The leaders of the Civic Democrats, Christian Democrats, TOP 09 and the
Mayors and Independents, gathered at the grave of the leading figure of the
Velvet Revolution and later president Václav Havel in Prague's
Vinohrady cemetery on Sunday.
TOP 09 leader Jiří Pospíšil said that the former dissident is a symbol of the return of freedom and democracy to Czechoslovakia, and stressed that Havel was also willing to suffer imprisonment for voicing his ideas.
Aside from honouring the former president, party leaders also commented on Saturday's demonstration against Prime Minister Andrej Babiš. Civic Democrat’s leader Petr Fiala said that he does not expect Mr. Babiš to follow the demands set out by the protesters and that the only way to change the situation was through elections.
The date is November 17, 1989, eight days after the fall of the Berlin Wall. A cordon of Czechoslovak riot police blocks the path of thousands of university students staging a march through Prague, calling for democracy – and freedom. As police truncheons begin to rain down on their heads, they chant “We have bare hands” – we are unarmed. Hundreds are bruised and bloodied; one student reportedly dead. The Velvet Revolution, as it came to be known, had begun.
As the anniversary of the Velvet Revolution approaches, we take you to places that are closely associated with the events that led to the collapse of the communist regime in 1989. In the fifth and last episode of our mini-series, we’ll take you to Prague Castle where Czechoslovakia’s first post-communist president, Václav Havel, was sworn in, starting a new era in the country’s history.
Václav Havel’s relationship to the United States is the focus of the recently issued book Havel v Americe (Havel in America) by historian Rosamund Johnston and journalist Lenka Kabrhelová. Mainly based on Q&A-style interviews, it contains insights and anecdotes from Bill Clinton, Madeleine Albright, both presidents Bush and a host of others and is the first publication to concentrate on the subject. When I met the authors, I first asked Johnston about the genesis of Havel v Americe.
The former political regime in Czechoslovakia deemed much of Western culture “damaging” and “ideologically subversive”, but authorities struggled in particular to control the flood of foreign rock ’n’ roll and pop music. State cultural agencies and censors rarely allowed Western bands to perform here or even play their music on the airwaves. But unofficial channels filled the demand – through illegal imports, home-copying networks and ‘magnetizdat’ – do-it-yourself music. At the same time, state authorities sanctioned Western music when sung by Czech
The publication of the manifesto Několik vět, or A Few Sentences, was a milestone in the final year of communism in Czechoslovakia. After being broadcast by Radio Free Europe and Voice of America on June 29, 1989, the document – calling for the release of political prisoners and other freedoms – was eventually signed by around 40,000 people. I discussed its contribution to the eventual fall of communism with historian Jakub Jareš.
“Love, tolerance and creative freedom aren’t just for fairytales”. That’s the central message of a new documentary called The Art of Dissent, which celebrates artistic engagement in Czechoslovakia before and after the 1968 Soviet-led invasion. Written, directed and filmed by the American intellectual historian James D Le Sueur, the film aims to debunk the myth that life behind the Churchillian ‘Iron Curtain’ was static and grey, and to inspire viewers through the messages of Václav Havel and fellow former dissidents.
Many Czechs remember the concert of American folk musician Joan Baez’s in Bratislava on 10 June 1989 as one of the signs of the approaching fall of communism. During the concert Baez openly expressed her support for Czechoslovak opposition groups and to Václav Havel, who managed to smuggle himself into the concert hall pretending to be a roadie. Her stay in Bratislava was closely observed by the communist State Security services, but they missed the Czechoslovak dissident who fit into his pretended role by carrying her guitar.