The late Václav Havel is famous around the world as a statesman and symbol of human rights and democracy. Rather less well-known is that Havel was also a very enthusiastic cook. This year many of the dissident-turned-president’s recipes were gathered in a rather delightful cookbook entitled Kančí na daňčím (Wild Boar on Venison).
30 years ago today, on December 29, 1989, the dissident playwright Václav
Havel was elected president of Czechoslovakia, in a vote that marked a
definitive end to one-party communist rule in the country.
The dissident labelled “an enemy of the state“ by the communist regime was paradoxically elected in a unanimous vote by the country’s still communist-dominated Czechoslovak Federal Assembly.
Following the resignation of not only the communist party leadership, but also of president Gustav Husák, Marián Čalfa, a reformist communist, who then headed a so-called “government of national unity” convinced his party colleagues to fall in line and vote for change.
Thirty years ago this Christmas, Czechs were in an especially festive spirit – the entire Communist Party leadership had resigned a month before, and in a matter of days a majority democratic parliament would elect Václav Havel as president, bringing the Velvet Revolution to a glorious end. Ahead of the holiday, I spoke to Adéla and Petr Mucha – a historian and theologian, respectively, born into practicing Catholic families under Communism – about their experiences with the “Underground Church”, religious figures active in the dissident Charter 77
On Sunday, Czechs commemorated 30 years since the start of the Velvet Revolution. Emotions were high at times as politicians paid tribute to the demonstration on November 17, 1989 that resulted in the eventual fall of the communist regime. For the most part, however, it was a day of celebration, marked by a wide range of events.
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.