regimes throughout the region had been wobbling and toppling around them for some time.
As the mass demonstrations continued—and more and more Czechoslovaks supported the general strikes that were called—an extraordinary session of the Czechoslovak Communist Party Central Committee was called. The Presidium of the Communist Party resigned, and a relatively unknown Party member, Karel Urbanek, was elected as the new Communist Party leader. The public rejected these cosmetic changes, which were intended to give the impression that the Communist Party was being reformed from within as it had been in 1968. The people’s dissatisfaction increased.
Massive demonstrations of almost 750,000 people at Letna Park in Prague on November 25 and 26, and the general strike on the 27th were devastating for the communist regime. Prime Minister Ladislav Adamec was forced to hold talks with the Civic Forum, which was led by still-dissident (soon to be President) Václav Havel. The Civic Forum presented a list of political demands at their second meeting with Adamec, who agreed to form a new coalition government, and to delete three articles - guaranteeing a leading role in political life for the Czechoslovak Communist Party and for the National Front, and mandating Marxist-Leninist education—from the Constitution. These amendments were unanimously approved by the communist parliament the next day, on November 29, 1989.
Well, the old saying that ‘if you give them an inch, they’ll take a mile’ held true, and the communist capitulation led to increased demands on the part of the demonstrators. A new government was formed by Marian Calfa; it included just nine members of the Czechoslovak Communist Party (several of whom actively cooperated with the Civic Forum); two members of the Czechoslovak Socialist Party; two members of the Czechoslovak People’s Party; and seven ministers with no party affiliation - all of latter were Civic Forum or Public Against Violence activists.
This new government was named by Czechoslovak President Gustav Husák on December 10. The same evening, he went on television to announce his resignation, and the Civic Forum cancelled a general strike which had been scheduled for the next day.
At the 19th joint session of the two houses of the Federal Assembly, Alexandr Dubček—who had led the ill-fated Prague Spring movement in the 1960’s—was elected Speaker of the Federal Assembly. One day later, the parliament elected the Civic Forum’s leader, Václav Havel, President of Czechoslovakia.
Despite their many shortcomings—not the least of which were political inexperience and serious time pressures—the new government and parliament were able to fill in many of the most gaping gaps in the Czechoslovak legal framework—concentrating in particular on the areas of human rights and freedoms, private ownership, and business law. They were also able to lay the framework for the first free elections to be held in Czechoslovakia in more than 40 years.
The results of the 1990 local and parliamentary elections in Czechoslovakia, which were likened at the time to a referendum which posed the question “Communism, yes or no?” showed a sweeping victory for the soon to be extinct Civic Forum (OF) in the Czech Republic, and for the Public Against Violence (VPN) in Slovakia. In other words, “Communism, no thanks.”
The turnout for the local elections was more than 73 percent, and for Parliamentary elections more than 96 percent of the population went to the polls!
Czech Petr Pithart of the Civic Forum was elected as Czech Premier, Slovaks Vladimir Meciar and Marian Calfa, both of the Public Against Violence (VPN), were elected Slovak and Federal Premier, respectively. Václav Havel was re-elected as the Czechoslovak President on July 5, 1990.
I found this heartwrenching post from a Czech blogger named Adriana Lukas:
It’s been twenty years since my firm belief in a better way of life was vindicated. 17th November was the beginning of the end of an era shaped by collectivism, brutality and industrialised inhumanity. I have written about my experiences of communism on Samizdata before. Today I’ll use someone else’s words to describe the wasteland communism leaves behind.
In 1992, Peter Saint-Andre has written a disturbing, brilliant and accurate description of what communism does to the soul:
...the hunger that I found most disturbing was not of the body but of the soul. [...] The socialist state cared nothing for the life of the individual, and this was driven home in innumerable ways.
Yet the overall effect was not merely physical—it was a deeply spiritual degradation. It is difficult to put that degradation into words. To me, the most striking sign of it was what I called "Eastern eyes". I could see and feel the resignation, the defeat, the despair, in the eyes of people I knew. It was an all-too-rare occurrence to come upon a person with some spark of life in his or her eyes (the only exceptions were the children, who had yet to have the life beaten out of them). If it is true that the eyes are windows onto the soul, then the Czech soul under socialism went through life all but dead.
It is tough for me to come up with something to say 20 years on that is not tinged with bitterness and disappointment and if not for the significant anniversary, I would have left this memory unturned. Despite the amazing change 1989 and its aftermath brought to my life I feel no closure over the past and a sense of proportion in the way the fall of communism has been ‘handled’. Today we should be looking back at the last 20 years counting the many communists who died in prison or are still rotting there... I can only hope that future generations will revisit the past and will have far lower tolerance of collectivism and totalitarianism. It may be a futile hope as today’s teenagers have little knowledge of the world my generation and that of my parents grew up. And so I am bitter and disappointed that people can say the word "communism" without spitting.
I am also bitter and disappointed because those who opposed communism have not won. It is still with us, in the idiotic juxtapositions of Nazism and communism, or socialism and free-market, used by those who aspire to communism and justify it by positing Nazism as the greater evil. It still raises its ugly head in those who despise free-markets and attempt to put a human mask on socialism by pointing out ‘failures’ of capitalism. Rather hard as socialism, like all totalitarianisms, has no face. It is the ultimate denigration of humanity, destruction of individuality, and subjugation of human beings to the vast merciless machine of control and power.
Communism is still with us in China and North Korea. One befriended by the West, the other frowned upon... but neither is ever challenged because of the oppression of its people, and only when it manages to ‘inconvenience’ the rest of the world. Once it falls, it will be horrifying and beyond belief to examine the monstrosities committed by the communists in the light of day. Again, I can only hope that the world will be shamed and aghast at letting this happen for so long. Until then, we only have testimonials such as this: Undercover in the Secret State
I am grateful to those who remember, struggle to understand and explain communism, and especially to those who have managed to capture something of the nature of the beast. …
Very inspiring words. Such a shame that those who currently run our highest offices of government are enthusiastic fans of this destructive and immoral system.
Barack Hussein Obama, Nancy Pelosi, etc., are you listening?
Additional info about the Velvet Revolution here.