Czechs commemorate Polish elections which ‘paved way’ for Velvet Revolution

Václav Havel, photo: CTK

Leaders from around the continent gathered in Krakow on Thursday to mark 20 years since Poland’s first partly free elections which swept the anti-communist movement Solidarnosc to power. In a speech to the crowds at Wawel Castle, former Czech dissident turned president Václav Havel said the elections paved the way for the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia. Meanwhile back in Prague, the Polish Institute kicked off a series of events to commemorate the landmark vote, and all that ensued. Maciej Ruczaj from the institute told me about some of the highlights:

“We prepared quite a rich programme, I suppose. We already started yesterday with the opening of the exhibition ‘A Decade of Solidarity’ next to the metro station Malostranská. Everyone who appeared at the event was able to cast a vote for freedom in a symbolic electoral urn.

“And we have organized a huge open-air concert at the Polish Embassy in the gardens, which are just below Prague Castle, so in beautiful scenery. And we have invited Jaromír Nohavica and Čechomor, and from Poland, for example, the Warsaw Village Band.”

So what has the reaction of Czech been to the programme you have put on so far? Do people think, as Václav Havel suggested yesterday in Krakow, that these elections which took place 20 years ago sparked a chain of events that led ultimately to the Velvet Revolution?

“Especially among people who were engaged in the underground movement in the Czech Republic, or who were engaged in anti-communist opposition, there is a huge feeling of debt – or probably that is too strong a word – but there was a very strong union with Poland, because Poland was perceived by Czech dissidents as a kind of window.

Václav Havel,  photo: CTK
“And the elections in June were very important in Czechoslovakia and other countries because nothing happened. The communists were defeated in the elections and nothing happened. There was no army, no Soviet intervention, nothing like that. So it was a kind of encouragement for others.”

Were Czech dissidents in 1989, around about this time 20 years ago, in contact with members of Solidarnosc?

“Yes, of course. Those contacts were very strong. There existed, there still exists in fact, an organization called Polish Czechoslovak Solidarity, which is a kind of committee with people from Polish Solidarity and Czechoslovak dissidents who met together in all these strange illegal places like the Krkonoše mountains. In fact, many people who became quite important in Czech politics after 1989 were engaged in those meetings, beginning with Václav Havel, but also Alexandr Vondra who was one of the most important members of Polish Czechoslovak Solidarity. So, there were very strong dissident contacts.”

The Solidarity concert will be held on June 10 in the Furstenberg Gardens at Prague’s Polish Embassy. It is free and open to everyone.