Czechs mark Velvet Revolution anniversary with spectacular celebrations

Photo: ČTK/Michal Kamaryt

On Sunday, Czechs commemorated 30 years since the start of the Velvet Revolution. Emotions were high at times as politicians paid tribute to the demonstration on November 17, 1989 that resulted in the eventual fall of the communist regime. For the most part, however, it was a day of celebration, marked by a wide range of events.

Andrej Babiš,  photo: ČTK/Michaela Říhová
The day started with whistles and shouts of “StB agent get lost” from onlookers as Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš laid a wreath by the memorial to demonstrators who were beaten up by the regime’s police on November 17, 1989 in Prague’s Národní. The prime minister’s ties with the previous regime are often brought up by his critics.

But just a few hours later, Mr. Babiš offered a conciliatory message at a speech during the opening of an exhibition on Czech and Slovak history at the National Museum. He said he was not proud of having been a Communist Party member and paid particular tribute to the “courage” and “engagement” of Václav Havel as well as those who were there 30 years ago.

“Thanks to you, who were brave and took part in the march from Albertov to Národní třída on November 17, 1989. Thanks to all of you students and actors in Prague theatres, who immediately during the night of November 17 started dealing with the brutal action by communist security services against a peaceful demonstration.”

While this was going on, major celebrations had already kicked off across much of the country. Prague’s Národní Street, perhaps the most symbolic location of the anniversary, was transformed into one massive commemoration area with the various attractions named after slogans or important protagonists of the revolution.

Albertov,  photo: ČTK/Michal Kamaryt
Visitors could therefore listen to music on the stages of “Truth” or “Love”, while others could listen to readings from the works of the first Czech president in the “Václav Havel Sitting Room”. Nearby, in Prague’s Albertov, many recreated the route taken by demonstrators on November 17, 1989 through a specially organised march.

Memories of those who partook in the original event were being broadcast from speakers stationed alongside the route, with some even being recreated through theatre performances, as one of the organisers, Dominika Pfister revealed.

“For example, we chose to recreate a rather bizarre case when a man was carrying a candle in the procession, but accidentally lit the hair of the girl in front of him.”

Around 10,000 took part in the march, but had to end their procession in Prague’s Náplavka, because Národní was already filled with 40,000 people.

One of those in the crowd was Katrin Bock from Germany, who was studying in Prague in 1989 and joined in the November 17 demonstration. In the same spot 30 years later, she shared her thoughts on the current celebrations.

“I quite like it, because locals have reclaimed the centre of Prague. Normally, Wenceslas Square and this street are full of tourists. Today however, it is back in Czech hands and everybody seems to be having a good mood and enjoying it.”

Wenceslas Square,  photo: Martina Schneibergová
Tens of thousands of others came to Wenceslas Square, where a special Concert for the Future went on until 10pm, with a lit up National Museum behind the stage.

It was not just in Prague but in cities and towns across the country that the Velvet Revolution was remembered with great fanfare.

Even abroad there were tributes to this seminal event in modern Czech history. For example, in Israel’s Tel Aviv, the local City Hall was lit up in Czech colours.