Anniversary of Velvet Revolution marked by anti-government demonstrations

Photo: CTK

On Thursday, November 17th, the Czech Republic marked 22 years since the start of the Velvet Revolution as well as the 72nd anniversary of the events of November 1939 which resulted in the closure of all Czech universities by the Nazis and reprisals against students and intellectuals. But many Czechs used the holiday to voice their discontent with the current government policies.

November 1989 in Prague
While officials laid wreaths on Prague’s Národní Street where communist riot police brutally suppressed a peaceful student demonstration on November 17th, 1989, hundreds of people gathered on the Old Town Square to protest against the state of affairs in the country 22 years after the fall of communism. After a symbolic “funeral of democracy and the crushed hopes of the Velvet Revolution”, the protesters marched to Wenceslas Square to join another demonstration and listen to speeches, given among others by the Slovenian left-wing philosopher Slavoj Žižek.

“You were on the streets for solidarity and freedom. What you got is freedom without solidarity, freedom of corrupted capitalism.”

Petr Nečas,  photo: CTK
Corruption was high on the list of complaints of the protesters, along with existential fears caused by the government’s austerity measures. In Prague and other big cities, many called on the coalition government of Prime Minister Petr Nečas to step down. Despite the ever more vocal discontent, the prime minister remains optimistic about the post-communist transformation process.

“I am convinced that the change was right and that in the end despite all problems the past 20 years have been successful.”

Even though the opposition Social Democrats are among the most vociferous opponents of the policies implemented by the centre-right government, party head Bohuslav Sobotka says the fall of communism was a change for the better.

“There has been a marked positive shift even though many people are rightfully disappointed by the economic inequality that has been growing lately.”

The capital Prague also saw demonstrations by far-right radicals and their opponents. Several hundred police monitored the situation to prevent potential clashes.

Václav Klaus,  photo: CTK
According to a poll commissioned by Czech Television on the occasion of the anniversary of the Velvet Revolution, two thirds of Czechs believe politicians today are more corrupt than their predecessors before 1989. Also, only a third of respondents said life today was better than under communism. The country’s President Václav Klaus dismisses that view.

“In principle, the situation has turned out well. Of course, we have a thousand reasons to be dissatisfied with various details but those are our own particular problems and responsibilities. But our task was not to guarantee happiness and wealth for everybody. Our task was to change the political, economic and social system from communism to something completely different and we succeeded in that one hundred percent.”

Markedly absent from this year’s commemorations was the protagonist of November 1989 and later the country’s president Václav Havel. Upon his doctor’s recommendation, he spent the day in his country home in north-east Bohemia where he has been recovering from a recent bout of respiratory problems.