Czechast Special: The Velvet Revolution did not Happen Only in Prague

Vít Pohanka (left) discussing strategy in 1989

When it comes to the fall of Communism in Czechia, most attention is concentrated on what happened in Prague. And understandably so, as it was the real center of the revolution. However, there were many dramatic moments in smaller cities in the provinces. And that is the theme of this Czechast special. 

As a student of Czech and English at Palacky University in Olomouc some 150 miles east of the capital, I doubted that the protests would spread to the regions. I did not believe that the communist regime was ripe to collapse and I was determined to defect to the West as soon as I had finished my studies.

To my surprise and that of many other skeptics, even students in the provincial city of Olomouc were already fed up with the totalitarian government. Tomáš Kasal was a student of history at the Faculty of Arts:

"In the evening on Sunday, 19th November, I happened to be at the dormitories for students of the Science Faculty. My then-girlfriend and now-wife were staying there. There was already some commotion: somebody was running along the corridors asking everybody to meet in front of the dormitory. He was talking about students having been beaten in Prague. Frankly, none of us knew what the heck was going on. Nevertheless, we did walk out of the dorm. It is hard to say how many students were there, I would say a hundred and fifty, maybe two hundred.

Students meeting at the Palacky University Sports Hall | Photo: Michal Štosel

"There was one of the vice deans of the Science Faculty, I cannot remember his name, and he started to threaten us immediately. He said we could be expelled from the University if we did not behave responsibly. But we did not care and decided not to go to school the next day. We would put up posters calling for a meeting of all students and teachers at the main University Sports Hall. There we would decide what to do next."

Historian Veronika Pehe is one of the authors of the resulting publication called A Hundred Student Evolutions. She says that in the provinces people were more afraid to go out and openly demonstrate against the regime:

Vít Pohanka  (standing) - Strike Committee Meeting | Photo: Petr Zatloukal

"In the city of Ostrava, for example, this feeling of fear was probably most palpable. But it was similar in some other small college towns. There were simply relatively few striking college students and so they were afraid that the strike could be easily suppressed. Of course, when you hear about it today with the benefit of hindsight, you might think that it was an exaggerated concern. But these were genuine fears, we have to bear in mind that the communist security apparatus was still intact and very effective. So no wonder there was a heightened feeling of risk and trepidation."

This special episode of Czechast is about how the Velvet Revolution in 1989 happened also in the provinces and not just in Prague.

Author: Vít Pohanka
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    Czechast is a regular RPI podcast about Czech and Moravian culture, history, and economy.