On November 17 1990, the first anniversary of the beginning of the Velvet Revolution, George Bush Sr. became the first American president to visit Czechoslovakia in the country’s 70-year history. This was a time of strong pro-American feeling here, and during their brief stay George and Barbara Bush were welcomed with genuine enthusiasm. Over a hundred thousand people gathered on Wenceslas Square to hear the president speak:
During Václav Havel’s first year as Czechoslovak president, Prague Castle saw a string of visitors from around the world. And they did not just include heads of state and other political dignitaries. On January 21 1990, one of the first foreign guests to be received by the new president was none other than the legendary American rock musician, Frank Zappa, who had been one of the inspirations for the Czech underground movement in the ‘70s and ‘80s, including Havel himself.
In last week’s From the Archives, we heard Jaroslav Hutka, singing at the huge demonstration that took place in Prague’s Letná park on November 25 1989. This was over a week after the Velvet Revolution had begun, but the hard liners in the communist party were still clinging on to power. The demonstration was a sign of the huge momentum for change that had built up in the previous days, and despite the cold weather, with sleet and snow, it was attended by nearly a million people.
Born in Prague, he lived in Brussels, Stuttgart, Cologne, and later London and Antwerp, meticulously recording his surroundings and reflecting the society around him in his art. Václav or Wenceslaus, or even Wenzel, Hollar sounds like a modern-day European artist, but he actually lived four hundred years ago. Although he was brought up to go into law, Hollar became an etcher and draughtsman, whose work now provides us with beautifully detailed depictions of the people, architecture, landscapes and even a battle that took place in Europe in the seventeenth
General Tomáš Sedláček, a World War II veteran who spent nine years in communist jails, died on Monday aged 94. A respected soldier, he fought both on the western and eastern fronts of the war before landing a life sentence by Czechoslovakia’s communist court. But his faith in freedom and democracy never waivered, and after 1989, he took up the cause of those who suffered under communism.
Last week we heard how a song, Marta Kubišová’s “A Prayer for Marta”, came to symbolize the period of the Velvet Revolution. But there were other songs and singers who also captured the spirit of the time. One of them was Jaroslav Hutka. After signing Charter 77, he had been bullied into exile in 1978, and all his songs and recordings banned. As soon as the revolution of November 1989 began, he came back home, and in one of the most moving moments of the period, he appeared at the vast demonstration held on Prague’s Letná Plain on November 25.
In last week’s From the Archives, we heard how Czechoslovak Radio reported on the student demonstration that sparked the Velvet Revolution on November 17 1989. Initially the radio toed the official line, defending the violent police clampdown, but gradually the spirit of revolution spread through the corridors of our headquarters here in Vinohradská Street. Every day Wenceslas Square filled with tens of thousands of people, as it became increasingly clear that the communists’ hold on power was weakening.