A song becomes the symbol of the revolution

Марта Кубишова и Вацлав Гавел в здании Мелантрих над Вацлавской площадью, ноябрь 1989 г.

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.

November 1989 in Prague
Here is Czechoslovak Radio reporting from the square on Wednesday November 22:

“Wenceslas Square, 12 o’clock and 10 minutes. It’s hard to guess how many people are here. They are flowing in from all sides, from the top of the square to the bottom - tens of thousands of citizens, just as we’ve seen every day for the last several days. They’re expressing their longing for democratic changes in our society.”

By that same evening there were around two hundred thousand people on the square. There was a series of speeches that ended with one of the unforgettable moments of the Velvet Revolution. The hugely popular singer from the late 1960s, Marta Kubišová, who had been banned from appearing in public for nearly twenty years, sang her best loved song “A Prayer for Marta”.

Marta Kubišová remembers back to that moment:

Vaclav Havel in 1989
“I was singing ‘A Prayer for Marta’ after 20 years’ silence.”

And you were standing on the balcony on Wenceslas Square. Do you remember how you felt at that moment?

“I was very nervous, because without an orchestra, without piano, only with my voice, I was singing only one verse.”

And it’s become a symbol of the Velvet Revolution, hasn’t it.

“Yes, yes.”

Can you remember how people reacted when they heard the song?

“I was very high above those people, but friends told me that all the people were crying and pointing upwards.”